Historic Firsts: How Symbolic Empowerment Changes U.S. Politics

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9780199314171: Historic Firsts: How Symbolic Empowerment Changes U.S. Politics
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The 2008 presidential election made American history. Yet before Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, there were other "historic firsts": Shirley Chisholm, who ran for president in 1972, and Jesse Jackson, who ran in 1984 and 1988. While unsuccessful, these campaigns were significant, as they rallied American voters across various racial, ethnic, and gender groups. One can also argue that they heightened the electoral prospects of future candidates. Can "historic firsts" bring formerly politically inactive people (those who previously saw no connection between campaigns and their own lives) into the electoral process, making it both relevant and meaningful?

In Historic Firsts: How Symbolic Empowerment Changes U.S. Politics, Evelyn M. Simien makes the compelling argument that voters from various racial, ethnic, and gender groups take pride in and derive psychic benefit from such historic candidacies. They make linkages between the candidates in question and their own understanding of representation, and these linkages act to mobilize citizens to vote and become actively involved in campaigns.

Where conventional approaches to the study of American political elections tend to focus on socioeconomic factors, or to study race or gender as isolated factors, Simien's approach is intersectional, bringing together literature on both race and gender. In particular she compares the campaigns of Jackson, Chisholm, Obama and Clinton, and she draws upon archival material from campaign speeches, advertising, and newspaper articles, to voter turnout reports, exit polls, and national surveys to discover how race and gender determined the electoral context for the campaigns. In the process, she reveals the differences that exist within and between various racial, ethnic and gender groups in the American political process at the presidential level.

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About the Author:

Evelyn M. Simien is Associate Professor of Political Science, jointly appointed with the Institute for Africana Studies at the University of Connecticut.


"Evelyn M. Simien's study is, in itself, an historic first. She examines the history-making firsts of presidential campaigns - Shirley Chisholm and Jessie Jackson; Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - and explores beyond the useful (but dry), head-counting of minorities in legislatures and districts. Hers is a trail-blazing exploration and analysis of how 'symbolic empowerment' motivates and empowers America's 'glass-ceiling' people to the top of our political system." --Donna Brazile, Democratic strategist and commentator for ABC and CNN

"In this eloquent, insightful, and fascinating theoretical and empirical examination of the role that gender and race played for presidential candidates who were considered 'historical firsts,' Simien has produced a cogent evaluation of how these types of candidacies generated symbolic empowerment that changed the nature of political representation. Required reading for all those who seek to understand psychological and social linkages among Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama presidential campaigns." --Wilbur C. Rich, Wellesley College

"As the presidential campaign season gears up for another possible 'historic first,' Evelyn Simien's timely book helps us understand recent breakthrough elections. By shifting our focus from voting to active participation by the historically unrepresented, Simien explains how the efforts of Shirley Chisholm and Jesse Jackson laid the groundwork for the historic 2008 Obama and Clinton campaigns. Essential reading for anyone wanting to understand why Hillary Clinton may become the next 'historic first.'" --David T. Canon, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"With its in-depth, intersectional analysis of the candidacies of Shirley Chisholm, Jesse Jackson, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton, Historic Firsts sheds new light on whether and how symbolic empowerment traverses racial, ethnic, and gender divides to mobilize multiple underrepresented and marginalized groups." --Beth Reingold, Emory University

"As many scholars and educators find when they enter their classrooms, numerous candidates from marginalized communities have been in many ways effectively erased from the larger political narrative of American politics and democracy. Because of this far-too-frequent phenomenon, the work of Evelyn Simien in her innovative and accessible new book, Historic Firsts, is so important for scholars and students interested in elections, American political development, presidential politics, gender politics, and intersectionality more broadly." - Christina M. Greer, Perspectives on Politics

"Simien's major contribution is her formulation of symbolic empowerment. Her concept suggests that historic firsts matter because they mobilize new segments of the polity. By providing new conceptual footing, Simien positions scholars to make fuller sense of iconoclastic candidates." - Efrén O. Pérez, Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics

"A lucid and timely analysis." - Political Science Quarterly

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780199314188: Historic Firsts: How Symbolic Empowerment Changes U.S. Politics

Featured Edition

ISBN 10:  0199314187 ISBN 13:  9780199314188
Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2015