2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment guaranteeing women’s suffrage. Christina Wolbrecht of Notre Dame and Kevin Corder of Western Michigan take the opportunity to review women’s vote turnout and choice over time, tracking gender differences and similarities. They find that women increasingly vote at higher rates than men and vote more for Democrats. They show that scholars and commentators have changed their views of women voters over time, often using stereotypes and using men’s voting as the baseline. We talk about the history and what’s ahead for gender and voting in this election year.
Studies: A Century of Votes for Women
Interviews: Christina Wolbrecht, University of Notre Dame; J. Kevin Corder, Western Michigan University
Grossmann: This week on the Science of Politics, women’s voting over 100 years. From the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann.
2020 marks the hundredth anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women’s suffrage. On this special conversational edition of the podcast, I talked to both coauthors of the new Cambridge book, A Century of Votes For Women, Christina Wolbrecht of Notre Dame and J. Kevin Corder of Western Michigan. They track gender differences and similarities in turnout and vote choice, finding that women have become more likely to vote than men and that men and women have moved apart in partisan preferences. They also look at how scholars and commentators have changed their views of women voters over time. We’ve consistently used stereotypes to think about the women’s vote, ignoring a lot of diversity and using men’s behavior as the baseline. Christina and Kevin have joined me, simultaneously, to work through a lot of history and data, so let’s dig in. Christina, why don’t you just start with a summary of the book? What were the most important findings and implications?
Wolbrecht: Well, what we really wanted to do was tell the story of the first century of women voters, so the century since the 19th amendment. There is surprisingly, really no one place, one other book or source that can look at how women have used their suffrage right across this first ten decades. What we find, as you suggest in your intro, is that women’s voting behavior, both turnout and vote choice, has varied considerably over time, across place, as well as across different groups of women and men. Again, as you suggested, we also find that our conceptions of women voters have also changed in important ways, but have often been grounded in many of the same longstanding stereotypes. The expectation that women primarily care about home and hearth drives explanations for why women’s turnout was lower in the decades immediately following suffrage, but those ideas are also behind characterizations of modern women voters, as soccer moms or security moms, who, again, have their politics primarily determined by those sorts of traditional gender roles. And so what we really wanted to do in the book is say, well what do we know? What does the evidence actually tell us about how women have voted and what might be learned going forward about what we should expect women to do as well?
Grossmann: And Kevin, how did this collaboration come together and build on your last book? Give us some of the backstory of how this book came to be.
Corder: Well, the last book, Counting Women’s Ballots, was a nearly 20-year collaboration where we really collected a lot of data, learned a lot about the 20s and 30s, and we worked together on this book for a long time. When it came out, Christina had the original idea for doing a new book, which I was surprised that she was interested in pursuing. We knew we had the answer for what happened in the 20s and 30s, and the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment was coming up, so we decided to go ahead and try to squeeze a book in before then, a couple of years before that came about. I think one of the things that drove our interest in learning more about what happened in the 40s and 50s and 60s particularly was that we saw how those stereotypes and kind of wild expectations about what was going to happen when women were given the right to vote, that kind of infiltrated the academic scholarship in the 50s and 60s, and we knew that we had learned a lot … That a lot of the misconceptions that we found out about in the first book, we thought that those might persist into the 50s and 60s. So we knew there was a gap, we had a story to tell and we had a good start, so we launched the book project.
Grossmann: Christina, you start with some of these caricatures about women’s voting that were there from the beginning by both scholars and practitioners. This idea that women would be primarily concerned about women’s issues, quote unquote. To what extent do you kind of confirm versus challenge these traditional views of women’s voting?
Wolbrecht: Yeah, so this presumption that men’s politics are explained by lots of different things, but that women’s politics are best understood or explained by gender specific things is something that characterizes, I think, the entire century since the ratification of the 19th amendment. As Kevin said, and as your question suggested, in our previous book, we looked at all this conventional wisdom about women voters in the 20s and 30s and that sort of made sense. There weren’t good surveys then. Of course we might get it wrong or be overly influenced by a conventional wisdom. What was interesting to us is, even as the data has expanded, and we have many more tools to understand how women vote, many misperceptions and assumptions still persist. The same people that talked about voting Republican in 1920 because the candidate was so handsome, that’s, in our mind, not that different than assuming what would primarily happen in 2016, is that women would be offended by Donald Trump and not vote for him. In both cases, your gender seems to be the primary thing motivating you and in general, main argument of this book is that that’s not the best way to understand women voters. Gender is part of the story, but there are many other issues and both interests and identities how women actually vote.
