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Nebraskan Legislators Studied, Cited In National Political Science Journal

August 20, 2010

Contact: Briee Della Rocca
Media and Social Media Specialist
Bard College at Simon’s Rock 

GREAT BARRINGTON, MA—Following up on her early 1990s study of women in western frontier politics, Bard College at Simon’s Rock Provost and political scientist Mary B. Marcy returned to Nebraska to conduct a second round of interviews with a new generation of women in elected office. Nebraskan legislators Senator Abby Cornett and Senator Deb Fischer were both quoted in Marcy’s paper, “Palin as Prototype? Sarah Palin’s Career in the Context of Political Women in the Frontier West.” It was published this month in a national political science journal, The Forum.

The paper identifies four significant factors driving the predominant representation of women in western politics. Among the reasons, Marcy observes, are the relatively weak party systems in the frontier states. “Party machines have been a perennial barrier to women’s electoral representation,” Marcy explains. “Current research suggests that party systems, which influence candidate selection, access to funds, and campaign infrastructure, still serve as gatekeepers that discourage women from running and serving in elective office. The limited party influence in the frontier states provides a contrasting opportunity.”

Cornett and Fischer responded to questions concerning women’s experience in American politics. The single question that elicited the most consistent response was in reaction to why women frequently have success in securing political office in the west. The answer, according to more than eighty percent of Marcy’s respondents, was because of the “frontier spirit.”

“My great grandmother was an only child, female. She rode fence lines. My mother was an only child, female. She ran a poultry business for her parents,” Nebraska State Senator Abby Cornett said. “Even though we are more conservative states, I think that because we have women for generations who have done things that maybe aren’t typical, none of us buy that women can’t do things.”

Marcy’s analysis suggests other factors more significantly sway the electorate in the frontier states, including family ties, church affiliation, and volunteer or organizational work. Her paper points to Nebraska State Senator Deb Fischer’s success as a case study.

“Nebraska State Senator Deb Fischer had enough experience serving the district and enough family name recognition that she intimidated a sitting senator from her own party out of running for re-election, and then secured his seat. The party they both represented was notably absent in the selection and in the campaign,” Marcy writes.

Mary B. Marcy is a political scientist with a Doctorate of Philosophy and Master of Philosophy from the University of Oxford. Marcy conducts ongoing research on women in American politics, and has also published extensively on issues of diversity, leadership, and strategy in higher education. She was born and raised in western Nebraska, and received her Bachelor of Arts with honors from the University of Nebraska.