The Progressive Ideological Coalition and the Crisis of Housing Affordability in San Francisco

By Jason A. McDaniel

San Francisco City Hall and War Memorial Opera House lit up for SF Pride

The housing affordability crisis in many of America’s most successful and ideologically liberal cities raises some important questions for those who are interested in the politics of urban America. How will the political coalitions that govern these cities adapt to the politics of growth? Is it possible for liberal-progressive urban political coalitions to challenge local NIMBYism and break away from slow-growth politics? A recent debate in San Francisco about whether progressive politics is to blame for the housing crunch illustrates the difficulties that many liberal-progressive governing coalitions will face in adapting to an era of urban growth.

The debate was kicked off in CityLab by Gabriel Metcalf, the President of SPUR a San Francisco urban planning organization, who argues that progressives are to blame for the crisis primarily because of an “enduring alliance” they made with local NIMBY homeowners to prioritize historical preservation and neighborhood character rather than growing the supply of housing. Understandably, self-identified progressives reject the idea that they are the cause of the current crisis. Robert Cruickshank recounts some of the history of progressive opposition to specific redevelopment projects, arguing that the goal was to stop displacement of existing tenants, and that several progressive political leaders were actually “pro-supply.”

Although there are several major areas of agreement between the two, they seem to be talking past each other; a not uncommon situation when it comes to debates grounded in political and ideological disagreement. One reason may be that Metcalf does not share a common understanding of what it means to be ideologically progressive in local politics with those in San Francisco he criticizes. Deeper insight about what it means to be progressive in San Francisco illustrates that support for limiting growth and development was key to the emergence of the progressive movement in local politics. Understanding this in the context of the underlying institutional structures of urban politics can help explain the conflict over the origin of the housing crisis and point towards potential solutions that are consistent with progressive ideology.

What does it mean to be progressive in San Francisco?

Most people would suggest that being progressive means having a commitment to a certain set of values and beliefs about the world, and applying those values to political realm by supporting specific policies and politicians. Problems arise when conflicts inevitably emerge about which specific values, beliefs, and policies should be prioritized. There is no Pope of Progressivism who possesses the authority to enshrine certain ideas into a Progressive Canon.

Hans Noel, whose work traces the development of liberal and conservative ideology in America, argues that it is better to think of an ideology as a coalition of ideas forged by interested groups, activists, and intellectuals. These ideological “coalition merchants” are highly motivated and engaged in a competitive process to shape the meaning of an ideology in order to influence public policy. The progressive ideology in San Francisco brings together several ideological streams.

Which groups form the core of the progressive ideological coalition in San Francisco?

In the essential book Left Coast City, political scientist Rich DeLeon shows that the modern progressive movement in San Francisco is a coalition forged by three core ideological tendencies: liberalism (commitment to civil rights, social equality, and economic redistribution), environmental protection (support for greater controls on growth and development), and left-wing populism (a theory of power that is distrustful of elites and entrenched interests). DeLeon argues that the alliance over slow-growth policies was key to the emergence of the progressive movement because it provided a common agenda that appealed to all three strands of progressivism: environmentalists interested in historical preservation and neighborhood quality, liberals interested in economic justice and opposition to residential displacement, and populists animated by opposition to the power of developers and corporations.

Left-wing populism is a theory of power that is concerned with identifying political opponents, such as corporate and political elites, that are responsible for corrupting the political system and oppressing the community. Populists tend to be distrustful of “establishment” politicians, preferring to utilize majoritarian democratic procedures, such as ballot initiatives, to enact their preferred policies, such as campaign finance reform and non-partisan elections, which they believe will remove the corrupting influence of entrenched elites.

The populist component of progressivism provides the key to understanding the specific ways that the progressive coalition has pursued its goals, and the specific role that the coalition played in creating the conditions for the current crisis of housing affordability. According to DeLeon, the 1986 passage of Proposition M marked the revival of the progressive movement following the tragic assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Proposition M sharply limited office space development, required increased citizen participation in the planning process, required developer linkage fees, and created specific policies to prioritize neighborhood preservation.

The politics of land use was the essential fulcrum of progressive politics in San Francisco. Ideological activists organized to include opposition to growth as a defining element of the progressive ideological coalition. Identifying as a progressive in San Francisco means aligning oneself with a political coalition that includes activists who fight to preserve tenants rights and prevent evictions and displacement as well as local NIMBYs who oppose increased housing supply out of a desire to preserve neighborhood character.

The Problem is Left-Wing Populism

The cause of the current crisis of housing affordability can be located in the specific arrangement of political rules and planning procedures that govern land-use decision-making, as Matt Yglesias recently pointed out. Those rules and procedures largely emerged as a result of the coalition of liberals, historical preservationists, and left-wing populists that forged the modern progressive movement in San Francisco.

More recently, groups and politicians aligned with the progressive movement in San Francisco have doubled down on left-wing populism through their willingness to use “ballot box planning” to overturn previously approved development projects and threaten future proposals. The so-called “Mission Moratorium,” a ballot initiative that slated for the November ballot, would place a halt on the issuance of new building permits for housing projects that exceed five units in the Mission neighborhood.

Although motivated by a sincere desire to protect existing tenants from displacement and preserve the quality of neighborhoods, the progressive “ballot-box planning” agenda reflects populist distrust of development “elites” that they view as self-serving, and of public planning and land-use decisions that they view as inevitably corrupted.