Grossmann: Kevin, your periodization here divides the hundred years into five sections, so give us a bit of a capsule history of that periodization and tell us what defined each period for you all.
Corder: Sure. Well, we divided into these five periods, we thought that the 20s and 30s, that was the period that we used in our first book, and that’s useful, because that’s when women are being gradually incorporated and integrated into the electorate. Still way behind men in level of participation, but a lot more women introduced in that period. The 50s and 60s are interesting, because that’s this postwar period, this resurgence of traditional gender roles, women kind of retreating from the labor force, the baby boom, so there’s a lot of demographic and other changes that are going on that’s going to make that period distinctive. And then ’64 to ’76 is a period where you get these wild social changes, right? You get the ERA, you get Roe v. Wade, you get access to contraception, second wave feminism, so there’s a lot of women’s issues or other issues that are expected to have a big impact on how women are politicized and what women are interested in.
1980, of course, you have to start one of your periods there, because that’s the first time, when surveyed, data starts to pick up the contemporary gender gap of women being a little more democratic than men and scholarly awareness of that gender gap. And then it was convenient to kind of pick the 200s as the way to say, okay, stand back and say, “Given what we know, how can we understand contemporary elections better, given how we understood women in the past?”
Grossmann: So Christina, we have this hundredth anniversary, how should we be using that to think back on the suffrage movement and the arguments surrounding it and what they mean for today?
Wolbrecht: Debates over expanding the right to vote get really fundamental questions in American politics. They get questions about what does it mean to be a citizen? What does it mean to be represented? Do you have to vote in order to be represented? What is being represented? So is it enough that the man represents, with his vote, the entire family? And they also of course fundamentally get at questions about gender and politics. One of the main reasons why it took so very long for women to gain the right to vote nationally was this widespread perception that frankly doesn’t go away after suffrage, that women are frankly inherently not political. They’re not as interested in politics, it’s not their area of expertise, that the very nature of politics, competitive, ugly, full of scandal, is just not a place that women belong. Many of those ideas do not disappear and remain, I think central to our politics today, from questions about voting rights, about what it means to have a right to vote.
One of the things that we emphasize is how in the United States, the right to vote is really an individual right, and it’s up to the individual themselves to take advantage of that right. And we know that that means that any sort of barriers that are put up to using that right do seem to drag down turnout and a considerable part of the first historical chapters is talking about the things that kept women’s turnout low for such a long time. We also know that these sort of assumptions about gender, about fundamentally what women’s identities and their interests are, while they have certainly changed over the last hundred years, as we would expect in a period of such dramatic change in gender relations, a lot of them were persistent as, but that sort of fundamentally politics isn’t really women’s thing. And so it was important to us to both show that change, but also to talk a lot about persistence and consistency.
Grossmann: Kevin, one of the things I like a lot about this book is that it’s sort of a history or sociology of social science. In addition to covering women’s voting in each period, you also cover how scholars were thinking about it in each period. What did you learn from that and how much did our views of women voters, did it reflect the fact that it was mostly men doing the writing men with maybe more traditional gender views?
Corder: Well, I think when we started digging into what people said about the impact of women’s suffrage for the first book, we began to see two things, one was that there were a lot of conclusions based on very little data. Somebody was filling the gap with something besides data, and it was stereotypes and misconceptions that the data was just sparse. So they were grounding it in something else. And the other thing that really struck me was that women were kind of invisible when you looked at discussions of New Deal Realignment. These scholars were searching for all kinds of groups that could be explained, the expansion of the electorate, immigrants and other people that were coming into the electorate, when in fact, right under their noses, there were millions of women that were coming into the electorate. The idea, at the time, in the 40s, 50s and 60s that women were kind of disinterested in politics and subordinate to men, that fit right into the idea that you might overlook women entirely when you’re trying to explain what happened in the New Deal Realignment. It’s … There’s definitely a link between prevailing gender stereotypes and norms and how scholars, what scholars look for and pick up. We were able just to highlight that in the book in ways that show that persistence of those stereotypes, even in the face of data that is emerging, to contradict some of those misconceptions.
