How Our Political Role Models Shape American PoliticsJennie Sweet-Cushman
Political role models are people that voters form a connection with, and who provoke them to think differently about and engage with politics. Inspired Citizens examines the impact role models have in American politics through the lens of political psychology. Jennie Sweet-Cushman investigates how citizens, especially marginalized ones, can be influenced by the presence of political role models. She asks critical questions, such as whether role models increase political participation and strengthen American democracy, and whether role models encourage candidate emergence.
Sweet-Cushman develops the Inspired Citizenship Theory to show that political role models can have motivating effects on one’s political citizenship and may, in some case, insulate those who have been traditionally marginalized in American politics. Moreover, she asserts that citizens who have political role models possess very different political behaviors and attitudes than those who do not.
Inspired Citizens also considers the often-conflicting pressures and messages political role models project to citizens. Sweet-Cushman posits that role models inspire political action most effectively when they fulfill highly individualized expectations for role model identity, spurring deeper connection and a desire to emulate.
Inspired Citizens strengthens our understanding of what we should (and should not) look to political figures for in guiding democratic behaviors and inspiring productive citizenship.
“In Inspired Citizens , Jennie Sweet-Cushman offers an original perspective on the oft-debated question of whether and how political role models matter in American politics. Those who identify political role models in their own lives, Sweet-Cushman finds, are more engaged and ambitious, but under some conditions are also more politically aggressive and even violent. Sweet-Cushman’s nuanced analysis, grounded in new data uniquely designed for these purposes, demonstrates that seeking out exemplars in politics can deepen democratic engagement but can also encourage attitudes and actions less conducive to a healthy democracy. An important, timely read.”
—Christina Wolbrecht, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame, and coauthor of A Century of Votes for Women: American Elections since Suffrage
“Political science needed a good theory of role models that takes into account all of what we know from psychology and distinguishes role models from descriptive representation. Inspired Citizens provides just such a theory. Using innovative surveys and experiments from the general public and elites, Sweet-Cushman demonstrates that role models’ relevance to participation and behavior depends upon shared identity, attainability, and closeness. Her findings will undoubtedly be
relevant to practitioners trying to inspire political participation through role models and to researchers who desire to understand candidate emergence.”
—Monica C. Schneider, Paul Rejai Professor of Political Science at Miami University, and coeditor of The Political Psychology of Women in U.S. Politics