In opposing new building and development, progressives invoke populist critiques of “luxury” development, arguing that it is “gentrification” that displaces existing tenants and corrodes the quality of existing communities. Moreover, progressives argue that such “luxury” development cannot possibly be a solution to the crisis of housing affordability because it increases the demand for high-priced housing. Only publicly subsidized “below-market rate” development can be truly affordable according to this perspective. Because of the populism at its core, the progressive ideological coalition sees the problem of housing as a crisis of displacement of existing tenants and disruption of existing neighborhoods, rather than a crisis of available housing that is affordable to all who want to live in San Francisco.

The populist impulse towards identifying political enemies and its distrust of legislative politics and planning bureaucracies makes it difficult to craft political solutions. Adherence to left-wing populism makes it more difficult for progressive politicians and activists to possibilities for compromise with their political opponents. Being willing to compromise requires challenging the populist impulse to stand athwart all attempts to increase housing supply and yell “stop!”

Progressive Politics Without Populism

The progressive movement is an ideological coalition shaped by political activism rather than an inflexible commitment to specific ideas and values. Left-wing populism does not have to be the animating principle of progressive politics in San Francisco. The progressive commitment to slow-growth policies will erode if the groups and activists within the progressive coalition change their stance on the benefits of those policies. Environmental activists and organized labor might organize to shape progressive ideology in San Francisco in a way that is more accommodating to increased supply of housing. For instance, environmental groups are increasingly likely to extol the virtues of urban density, especially with regards to increased energy efficiency, reducing water usage, and as a means of combating global climate change by reducing reliance on cars. As the environmental movement in America concentrates more on the dangers of global warming, it may lead environment groups in San Francisco to abandon their previous support for historical and neighborhood preservation in favor of increased density of housing and development.

The politics of housing and development can change if progressive-oriented groups alter their perception of the benefits and costs for the people that they represent. Such a change in one of the core elements of the progressive ideological coalition may give local elected representatives a reason to resist the NIMBYism, and make major reform at the state and municipal level more likely.

Jason McDaniel is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at San Francisco State University.

‘Toughness,’ Pull-ups, and the Race for the Presidency

By Meredith Conroy

Ann Telnaes, editorial cartoonist, Washington Post

On Friday, The Week published an opinion piece entitled, “American presidential elections used to be ‘manliness’ competitions. What happened?” by journalist Paul Waldman. This piece was inspired by remarks from Donald Trump to the Daily about Texas Governor and Presidential candidate, Rick Perry. Trump has been insulting his way through the Republican presidential field, as the media has been rabidly covering; of Rick Perry, Trump remarked, “I think that he’s trying so hard, but it’s not about trying. It’s about energy, it’s about brainpower, it’s about toughness.” A few hours later, Perry chose to respond to that which he is most likely to have an edge (toughness), and challenged Trump to a pull-up contest: “Let’s get a pull-up bar out there and see who can do more pull-ups.” While its unlikely that a pull-up contest will result from this verbal tiff between Trump and Perry, as spectators of presidential politics we should expect to see many more attempts by the candidates to assert their manliness. Because unlike the assumed premise of Waldman’s article, manliness is now, as it has always been, inextricably linked to campaigning for, and media coverage of, presidential elections. Here, I review some of the political science scholarship on the topic, present original insight from a larger project of my own, and discuss consequences of this routine political certainty.

In the minds of many Americans, presidential leadership and masculinity (or manliness), are tacit synonyms. This connection looms large due to the belief that more masculine characteristics and traits, such as independence, resolve, and in particular, toughness (as mentioned by Trump) are necessary to handle issues of national security and defense, which presidents are most notably prone to deal. Whereas characteristics and traits that are more feminine, such as compassion and collaboration, while valuable, are less necessary. And when voters are asked to name traits and characteristics they want in a president, they list mostly gender neutral traits such as honesty, and masculine traits, such as assertiveness. This tendency to favor more masculine qualities is heightened in times of war and security crises.

The origins of this preference for masculinity in our leaders in the US is complicated, but is certainly related to the separate spheres ideology, which is the longstanding belief that women are best suited to the home and care-taking, and men to the public sphere, which includes politics. This is not to say that potential voters do not also value traits more characteristic of women, such as empathy, in their presidents. Mitt Romney had a major empathy deficit in 2012, after the publicity of some remarks he made suggesting that he was writing off 47 percent of the country who struggled economically; this empathy deficit contributed to his defeat. Yet, Romney also lacked the perception that he was capable of strong leadership. In other words, Romney had the perception of multiple character deficiencies. As I have argued, for voters it is more acceptable for a president to lack positive feminine qualities, but it is unacceptable for a president to lack positive masculine qualities in contemporary politics, especially those related to physical strength.

In addition to the public’s desire for manly presidents, there is a long history of the mainstream media to openly critique candidates who waiver from staunch, normative, masculinity. As Waldman notes in his article, for decades now New York Times Columist Maureen Dowd has been critical of a number of presidential candidates for being less than macho; it was Dowd who suggested that Al Gore was so feminine he could lactate. Another well-known debasement of a presidential candidate’s manliness is Newsweek’s Wimp Factor” exposè on George H. W. Bush, reprised in 2012, but applied to Mitt Romney.

