The Past, Present, and Future of the Women’s Vote: Democrats Will Do Better With Women; Republicans Will Do Better With Men
The Past, Present, and Future of the Women’s Vote: Democrats Will Do Better With Women; Republicans Will Do Better With Men. but Women Will Not Be a Monolithic Voting Bloc in 2012 or Beyond. « Sigmund, Carl and Alfred
In 1938, when the Gallup Organization asked people whether they would vote for a woman for president “if she were qualified in every other respect,” only a third said they would. In 1943, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) asked people whether they would want their son to choose politics as a career. It didn’t ask about daughters. As late as 1974, NORC asked whether women should take care of running their homes and leave running the country to men.
Today, when Gallup asks people whether they would vote for a qualified woman for the nation’s highest office, a nearly unanimous 96 percent say they would. Survey firms now ask about careers for sons and daughters. And as for leaving running the country to men, pollsters haven’t asked that question in years. Clearly, we’ve come a long way.
Poll findings such as these confirm dramatic changes in our attitudes toward women, but what has happened in practice? Are more women choosing politics as a career, and if not, why? How much clout do women have at the ballot box? Are they voting differently from men in presidential elections? And, finally, what are we likely to see in November?
Why Aren’t More Women in Office?
In 1994, Jody Newman compiled a massive database that enabled her to look at the win rate for women running in governor, state legislature, House, and Senate contests. In a monograph for the National Women’s Political Caucus, she demonstrated conclusively that women win just as often as men at every level of politics. This pattern has continued. The problem, Newman said, was getting more women to run.
If women perform as well as men, why aren’t more women giving politics a shot? (Women are 16.8 percent of House members, 17 percent of senators, 12 percent of governors, and 23.7 percent of state legislators.) Jeane Kirkpatrick was one of the first to look at what she called the “ridiculously small” number of women who played a serious part in political leadership. At a time when women’s roles were changing dramatically, Kirkpatrick wrote the first major study of women in American political life, conducting extensive interviews with 50 successful political women, representing 26 states and convened by the newly formed Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics. Political Woman was published in 1974. Kirkpatrick argued that her gender was being held back by the traditional, male-dominated political system and cultural norms about women’s roles. She concluded that while the obstacles to achieving de facto political equality were “enormous,” the gradual inclusion of women would continue. On the cover jacket, the left-wing New York congresswoman Bella Abzug called the book “invaluable.” Kirkpatrick’s deep commitment to advancing women in politics didn’t matter when the sisterhood turned against her after she joined Ronald Reagan’s administration.