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Source: Brianne Heidbreder, 785-532-5366, heidbr@k-state.edu.
News release prepared by: Greg Tammen, 785-532-2535, gtammen@k-state.edu

Friday, Oct. 29, 2010

PROFESSOR STUDIES THE FEMALE VARIABLE IN GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATES

MANHATTAN -- Never mind the political party that takes power come November's elections. The real interest may be with another political group: women.

"Currently 10 female candidates are running for governor on major party tickets. This is a record-tying number," said Brianne Heidbreder, assistant professor of political science at Kansas State University.

Heidbreder examines the policy behavior of U.S. governors.

"What I've noticed is that even though we've had an increase in the number of women elected to chief executive positions, we don't know a lot about their behavior in office, and whether or not gender shapes their behavior as governors," she said.

Most existing literature on female governors is biographical and ignores policy behavior, Heidbreder said. Consequently, she is exploring the importance given to social policies by current and former female governors through a series of research projects with a colleague at the University of North Dakota.

"The role of governor has been a steppingstone for other political posts, such as appointment to presidential cabinets," Heidbreder said. "These studies can teach us something about policy initiatives when it comes to decisions being made in the United States."

Heidbreder examined governors' state-of-the-state speeches from 2006-2008. These speeches are typically given annually and give governors a short amount of on-air time to address accomplishments as well as future issues of concern. She also explores whether female governors devote more time in these speeches to certain social issues than their male counterparts.

"In particular we looked at social welfare policy," Heidbreder said. "Some literature out there suggests that because of socialization processes, women may be more likely to focus on issues pertaining to women and children."

Analyzed data thus far supports this notion, Heidbreder said. She also plans to examine other policies like education.

Another project involves the "different voice theory," Heidbreder said. The theory, established in 1982, argues that when dealing with moral dilemmas, women and men address them differently. Women are likely to approach the dilemma from the contextual standpoint of how it affects the broader community. Men are likely to approach a dilemma from a justice perspective -- right versus wrong, for example.

The researchers examined candidates' policy on health care, social welfare and criminal justice in the state-of-the-state speeches.

"We found there actually wasn't a great difference between male and female governors," Heidbreder said. "Instead, Democratic candidates, both female and male, were more likely to address these social dilemmas from a contextual perspective than Republicans."

Heidbreder said this raises more questions than it answers. Due to time constraints for state-of-the-state speeches, Heidbreder said both genders may be addressing these topics on a broad level. To rule out the chance of a fluke, state-of-the-state speeches from a longer period of time will be analyzed.

"Governors are arguably the most prominent political figures in state politics because they typically receive the most media attention. They can speak to both public and political officials, and their ideas are often taken into consideration in the legislative process," Heidbreder said. "Therefore we'd like to determine if there really are gender differences at this political level."