Candidates also buy into the fixation on masculinity, as evidenced by the carefully crafted campaign photo ops, where they sport the appropriate attire, and handle the required accouterment–camouflage and a rifle, rolled up sleeves and a football. If the candidate gets it wrong, it can be catastrophic. The now famous misstep that befell John Kerry was a photo of him wind surfing. The wind surfing conveyed pompous effeteness, instead of regular guy manliness. Furthermore, it was not lost on the opposition that wind surfing served as a convenient metaphor for Kerry’s oscillating position on the Iraq War.

Ryan Hutton, AP

The sports metaphor is a common rhetorical device used by reporters to convey the conflict and drama of elections. Real election-time headlines during the 2008 race, for example, included, “In Final Debate, McCain Takes the Fight to Obama,” “Candidates Take off Gloves for Final Debate; McCain, Obama take Shots on Economy, Campaign Tone,” “Economy Again Is Front and Center; Candidates Spar Over Rescue Plans, Ad Tactics,” “McCain Seen as ‘Bare Knuckled Fighter’ Who Won’t Take No for an Answer,” “Round 2: No Big Flubs, No Knockouts; McCain Aims for Comeback; Casual Setting Can’t Dull Jabs,” and “Why Obama Needs to Fight Like Ali, and Not Louis.” All of these headlines were from articles published at USA Today between September 1st and Election Day.

The prominence of sports and sports metaphors in presidential campaign coverage has mostly been studied by political science and communications scholars to better understand why women have historically been barred access to the presidency. Sports metaphors treat men as the norm in politics, in that they focus on external dynamics that are more appropriate for men and perceived to be inappropriate for women, like a boxing ring (side note: obviously Ronda Rousey would take issue with this). Furthermore, sports metaphors assume a gendered narrative where physical strength is preferential, reinforcing the notion that politics is a “male preserve.” Yet, as our political history has shown, the focus on athleticism by candidates and media is also of major consequence for men running for office; it changes the dynamics of campaigning, and for those who are unable to portray themselves as masculine, their campaigns are hindered. Thus, gender plays a prominent role in political contests, regardless of the sex of the candidates.

In attempt to better understand the degree to which gendered discourse influences presidential candidate’s campaigns I executed a content analysis of print media coverage (New York Times, and USA Today) for the 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012 general elections. As you might expect, where media was critical of the (all male) candidates, they described the candidates as not living up to masculine qualities. For example, being described as not tough enough, or strong enough. Furthermore, I found that where one candidate was feminized, the other was overtly masculinized. In a sense, a “gender conflict frame” emerged, within the context of individual articles. Closely related to this observation was the revelation that those candidates who saw a higher proportion of their character described in more feminine terms were less likely to win the election. For each individual election under analysis, the candidate with a higher proportion of their character described as feminine lost the election.

Beyond immediate electoral consequences for the candidate described in more feminine terms, the invocation of gender by media during presidential contests is meaningful and important to understanding political representation more generally in our governing institutions. In a political systems and societies where masculinity is consistently elevated and femininity is debased, women will have a more difficult time being elected. Moreover, women will be less represented in a system characterized by reverence for masculinity, in terms of policy outcomes. This is not only due to fewer women being elected as political officials but also due to fewer elected officials being willing to champion issues such as paid family leave, social welfare, childcare, and equal pay that may associate them with feminine characteristics. To enhance the true representativeness of our political institutions, we need candidates to diversify their campaigning tactics, and demonstrations of political character, while media would need to expand their metaphor glossary, and their descriptions of candidates beyond worn out gended dichotomies, like strong/weak, manly/wimpy, aggressive/passive, cool/warm, or decisive/indecisive.

Meredith Conroy is an assistant professor of Political Science at California State University San Bernardino. Her book, Masculinity, Media, and the American Presidency, publishes in September 2015. In this book, Conroy discusses the role of the media in perpetuating masculinity  as the norm and preference in presidential candidates and leadership.   

Transgender Visibility and Political Inclusion

photo by Armando Trull

photo by Armando Trull

By Zein Murib

The invitation to write for this blog arrived the night before two major news stories pertaining to transgender people broke. First, Caitlyn Jenner’s long-awaited acceptance of the Arthur Ash Award at the ESPYs, and the issuance of an 18-page memorandum from Immigration Custody and Enforcement (ICE) to guide the care of transgender detainees. While the sudden explosion of media attention for transgender people hardly makes the publication of these news stories unique, I highlight two specific articles covering these transgender events below in order to foreground some of the contentions I make about transgender political identity in my forthcoming Politics, Groups, and Identities piece (available online here). I do so with two goals in mind. The first is to offer a primer for political scientists interested in learning about transgender as an identity category. The second is to briefly call attention to the marginalization that occurs within the transgender category, especially in light of the significant gains made by some transgender people in the public spotlight.

Caitlyn Jenner’s ESPY speech

Last week, NY Daily News published the transcript of Caitlyn Jenner’s speech at the ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly Award) ceremony. In the speech, Jenner reflects on her recent public transition and the state of acceptance for transgender people:

If there is one thing I do know about my life, it is the power of the spotlight….I know I am clear with my responsibility going forward, to tell my story the right way – for me, to keep learning, to do whatever I can to reshape the landscape of how trans issues are viewed, how trans people are treated. And then more broadly to promote a very simple idea: accepting people for who they are. Accepting people’s differences.

