Poster Paper: A View from a State Legislature: Gender and the Policymaking Process

Saturday, November 5, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Mary Eve, Patrice Spirou, Georgia Institute of Technology

A View from a State Legislature: Gender and the Policymaking Process

The role of gender in the policymaking process and advancement of public policy initiatives has received extensive attention by social scientists as more women become involved in the political process.  Research activity on women in state legislatures is a subject of considerable interest since the opportunities for representation in these legislative bodies is greater than at higher government levels such as governorships or in the U.S. Congress.  Gender scholarship at the state level has generally focused on three areas of inquiry.  The first relates to the demographics of representation (age, race, occupation, income, education, etc.), while the second concentrates on qualitative assessments of gender roles.  Specifically, who is the type of a woman that is willing to enter into what is often perceived as a male dominated environment?  Finally, what is the policy impact of electing women in legislatures?

In that regard, extensive interest exists in not only the differences of legislators’ attributes, but also in policy priorities and policy issues. Previous research notes that female legislators often demonstrate a greater concern for women’s issues and liberal policy opinions as opposed to their male counterparts (Poggione, 2004; Taylor-Robinson and Heath 2003). This is in part thought to be a result of a legislator’s experiences and burdens in their private lives (e.g., Carey, Niemi, and Powell 1998; Diamond, 1977; Leader, 1977). Another reason for female legislators to be more focused on liberal policy opinions is due to women being more likely to be elected from districts with liberal minded voters (Burrell, 1996).  Additionally, research has suggested that women display unique approaches to leadership that affect the public policy process (Swers, 2002).

The goal of this research project is to investigate the role of women in the Georgia General Assembly and determine the impact of gender on activities and policy preferences of state legislators. The analysis focuses on the period between 2003 and 2015 and examines both the House and the Senate chambers of the Georgia General Assembly. It employs a number of variables to test a hypothesis that female legislators are more likely to sponsor legislation regarding social issues such as health, education, children, and women’s issues. Data such as the content of the bills in which legislators are the main sponsors of, as well as the committees they are involved in, is analyzed. Committees are categorized into six classifications, (1) Economic, (2) Social, (3) Environment and Science, (4) Transportation, (5) Security and (6) Government. By determining the policy and activity interests of legislators in the state of Georgia, predictions can be formulated to inform the future of proposed legislation.

By investigating the case of the state of Georgia, this work contributes to the broad research area of the role that women play in the public policymaking process. This investigation responds to the call found in the literature for additional work on single-state research on public policy and women in state legislatures (Taylor-Robinson and Heath, 2003; Camissa and Reingold, 2004).