Title page for ETD etd-01252012-144700

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Ladley, Amy
URN etd-01252012-144700
Title Splitting a Pair: Playing the Gender Card and the Race Card in American Politics
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Department Mass Communication
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Lawrence, Regina Committee Chair
Goidel, Kirby Committee Member
Ondercin, Heather Committee Member
Weber, Chris Committee Member
Tinkler, Justine Dean's Representative
  • race card
  • election
  • news coverage
  • gender card
  • media effects
Date of Defense 2011-05-18
Availability unrestricted

More than any election before, the 2008 Presidential race revealed a persistent discussion of “race cards” and “gender cards.” In spite of the reported consensus that these alleged cards were everywhere, we know relatively little about those situations where the “card” label was applied, and even less about how this label influenced voters. In fact, among key electoral sources – political elites who use identity as a campaign tool, the journalists who cover and narrate elections, and researchers who make sense of elections-based behavior – there is no consensus regarding what a card is, how or when they are played, or who does the playing. This project seeks to begin to fill the gap in our knowledge of cards in campaigns by asking how were race and gender cards reported in news coverage of the 2008 presidential election, and how does labeling an appeal a “card” matter? Using content analysis and a two-part experiment, this study succeeds in drawing a much clearer picture of how card coverage, as an essential tool of narrating an election where women and racial minorities are present, affects American politics. While much of the research on cards defines their application and effects in terms of public policy issues, an examination of card coverage during the 2008 election reveals that much of the alleged cards were character-based. Moreover, the “card” label was not just used to categorize an appeal; cards were also invoked to maintain the identity narrative, even when identity was not a campaign issue. Using some of the most commonly reported cards from the 2008 race, the progressive experiments here revealed that, while the card label itself has little effect on how voters evaluate candidates, the addition of contextual information – for those with higher levels of racism and sexism – predicted increased support for white and male candidates, respectively. In short, these results show that how cards are covered defies our existing understanding of what a race card or a gender card is; moreover, in card coverage, the “card” label itself matters less than traditional cues like candidate sex and race in informing evaluations.

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