Taking this mandate to use her new public platform to hopefully change hearts and minds by exposing the stigmas that trans people face, Jenner then goes on to mention the brutal murder of a transgender woman in Mississippi and the suicide of a transgender boy in Michigan. She concludes with a message of hope, highlighting the impending changes to include transgender people from the military as, “a great idea” and celebrating the young trans-identified athletes currently competing in sports.

ICE guidelines for the care of transgender detainees

In an editorial piece published on Truthout, Chase Strangio reviews the revised ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) guidelines for the care of transgender detainees in custody. While foregrounding the new policy of placing transgender-identified men and women in the sex-segregated detention facility that aligns with their gender identification, Strangio points out that the issue of trans detainees merits further scrutiny on two fronts. First, the new policies are unlikely to result in detainees being housed appropriately, if only because the new guidelines do not mandate or provide any mechanisms for its enforcement, but merely require that any requests to be housed in a specific facility be respected. This allows individual ICE officers to make decisions according to their own criteria. Second, while these ICE changes might go far in helping to mitigate sexual assault of transgender women (transgender women make up a very small percentage of detainees, but comprise 20% of reported sexual assaults while in detention), the recommendations do little to alleviate the violence of detention itself. A 2010 New York Times article, for example, reported that 107 deaths had occurred in ICE detention facilities since 2003, including a trans woman, Victoria Arellano, who died in ICE custody when she was denied medical care.

Visibility for whom?

Both pieces highlight the continuing importance of trans efforts to fight for social and political visibility in public life. Visibility, in fact, has been a site of political contention in transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual activism for decades. As I show in my exploration of transgender political identity in the 1990s, activists and scholars pursued the goal of increased visibility for transgender people as a way to combat the erasure of gender non-normativity that was imposed by doctors and psychiatrists in the US since the 1950s (see historian Joanne Meyerowitz’s How Sex Changed). These calls for people to publicly identify as transgender were coupled with the introduction of trans-identified people in politics to advocate for rights and protections in a new coalition with lesbian, gay, and bisexual-identified people.

For Jenner, visibility is a responsibility. She uses her new platform to regularly draw attention to the violence directed to trans women of color at the same time that she offers humble reflections on her transition being facilitated by her substantial wealth. Visibility for Jenner cumulates in her oft-repeated remarks on inclusion in the military and sport, which suggests a tight relationship between visibility, recognition, and inclusion that is typical in rights-based liberal paradigms often touted by LGBT interest groups like the HRC (Human Rights Campaign).

Strangio, however, draws out some of the subtle tensions entailed in the politics of visibility and inclusion. For undocumented trans-identified people, visibility at the intersection of race and perceived gender identity invites increased state scrutiny that might lead to deportation, detainment, and harassment. Considering visibility in this light reveals political scientist Paisley Currah’s contention that:

For any particular state apparatus at a given moment, the apparently minor issue of the criteria for sex classification might be supporting more weight than we might imagine; calling for its reform might involve more changes than we had anticipated, and consequently engender more resistance than initially seems reasonable. So it’s important to understand in each particular context, no matter how apparently mundane, what sex is doing and how that doing is imbricated with other systems of social stratification.

As Currah suggests here, the revised federal guidelines for the treatment of transgender detainees by ICE stands to buttress the practices of deportation and detainment, not challenge them. Enhanced visibility, in this view, thus carries severe consequences for undocumented transgender people currently living and working in the US, particularly when activists like Jannicet Guiterrez, who attracted attention for her protest at a White House pride celebration, have called for ICE detention a system of “torture and abuse” for transgender people.=

Thus, the visibility so movingly advocated for by Jenner, resplendent on stage in a white Versace gown, could very well place other transgender-identified people in positions of precarity. Visibility, acceptance, and inclusion, in other words, have been foreclosed for some trans-identified people at the very same time that visibility, recognition, and acceptance have been opened up for others.

Visibility is an ongoing important goal, but as I hope I have shown above, public visibility should not be confused with public inclusion. Similarly, visibility or inclusion in institutions should not be confused with producing reforms that will ultimately benefit all transgender-identified people the same ways. As Heath Fogg Davis concludes in a 2014 Perspectives on Politics piece, “Gender-identity laws can help spark self-reflection and guide our actions by reminding us to consider the potential impact of our words and actions on those whose race-sex appearances challenge our imagined ideals of what ‘real’ men and women should look, sound, and behave like.” In other words, the visibility drawn by these administrative reforms provides an opportunity to rethink sex-based segregation and documentation in important and fruitful ways that contain the potential to minimize violence and political consequences for all people, not just those who identify as transgender.

Zein Murib is a PhD candidate at University of Minnesota. Zein’s latest publication, “Transgender: Examining an Emerging Political Identity Category Using Three Political Processes,” is available, free to everyone, in the Virtual Special Issue from Politics, Groups, and Identities. Additional scholarship by Zein was published last year in Transgender Studies Quarterly; check out that article, “LGBT.”

Politics, Groups, and Identities: Virtual Special Issue

By Meredith Conroy

The WPSA journal, Politics, Groups, and Identities (PGI) has published a virtual special edition accessible to everyone, for free, for an entire year. The articles are all focused in one way or another on gender and politics.

