Atkinson, Mary Layton, K. Elizabeth Coggins, James A. Stimson, and Frank R. Baumgartner. 2021. The Dynamics of Public Opinion. Elements in American Politics. Cambridge University Press.
- A central question in political representation is whether government responds to the people. To understand that, we need to know what the government is doing, and what the people think of it. We seek to understand a key question necessary to answer those bigger questions: How does American public opinion move over time? We posit three patterns of change over time in public opinion, depending on the type of issue. Issues on which the two parties regularly disagree provide clear partisan cues to the public. For these party-cue issues we present a slight variation on the thermostatic theory from (Soroka and Wlezien (2010); Wlezien (1995)); our “implied thermostatic model.” A smaller number of issues divide the public along lines unrelated to partisanship, and so partisan control of government provides no relevant clue. Finally, we note a small but important class of issues which capture response to cultural shifts.
Atkinson, Mary Layton. 2017. Combative Politics: The Media and Public Perceptions of Lawmaking. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Links to reviews in Public Opinion Quarterly, Perspectives on Politics, and Congress and the Presidency.
- Featured on the “Science of Politics” Podcast.
- From the Affordable Care Act to No Child Left Behind, politicians often face a puzzling problem: although most Americans support the aims and key provisions of these policies, they oppose the bills themselves. How can this be? Why does the American public so often reject policies that seem to offer them exactly what they want? This book demonstrates that the news media’s focus on the conflictual process of lawmaking predictably erodes public support for reform bills, even those with popular provisions. It employs content analysis, experiments, case studies, and analysis of survey data to show that negative portrayals of the lawmaking process become linked in many people’s minds with the policies themselves, leading to backlash against bills that may otherwise be seen as widely beneficial.
Atkinson, Mary Layton, Reza Mousavi and Jason H. Windett. “Detecting diverse perspectives: using text analytics to reveal sex differences in congressional debate about defense.” Political Research Quarterly. Forthcoming.
- Abstract: Scholars interested in substantive representation for women have primarily focused on whether women vote for and prioritize “women’s issue” legislation. It is now well established that female lawmakers do vote for and introduce bills on issues like reproductive rights, childcare, and women’s health at rates higher than men. With this finding widely accepted, scholars have more recently investigated levels of female involvement on a wider range of topics, and find that women are just as active as men—sometimes even more active—on an array of policy topics other than “women’s issues.” Several studies show women are more active sponsors of defense-related bills than are their male colleagues. We provide a case study that investigates whether female lawmakers offer distinct perspectives on these topics. We use structural topic modeling (STM) to explore sex and party differences in floor speeches delivered in the House of Representatives. Our analysis of these floor speeches given in the 109th Congress reveals that women and men do focus their attention on distinct facets of defense issues— focusing on the implications of war for women, civilians, and communities—and that these differences are conditioned by party.
Atkinson, Mary Layton. 2020. “Gender and Policy Agendas in the Post-War House.” Policy Studies Journal. 48(1): 133-156.
- Abstract: For decades, critical mass theory shaped expectations about the ways female politicians would behave in office. Newer studies, however, have challenged the theory’s premise that “token” women will avoid championing women’s interests while women serving in more gender-diverse bodies will work together to advance them. In fact, many in the discipline now believe it is time to leave the idea of critical mass behind. These new studies have significantly advanced our knowledge of the link between women’s descriptive and substantive representation. But the move away from critical mass leaves unresolved the question of how female legislators will adapt their policy priorities based on changes in the size of the female delegation. I seek to answer this question and hypothesize that the more women who serve in Congress, the less attention each female member of Congress will give to women’s issues, and the more diverse the female agenda will become. This diversification should not, however, result in lower overall levels of attention to women’s issues. Because responsibility for substantive representation is shared, with each woman continuing to contribute as the delegation grows, the women’s agenda can diversify while attention to women’s issues actually increases. An analysis of bill sponsorship data spanning 60 years provides support for my theory. I show that when the size of the female delegation grows, women increase both the breadth and depth of their collective legislative agenda—simultaneously offering increased substantive representation and representation across a wider range of topics.
Atkinson, Mary Layton and Jason Harold Windett. 2019 “Gender Stereotypes and the Policy Priorities of Women in Congress” Political Behavior. 41(3): 769–789.
- Link to summary featured on the LegBranch.com blog
- Abstract: Scholars find that women who run for Congress are just as likely to win as men are, yet women face considerable challenges related to their sex on the campaign trail. Women are more likely to face challengers than men are, the challengers they face are typically more qualified, and gender stereotypes paint women as less able to handle important issues like defense and foreign affairs. We examine how women succeed in the face of these obstacle, arguing that women are successful, in part, because they craft large, diverse legislative agendas that include bills on a mix of topics. These topics include district interests, women’s interests, and the masculine issues on which women are disadvantaged. We believe this balancing strategy allows women to develop reputations for competence on a wide range of issues, which in turn, helps them deter electoral challengers. We test our hypotheses by analyzing a comprehensive database of all bills introduced in the U.S. House between 1963 and 2009. We find that female MCs propose more bills, spread across more issues, than do men. Further, the topics of the bills women sponsor span a range of women’s issues, masculine issues, and gender-neutral topics—giving support to the idea that women balance their legislative portfolios. Finally, we examine the electoral benefits to women of this strategy by analyzing rates of challenger emergence in Congressional races. We find that women must introduce twice as much legislation as men to see the probability of challenger emergence decrease to a level that is indistinguishable from that of men. The added effort and staff hours female MCs typically devote to crafting legislation, vis-à-vis male MCs, only serves to put them on equal footing with men. It does not give them an advantage.
Mary Layton Atkinson, John Lovett and Frank R. Baumgartner. 2014. “Measuring The Media Agenda.” Political Communication, 31(2): 355-380.
- Link to a summary of the article from Harvard’s Shorenstein Center.
- Abstract: Measuring media attention to politically relevant topics is of interest to a broad array of political science and communications scholars. We provide a practical guide for the construction, validation, and evaluation of time series measures of media attention. We review the extant literature on the coherence of the media agenda, which provides evidence in support of and evidence against the emergence of a single, national news agenda. Drawing expectations from this literature, we show the conditions under which a single national news agenda is likely to be present and where it is likely to be absent. We create 90 different keyword searches covering a wide range of topics and gather counts of stories per month from 12 national and regional media sources with data going back to 1980 where possible. We show using factor analysis wide variance in the strength of the first factor. We then estimate a regression model to predict this value. The results show the conditions under which any national source will produce time series results consistent with any other. Key independent variables are the average number of stories, the variance in stories per month, and the presence of any “spike” in the data series. Our large-scale empirical assessment should provide guidance to scholars assessing the quality of time series data on media coverage of issues.
Work in Progress
- Measuring the Ideology of Major Laws (with Ben Radford).
- Sex, Race, and the 2020 Democratic Primary Debates. (With Scott Christensen)(Manuscript in preparation).
- Gender, Race, and News Coverage of the 2020 Democratic Primaries. (Manuscript in preparation).