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: Do role models increase political participation and strengthen American democracy? Do role models encourage candidate emergence?
Sweet-Cushman develops 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.
Jennie Sweet-Cushman is Associate Professor of Political Science at Chatham University.