Myself, along with my co-authors Sarah Oliver, Ian Breckenridge-Jackson, and Caroline Heldman, are pleased to be apart of this virtual edition with our article, “From Ferraro to Palin: Sexism in coverage of vice presidential candidates in old and new media.” This article contributes to the scholarship on the topic of media bias in election coverage where women are in the race. While there is some scholarship that suggests women who run for congressional seats are seeing fewer differences in their coverage from their male opponents, this improvement may not follow for women who run for executive office. In our article, we direct our attention to women who have been nominated to the vice presidency. While there are only two instances in our country’s modern history, Ferraro in 1984, and Palin in 2008, we find that we can draw important conclusions from their experiences. Furthermore, our analysis advances the field in that we look not only at print media coverage of the candidates, but also at the political news blogs, for Palin in 2008. We expect these findings to be especially relevant as coverage of political contests continues to move online, and the number of political blogs that attract considerable readership continues to grow.

Also apart of the special virtual edition is the article “Why women’s numbers influence, and when they do not: Rules, norms, and authority in political discussion,” by Christopher Karpowitz, Tali Mendelberg, and Lauren Mattioli. Their article considers critical mass theory, which suggests that as more women participate, women’s voices become more prominent; yet, there are numerous instances around the world where token women succeed, and numerical gender equitable operations still marginalize women. As such, the authors here consider group decision rules, such as unanimity, to better understand when women’s increase in numbers lead to more substantive participation and inclusion of women.

In Nadia Brown’s article “‘Its more than hair…that’s why you should care’: The politics of appearance for Black women state legislators,” Brown extends the literature on descriptive representation, to account for the differences in appearance of Black legislators, and how it may influence their abilities and effectiveness as law makers.

To access these articles, and more truly excellent scholarship on gender and politics, check out the FREE virtual special edition, now.

The Black Church and Political Inclusion

By Eric McDaniel

Horrific events of the past few weeks have thrust the Black church back into the public limelight, as it has once again become a prime target for White Supremacists. As the reports of these incidences have noted, the Black church is central to Black life. It is not just a place for spiritual concerns, but also a place for one to seek physical freedom. Because of its significance, the Black church is praised by Blacks, while vilified by White Supremacists. Especially prominent in the coverage of the incidents is the historical significance of Black churches as a symbol of political freedom. For instance, last week, a Washington Post article “Why racists target black churches” described the history of the Black church in cultivating civic leaders, like Martin Luther King Jr. Without the church as a haven for organization, the civil rights movement would have been very different. Yet the significance of the Black church as a place for civic development and political incorporation continues today. The Black church remains central to Black political advancement, which is why it is a target of animus for those who wish to impede Black political progress.

Almost all scholarship on Black life has noted the importance of the Black church. W E. B. DuBois noted how its structure and achievements demonstrated “the ability of the civilized Negro to govern himself” [1]. Given the high level of segregation in the American religion and the need for Blacks to find independent spaces to develop socially and politically, the church became a prime location for these pursuits. An example of this is Wilberforce University, the oldest private Black university, which was founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in 1856. Further, the Black abolitionist movement was developed in the church. Prominent Black abolitionists, such as Richard Allen and Henry Highland Garnett were also prominent ministers. Further, many of the early Black Baptist associations were formed with an emphasis on supporting the abolitionist movement [2].

By being the center of Black spiritual, social and political life, the Black church also became central in shaping Black political thought. Because of its ability to break down class barriers, scholars argue that churches play a strong role in helping the race develop a sense of connectedness [3, 4]. As President Obama stated in his Eulogy for Sen. Pinckney, “That’s what the black church means. Our beating heart. The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate.” In support of this statement, scholars have found that church attendance is associated with higher levels of racial group identity [5]. Most importantly, it is the messages sent in Black churches that sets them apart from mainstream White churches and provide this sense of racial cohesion. While the messages in mainstream White churches reinforce the status quo, the messages in Black churches challenge it, specifically in regard to racial and economic disparities [6]. Further, this distinctive religious message explains why many religious appeals fail to attract Blacks to the GOP. Several studies have demonstrated that even when Blacks and Whites hold the same religious beliefs, such as the inerrancy of religious texts, this does not transfer to similar political stances [7]. In particular as Whites become more religiously conservative they also become more conservative on racial and social welfare issues. Blacks, on the other hand, become more liberal on these issues as they become more religiously conservative [8].

Along with shaping how Blacks view the world, the Black church has been central for Black political mobilization. One of the contributors to Barack Obama’s ability to capture the White House in 2008 was the record highs in Black voter turnout. A closer examination of the 2008 elections finds that the strongest predictor of Black turnout in 2008 was church attendance [9]. Scholars of Black participation repeatedly demonstrate the importance of churches in getting Blacks to the polls. As long as Blacks have been able to secure the franchise, their churches have been hubs for elections. One count of Black clergy in politics, during Reconstruction, found that 237 clergy held local, state, and nationally elected positions [10]. Further, many denominations such as the AME Church keep track of the number of registered voters in their congregations. There are several reasons why Black churches are so successful for mobilizing Blacks. Fredrick Harris argues that Black churches promote an “oppositional civic culture”, which points out the problems with the political system, but calls upon them to follow civil norms to transform political and social institutions. Harris also argues that the politics of the church, such as electing denominational leaders serves as a training ground for future participation. In addition to these activities, many churches actively encourage their members to participate [11]. Several works have demonstrated that people who attend churches were they are encouraged to vote are more likely to vote [12-14]. Furthermore, research has shown that exposure to these messages is expected in churches. While many Blacks may be opposed to their church telling them whom to vote for, they expect their clergy to remind them to vote and keep them aware of important issues [15].

