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  • Woman in politics

    Catt Center's Dianne Bystrom continues to look at the role of women in politics

  • Hardly a week goes by that a member of the media doesn't call Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics.

    Bystrom's name is on the Rolodexes of numerous political reporters, both in Iowa and throughout the nation. Their inquiries could be about a variety of issues, although Bystrom's own research focuses on the role of women in politics on both the local and national levels.

    "I continue my active research on these issues because it helps inform my role as the director of the Catt Center," she said. "When I'm contacted by the media, the more fully informed I am on these issues the better I can represent the Catt Center."

    Bystrom's writings on women in politics have appeared in two recent books, Anticipating Madam President and Women Transforming Congress. In these books, she wrote on communication strategies for women candidates running for president and how women candidates are transforming campaign communication by comparing the television advertising of female and male candidates running for the U.S. Senate in the 1990s.

    In a forthcoming book on the 2002 election, The Millennium Election, Bystrom is a co-editor and contributing chapter author. In this publication, she compares female and male candidates' political ad messages to their newspaper coverage. She also is co-editor of another book on the 2000 election, Communicating Politics, in which she wrote a chapter on Elizabeth Dole's newspaper coverage in her run for the president in 1999.

    And she just signed a contract with Routledge to write a book on women's political communication, media coverage and voter reactions. That book is due out before the 2004 election.

    In her recent research, Bystrom looks specifically at recent elections that pitted female and male candidates in statewide elections (U.S. Senate and governors' races). She is comparing those races to those that featured two male candidates or others that had two female candidates.

    "Based on our research, we concluded that women have transformed campaign communication strategies," Bystrom said.

    Among some of Bystrom's findings in men vs. women races:

      *Typically men pay attention to women's issues when running against a woman.

      * Both male and female candidates portray themselves as honest, caring and sensitive and as tough and aggressive in their political ads.

      * Men dress more casually in their television ads, while women dress more formally.

      *Women tend to smile more in their ads.

    Bystrom also indicated that women tended to be more negative in their political advertising than male candidates were.

    “Typically women are running against incumbents and incumbents normally aren't as negative in their ads," Bystrom said. "However, my research also challenges the conventional wisdom that men wouldn't be negative when running against women. Men still regularly use negative ads when running against women. Women just used more negative ads."

    Bystrom's research shows that the media coverage in races featuring men and women candidates also can differ. When women started running with more regularity for statewide political offices in the late '80s and early '90s, the media treated women candidates differently.

    "Women got less coverage and the quality of their coverage was significantly different," Bystrom said.

    In their coverage of women candidates, Bystrom says the media initially focused on the women’s image - for example, their personality, wardrobe, and hair - and questioned the viability of their candidacies. By contrast, news articles on male candidates typically focused solely on campaign issues.

    Bystrom says media coverage in the 2000 election that changed somewhat.

    "More emphasis was placed on the male candidate’s image, while women's campaigns were getting less of this type of coverage and more issue coverage than before," she said. "That is, the media coverage of women and men candidates running in 2000 was mostly equal in terms of image and issue emphasis."

Dianne Bystrom in office

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March 10-23, 2003