Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Gender, Race, and the Politics of Crime Rhetoric
by Yao, Jielu, Ph.D., The University of Iowa, 2020, 133; 28031326
Abstract (Summary)

Since the mid-1970s, the United States has taken a punitive policy turn and incarcerated more of its citizens than any other industrialized democracy. To explain the rise of the carceral state, extant research has focused mainly on the influence of the punitive public or the public speeches of conservative national male leaders. Yet, we do not know much about the political rhetoric adopted by women and racial/ethnic minorities. Do women and racial/ethnic minority leaders talk about crime in distinct ways? Are women and racial/ethnic minority more or less likely to adopt tough-on-crime rhetoric and non-punitive rhetoric than men and whites? Is there an interactive effect of demographic and social identities on crime rhetoric? This dissertation aims to answer these questions.

The existing literature provides two theoretical narratives to understand how political elites bring out a carceral state. One focuses on the racial politics and the other is derived from the social construction theory of target population. While both lines of research successfully demonstrate the political nature of mass incarceration, neither of them explores the possible variation in crime rhetoric among political elites. To fill in this knowledge gap, I use the literature of descriptive representation and stereotypes of voters to demonstrate why female and racial/ethnic minority elites may have distinct voices in the public discourse on crime.

In the first empirical chapter of my dissertation, I use Google’s Speech-to-Text API to tran- scribe more than 1100 political ad videos in 2012 and 2016 into an original text dataset. Using structural topic models, I find that female candidates, particularly Democratic women, are more likely to discuss crimes against women than their male counterparts. I also find women are less likely to adopt a punitive stance by avoiding highlighting powerless and negatively viewed social groups. There was also a marked difference in their vocabularies used to discuss criminal justice issues. In the second empirical chapter, I examine the cause and consequence of gendered voices in crime rhetoric. I conduct a survey experiment to test a 2X2 research design in which the rhetoric used and gender of the candidate are randomly varied in embedded political ads. Focusing on the impact of gender stereotypes, I find that adopting tough-on-crime rhetoric does not dispropor- tionately lower the rating of female candidates, but using rehabilitation rhetoric will. I also find that only male candidates’ tough-on-crime rhetoric has a framing effect on the public. The last empirical chapter focuses on the crime rhetoric of Blacks and Latinxs. Using traditional content analysis, I find evidence for descriptive representation of Latinx candidates as they are more likely to discuss illegal immigration and less likely to support decriminalization of illegal immigrants than whites. But I do not find that African American candidates attach more attention to the topic of incarceration/sentencing than whites. They are also just like their white peers regarding the use of war-on-drugs rhetoric.

My dissertation makes several contributions to the literature. First, it increases our knowledge about descriptive representation. It shows that descriptive representation does not always enhance substance substantive representation. It depends on how women and racial/ethnic minor- ity leaders understand the issue and how they perceive the target population of crime policies based on their life experience. It is also conditioned on the interaction of different demographic and so- cial identities. Second, this project shows how electoral concerns shape the crime rhetoric adopted by women and racial/ethnic minority politicians. Finally, I demonstrate how to use machines to analyze political discourse from videos and audios. This innovative approach allows scholars to analyze a large collection of rhetoric text without massive funding support. It also illustrates how to use structural topic modeling to measure crime rhetoric.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Osborn, Tracy, Rocha, Rene
Commitee: Boehmke, Frederick, Dietrich, Bryce, Heimer, Karen
School: The University of Iowa
Department: Political Science
School Location: United States -- Iowa
Source: DAI-A 82/3(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science, Public policy, Communication, Criminology, Rhetoric
Keywords: Automated quantitative method, Crime rhetoric, Political advertising
Publication Number: 28031326
ISBN: 9798672127828
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