Because of its centrality in Black life, the church can drastically help or hinder Black advancement. The above discussion highlighted his ability to help, but scholars have also pointed out the numerous ways that it hinders Blacks. Many of the early complaints about the Black church was that its authoritarian structure contributed stagnating Black social progress. E. Franklin Frazier, who has praised the Black church for its ability bring the group together, argued that the Black church had “cast a shadow” over Black intellectual life and was responsible for “backwardness” on the part of Blacks [16]. Others have argued that the Black church, along with other Black institutions, has heavily constrained what it means to be Black and in doing so has ignored the political, social and economic needs of large segments of the Black population [17]. Finally, the rise of the Prosperity Gospel, which emphasizes faith and fortune, has many questioning the ability of the church to truly speak for the marginalized as it has in the past [18, 19]. Even with these perceived failures of the Black church, it still remains a vital institution in Black life. Because of this it will remain a place where Blacks seek comfort and empowerment, but will also remain a target to those who are opposed to the advancement of Black interests.

Eric McDaniel is Associate Professor of Political Science at The University of Texas, Austin. His research areas include religion and politics, Black politics, and organizational behavior. His work targets how and why Black religious institutions choose to become involved in political matters. In addition, his work targets the role of religious institutions in shaping Black political behavior. His book, Politics in the Pews: The Political Mobilization of Black Churches (University of Michigan Press), was published in 2008. 


  1. Du Bois, W.E.B., The Problem of Amusement, in Du Bois on Religion, P. Zuckerman, Editor. 2000, AltaMira Press: New York.
  2. Pinn, A.H. and A.B. Pinn, Fortress Introduction to Black Church History. 2002, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
  3. Mays, B.E. and J.W. Nicholson, The Negro’s Church. 1933, New York: Russell and Russell.
  4. Dawson, M.C., Behind the Mule: Race and Class in African American Politics. 1994, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  5. Allen, R.L., M.C. Dawson, and R.E. Brown, A Schema-Based Approach to Modeling an African-American Racial Belief System. American Political Science Review, 1989. 83(2): p. 421-441.
  6. Paris, P.J., The Social Teaching of the Black Churches. 1985, Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
  7. McKenzie, B.D. and S.M. Rouse, Shades of Faith: Religious Foundations of Political Attitudes among African Americans, Latinos, and Whites. American Journal of Political Science, 2013. 57(1): p. 218-235.
  8. McDaniel, E.L. and C.G. Ellison, God’s Party?: Race, Religion, and Partisanship Over Time. Political Research Quarterly, 2008. 61(2): p. 180-191.
  9. Philpot, T.S., D.R. Shaw, and E.B. McGowen, Winning the Race: Black Voter Turnout in the 2008 Presidential Election. Public Opinion Quarterly, 2009. 73(5): p. 995-1022.
  10. Harvey, P., Redeeming the South: Religious Cultures and Racial Identities. 1997, Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
  11. Harris, F.C., Something Within: Religion in African-American Political Activism. 1999, New York: Oxford University Press.
  12. Tate, K., From Protest to Politics: The New Black Voters in American Elections. 1993, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  13. Calhoun-Brown, A., African American Churches and Political Mobilization: The Psychological Impact of Organizational Resources. The Journal of Politics, 1996. 58: p. 935-953.
  14. McClerking, H.K. and E.L. McDaniel, Belonging and Doing: Political Churches and Black Political Participation. Political Psychology, 2005. 26(5): p. 721-734.
  15. McDaniel, E.L., Politics in the Pews: The Political Mobilization of Black Churches. 2008, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  16. Frazier, E.F., The Black Church in America. [1964] 1974, New York: Knopf.
  17. Cohen, C.J., The Boundaries of Blackness : AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics. 1999, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  18. Harris, F.C., The Price of the Ticket : Barack Obama and the Rise and Decline of Black Politics. Transgressing boundaries : studies in Black politics and Black communities. 2012, New York: Oxford University Press. xviii, 210 p.
  19. Harris-Lacewell, M.V., From Liberation to Mutual Fund: Political Consequences of Differing Conceptions of Christ in the African American Church, in From pews to polling places : faith and politics in the American religious mosaic, J.M. Wilson, Editor. 2007, Georgetown University Press: Washington D.C.

