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WVU researcher illuminating gender dynamics in 2018 election

Recent social movements, such as the women’s march and #MeToo, have brought gender to the forefront of public discussion.

Dr. Erin Cassese Headshot
Erin Cassese
Erin Cassese, an associate professor of political science at West Virginia University, has been selected to contribute her expertise on gender in American politics to Gender Watch 2018, a non-partisan project dedicated to tracking, analyzing and illuminating gender dynamics in the 2018 election.

The Barbara Lee Foundation and the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University launched Gender Watch 2018 on March 5. The analysis and commentary provided on their website will draw upon research of both partner organizations as well as contributing scholars.

As gendered topics become more salient, thoughtful dialogues on the role of women in political life become imperative, Cassese said. Her contributions will focus on negative campaigning and gubernatorial races because these races are likely to bring record-breaking gains for women’s representation in executive office.

Currently, there are 79 female gubernatorial candidates running in 34 states, doubling a record set for female candidates in 1994. 

“As campaigns start to progress and we get closer to the primaries, I will start to track negative campaigning and identify examples of gender-based attacks on female candidates. From there, I will analyze how it is covered in the media, how attacked candidates respond and suggest whether the attacks will be effective based on my research,” Cassese said. “My primary goal here is to connect my research with emergent examples from the 2018 campaign and to translate it for a public audience.”

Informing the public dialogue and enhancing public understanding of the many ways in which gender shapes political campaigns and campaigning is the mission of Gender Watch. The initiative will follow the campaigns of women and men alike and assess how they reflect stereotypical gender roles throughout their campaign strategies.

The contributors to Gender Watch are women who come from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds, geographic regions, and sexual orientations. The experts are a mix of academics and pollsters who identify as left of center or right of center, making it a truly bi-partisan project.

“We want to make sure that there are academics and campaign professionals weighing in on these elections, and that there are diverse perspectives represented,” Cassese said.

With a record-breaking number of women running for office, the real-time analysis and insight into the impact of gender on this historic election year offers more nuances to the common narrative.

Yes, there are more women running for office than before, but there is so much more to the story. More men are running than usual, too, and women are still underrepresented in the candidate pool. Therefore, it is not as if there is going to be a large gender upset,” Cassese said. “We want people to be able to really understand the implications of gender in elections.”

Cassese’s research has appeared in Political Behavior and Gender, Legislative Studies Quarterly, The Journal of Politics, PS: Political Science and Policy, and The Journal of Political Science Education. Most recently, she published a manuscript in Political Psychology, “Playing the Woman Card: Ambivalent Sexism in the 2016 Presidential Race,” which discusses how certain beliefs about gender played a role in the 2016 presidential election.

“Cassese’s research and its ongoing focus on politics, gender and intersectionality make her one of the most important gender scholars in American political science today,” said John Kilwein, interim chair of the Department of Political Science. “We are very fortunate that she chooses to do her work at WVU.”

For more information or to read Cassese’s contributions to Gender Watch, follow @GenderWatch2018 on social media or visit genderwatch2018.org.