Detecting Diverse Perspectives: Using Text Analytics to Reveal Sex Differences in Congressional Debate About Defense

AuthorMary Layton Atkinson,Reza Mousavi,Jason H. Windett
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2023, Vol. 76(1) 7589
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211045048
Detecting Diverse Perspectives: Using
Text Analytics to Reveal Sex Differences in
Congressional Debate About Defense
Mary Layton Atkinson
, Reza Mousavi
, and Jason H. Windett
Scholars interested in substantive representation for women have primarily focused on whether wom en vote for and
prioritize womens issuelegislation. It is now well established that female lawmakers do vote for and introduce bills on
issues like reproductive rights, childcare, and womens health at rates higher than men. With this nding widely accepted,
scholars have more recently investigated levels of female involvement on a wider range of topics and nd that wom en are
just as active as mensometimes even more activeon an array of policy topics other than womens 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 to explore sex and party differences in oor speeches delivered in the House of Representatives. Our analysis
of these oor speeches given in the 109th Congress reveals that women and men do focus their attention on distinct
facets of defense issuesfocusing on the implications of war for women, civilians, and communitiesand that these
differences are conditioned by party.
substantive representation, women in Congress, text as data, defense policy
When men talk about defense, they always claim to be
protecting women and children, but they never ask the
women and children what they think (Rep. Pat Schroeder
(DCO), 1978).
Defense is among the most salient issues with
American voters, particularly during times of war. Over
the course of the entire post-war period, only the economy
has been more consistently cited by the public as the
countrys most pressing problem. From the 1950s through
the 2000s, defense topped the nations most important
problem list for at least 1 year in each decade (and often
for several years), except for the 1980s. The issues sa-
lience with the public makes defense perennially im-
portant for national electoral politics in a way that few
other issues are.
The issue is also one on which female politicians are
disadvantaged. Women are stereotyped as being more
liberal, more compassionate and caring, and less likely to
use force than are their male colleagues (e.g., Hernson,
Lay and Stokes, 2003;Koch, 2000,2002;McDermott,
1997,1998). Male politicians are stereotyped as being
tougher, more assertive, stronger leaders, and as more
willing to use force than female ofcials. These sex-based
stereotypes advantage women on issues related to care and
compassion like health care, education, and social wel-
fare, which are sometimes referred to as traditional
womens issues.Voters believe female politicians are
better able to handle these policy domains than are men.
But on the issues voters typically care most about, defense
and the economy, the opposite is true. Voters believe male
leaders are better suited to policymaking in these areas.
These sex-based stereotypes are also evident in the
institutional positions held by women in Congress and in
the media coverage female politicians receive. The ap-
pointment of women to leadership positions on defense-
related committees and subcommittees was rare until the
Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Public Policy
Ph.D. Program, UNC Charlotte, Charlotte, NC, USA
McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia, USA
Corresponding Author:
Mary Layton Atkinson, Political Science and Public Administration,
UNC Charlotte, 9201 University City Blvd, Charlotte, NC, USA.

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