Mobilization Matters: Why Democrats lost the San Antonio Mayoral Race

By Melissa R. Michelson

On Saturday, June 13, San Antonio voters went to the polls in the runoff election for their city mayor, which pitted two women of color against each other: Ivy Taylor and Leticia Van de Putte, and resulted in Taylor’s election as the first African American mayor of this majority-Latino city. Unofficial results released that evening by Bexar County indicated a victory by a margin of 3,331 votes, with voter turnout at just under 14.1 percent of registered voters. Van de Putte noted the turnout issue when she conceded on Saturday evening, as did Democratic consultant Colin Strother, who told the Texas Tribune: “At the end of the day, we needed 3,000 Democrats to get off their asses and go vote, and they didn’t.” Turnout in the first round (in May) was just 12.4 percent. As John Tedesco put it, “It’s no secret that San Antonio’s voter-turnout rate stinks.” How did Taylor beat Van de Putte despite the preference of voters for candidates with whom they share an ethnoracial identity, in a city that is majority Latino and only 7 percent Black? As I’ve noted elsewhere (here, here, and here), hundreds of randomized experiments have shown that low-propensity voters can be motivated to go to the polls, particularly when contacted personally and with a message that resonates with them. Which raises the question: did Van de Putte lose because voters didn’t go to the polls, or did voters fail to go to the polls because they didn’t like their choices? Sharon Navarro documents in her book Latina Legislator: Leticia Van de Putte and the Road to Leadership (2008) that Van de Putte was able in previous elections to leverage the intersectionality of her ethnicity and gender. She hoped to again use that identity to become the first Latina mayor of San Antonio. But that crossover appeal wasn’t enough to overcome the partisan disadvantage that distinguishes Texas politics, and Van de Putte lost her bid to become Texas Lieutenant Governor in 2014, losing to Republican Dan Patrick by a margin of 18 percentage points (57-39). Coming into the mayoral race, she was labeled by that loss, not the string of victories that kept her in the Texas state Senate for 16 years, and the Texas state Assembly for 8 years before that. It also helped opponents tag her as “a career politician simply on the hunt for her next job.” In the weeks and months leading up to Saturday’s runoff election, the shine had dulled from Van de Putte’s star, down from a peak in January 2014 when she jumped off a stage to help a woman in the crowd who had fainted. In March 2015, questions were raised about her plan (later reversed) to rollover about $300,000 from her statewide campaign. At one of the five runoff debates, Van de Putte referenced a report that Taylor and her husband had not pursued criminal charges against a man who shot at his car and bail bonds business. “How can the citizens of San Antonio expect you to stand up for the safety of our families when you won’t stand up for the safety of your own family?” Van de Putte asked Taylor. At the end of the debate, Taylor refused to shake Van de Putte’s hand, noting on Twitter, “In Texas, if a person attacks your family then smiles and extends her hand, you don’t shake that hand.” Observers noted the negative turn to the campaign, including Prof. Henry Flores, who told the Texas Tribune, “It’s gotten more personal and in fact there’s been very little of substantive policy issues, and we do have a lot of issues that need to be addressed in our local government.” Mike Beldon, former chairman of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce (and a Taylor supporter), noted, “the hatchet job that’s been done on Ivy is really, really sad.” But negative campaigning is unlikely the source of Van de Putte’s loss. In the bitter and brutal 2005 mayoral runoff between Phil Hardberger and Julian Castro, turnout was almost 19 percent. The race was non-partisan, but ideology and issues did play a role. Taylor was clearly to the right of Van de Putte, allowing her to appeal to more conservative (and higher turnout) voters in the North side of the city, including Republicans, who liked Taylor’s history of opposition to a nondiscrimination ordinance and to a downtown streetcar system. Overall, however, as noted by Flores, the campaign was more about personal attacks than about issues facing the city of San Antonio. In the end, this really does end up looking like yet another story about a missed opportunity to mobilize voters. Some news reports indicate that Van de Putte understood the importance of reaching out to folks to encourage them to vote. Her sisters and mother were working the phones, as were hundreds of volunteers. Her “Leticia’s Leaders” program encouraged high school, undergraduate, and graduate students to work (for no pay) on her grassroots field effort. But surprisingly little information is available about the extent of her efforts to reach out to eligible voters, or the quality of that mobilization effort. Campaign finance reports filed with the state for her bid for Lieutenant Governor last year suggest little financial support to those efforts. Observers in San Antonio know from experience that turnout in the city tends to be low. As documented in Prof. Matt Barreto’s Ethnic Cues (2010), the presence of a viable Latina on the ballot probably increased Latino interest and participation. But it wasn’t enough. Based on the information available, it looks like Van de Putte failed in her bid to be mayor not because of a negative campaign or questions about her honor, but because her campaign didn’t invest the time and resources into a quality get-out-the-vote campaign.

Melissa R. Michelson, PhD, is professor of political science at Menlo College in Atherton, CA.

The GOP’s empathy deficit and when it matters

By Meredith Conroy

This week at The Fix, Chris Cillizza’s Washington Post blog, reporter Aaron Blake published “Hilary Clinton’s problem is honesty. The GOP’s is empathy.” Blake reports that a recent Washington Post-ABC poll finds respondents to be untrusting of the former New York Senator, and Secretary of State; just 41 percent think Clinton is honest. Compared to Jeb Bush, The Post shows Clinton to have a considerable honesty perception deficit. Yet in terms of perception of empathy (“Clinton/Bush understands the problems of people like you”), Bush trails Clinton by quite a large margin.

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 6.50.07 PM Blake also points out that the empathy deficit for the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, Mitt Romney, was present. Again, Blake cites ABC polling data. Had data been available, or had Blake looked back even further, he would find that his assertion that the GOP has an empathy problem would go a long long way back–back at least to 1984, when the American National Election Studies (ANES) began asking respondents to rank presidential candidates’ perceived empathy. Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 7.05.03 PM Without exception, Democratic presidential nominees have been viewed as more empathetic than their Republican opponents since ANES began asking respondents to rank the major party presidential candidates. That is a whopping 28 year stronghold. It is speculated that this trait monopoly, or ownership, of empathy by the Democrats is derived from the Democrats issue ownership (Petrocik 1996) of a more welfare oriented issue agenda. This case is made in a 2005 article published in the American Journal of Political Science, by Danny Hayes. Hayes suggests that related to the ownership of particular issues by Democrats and Republicans would be ownership of particular traits. Given the view that Democrats are more skilled at dealing with social welfare, and Republicans are more skilled at issues of national defense (established by Petrocik 1996), trait associations for candidates from these parties would be affected. Indeed, Hayes found a likely correspondence; in looking at American National Election Studies (ANES) survey data from 1984 to 2004, he found that Democratic candidates were more often seen as empathetic, which is a trait necessary for dealing with social welfare issues. The table above is merely updated to reflect the last 2 elections, and supports the conclusions Hayes drew in the 2005 article.

The ANES survey which asks respondents to rank the nominees on perceptions of empathy also asks respondents to rank the candidates on three additional traits: leadership, integrity, and competence. While the monopoly is not quite as strong, Republican presidential nominees are more often viewed to be stronger leaders.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 1.44.33 AM

Which trait is more important to voters? According to research conducted by Holian and Prsyby published in Presidential Studies Quarterly (2014), Republican voters are more likely to weigh the traits of strong leadership and integrity more heavily than empathy and competence. On the contrary, Democrats are more likely to weigh the traits of empathy and competence more heavily when evaluating presidential nominees. For Independents, leadership and empathy are the most important characteristics. Thus, party identification differences in trait importance influence the characteristics on which we evaluate presidential candidates.

But the context also is likely to moderate the degree to which voters weigh the importance of candidates’ personality traits. As Holian and Prysby recognize in their article, in 2008, where unemployment rates were still relatively high, and an economic recovery was mostly absent for the majority of Americans, the context was one where a more compassionate and empathetic candidate could capitalize. McCain was unable to be that candidate in 2008, and in 2012 Romney also fell short. For Romney, his 47 percent remarks would prevent him from ever being seen as a compassionate candidate, for most American voters. The “47 percent” remarks refer to a statement Romney made at a private fundraising event in May of the election year, at a donor’s home in Boca Raton, FL, where Romney was caught on tape as saying that 47 percent of the country would vote for Obama because they are reliant on the government, and that it was not his job “to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” The video did not make national headlines until Mother Jones published a story and a link to the video on September 17th, just two months before the election. Once the major news outlets became aware of the video, much of Romney’s character coverage focused on what the remarks said about Romney as an individual, and whether a person so callous and incapable of understanding almost half of the country would make a good president. The focus on his 47 percent remarks shielded him from the association with empathy. And as Holian and Prysby (2014) recognize, in 2012 the political context lent itself to a candidate who was more empathic. Holian and Prysby explain,

…Obama was fortunate in that in a political context when empathy was especially likely to be important given the country’s continuing economic struggles, he faced a Republican candidate who was particularly easy to caricature as out of touch with ordinary voters, and insensitive to the problems they faced (2014, 502).

Thus, in a political environment where domestic issues are prioritized, empathy in particular may be a more desirable and politically valuable trait, than when these issues are less of a priority to voters. On the contrary, where issues of national defense and security top the agenda, strong leadership is likely to be weighed more heavily, which is a Republican advantage.

Yet even if the presidential election issue agenda turns out to be more focused on national defense and security, Clinton has done her due diligence in working to shore up the deficit her Party label, and biological sex, invoke.  For example, once elected to the Senate in 2006 Hillary Clinton quickly sought a seat on the Armed Services committee. Many commentators suggested the move was a strategic one for Clinton, who was assumed to have presidential ambitions, to shore up expertise and credibility on issues of defense, which are not only pertinent to US Senators, but also to presidents. Her appointment as Secretary of State further bolsters her perceived expertise on these issues, and puts Clinton in a pretty good place, to run for president. Clinton knew her sex was a possible liability, long before her 2008 election bid, where sexism was ever-present.

To overcome the perception that they lack credibility in dealing with issues such as national security or defense, women, especially Democrats, engage in “compensatory strategies” (Swers 2007). In an analysis of Congressional sponsorship records for the 104th Congress, Swers (2007) found female Democrats to be more active sponsors of homeland security bills than male Democrats and Republicans. Swers suggests that, “the importance of national security to voters creates a political imperative for women to countervail stereotypes about women’s ability to provide leadership on defense issues” (563). As a response to heightened interest in issues of national security and defense, Democratic women are likely to beef up their credentials in order to be perceived as capable and competent to deal with these issues. Clinton has done better than most women on this front. 

In this manner, if empathy and compassion are low on the list of priorities for voters in 2016, which are more strongly associated with Democrats (and women) Clinton may still have an edge, given her political experience. But if integrity and honest are voters’ top priorities, Clinton is probably in trouble. Republicans would be wise to stay away from a candidate who forfeits their integrity advantage, such as Chris Christie.

Meredith Conroy is an assistant professor of Political Science at California State University San Bernardino. Her book, Masculinity, Media, and the American Presidency, publishes in October 2015. In this book, Conroy discusses the role of the media as interpreters of presidential candidates’ personalities, and the potential consequences.