Grossmann: So Christina, it’s easier to see in the history where scholars were getting things wrong, but do we still have some remaining blind spots? How much has the field changed in its thinking about women voters?
Wolbrecht: We absolutely have blind spots as scholars. I think there is no way that we can go about our work completely unaffected by the sort of social norms and expectations and understandings of the world that define sort of the culture in which we exist. The best solution, it certainly seems to me, is to be as aware as possible, as we can of those things. That … And I start with Kevin and I as collaborators on this project, how much are we bringing our sort of unstated, unchallenged expectations? It wasn’t as if people in the 20s were sitting around thinking, yeah, women just really aren’t political and men really are, and gee, I wonder what that’s based in, right? These were just ideas that seemed common sense in the way that there are surely many ideas that seem common sense to us. One of the things, of course, that I think this book is part of, going back to your question about the sociology of scholarship, is talking about the importance of a diverse pool of researchers that bring in many different perspective.
Wolbrecht: So one of my favorite examples of this is if you read the classic voting studies of the 40s and the 50s they talk a lot about how women have lower efficacy than men. When you ask them, do you think you personally can affect politics, they’re less likely to say so. And if you read those classic voting studies, this is often given the lion’s share of responsibility for women’s lesser participation. Women don’t think they can be effective in politics, often they’ll even say this is because of longterm norms about women in politics, and so they don’t actually participate. It was actually women scholars, in the early 1970s when we start to see large numbers or larger number of women entering graduate school in political science in the early 1970s, that pointed out that given how very difficult it is for any one person to affect politics, that it might make more sense for our question to be not why are women not more efficacious, but to ask why men have such an inflated view of their own impact, right? And so I think a different lens turning our view just a little way to rethink questions is really important.
Grossmann: So Kevin, at the beginning of the period women are turning out at lower rates than men and now they’re turning out at higher rates. What explains that transformation? And do we have to analyze the determinants of men’s and women’s turnout separately or is there just one basic process with kind of different inputs changing over time?
Corder: Well, when we looked at the early period, and there was a substantial difference between men and women’s turnout, women’s turn out much lower, I mean, it’s actually not surprising at all. The agents of mobilization that we look at to actually integrate people into the electorate parties, the state, non governmental organizations, None of them had any experience with women as voters. It took a long time for everybody to figure out how to kind of crank women into the electorate. And what’s kind of … I mean, I think that the fact that the gap wasn’t larger is what the surprise is, and then in some places that are highly competitive and when there were a few restrictions on the vote, turnout was actually pretty close. The gap was there and it was because these mobilizing agents didn’t have any experience with bringing in women.
Today, it is a little bit more of a puzzle, right? You could point to, women are more likely to complete college than men as explanations for turnout. And Christina might want to chime in here too, but I don’t think that in our work we discover a radically different explanations for why men and women turn out. Older people turnout more, highly educated people turnout more, so the dynamics and mechanisms seem to be very similar. Kind of amplifying the puzzle a little bit, is that women are much less likely to run for office, right? There’s some forms of political engagement and activity where women are less likely to engage, but turnout definitely seems like one where women are more likely to turnout their [inaudible 00:14:44].
Wolbrecht: So I think everything Kevin said is absolutely accurate. I think it’s an interesting puzzle that in some ways challenges our traditional foundational models of political participation. Women still have less access to many of the resources, with the exception increasingly of education, that we associate with things like voter turnout. The fact that they still turnout at higher rates, and I should say particularly black women who turnout at very high rates, is a puzzle then, if that’s the way we think about voting. For black women, there’s great data on ingrate studies suggesting that linked fate and a sense of obligation to community may matter to the African-American community, and black women in particular, in a way that helps explain they’re particularly high turnout. I think it also makes us ask, in our models of SES, maybe education is doing a lot more of the work than those other pieces, because as Kevin said, as women have become more educated, that gap has, not only closed, but reversed.
Grossmann: How have women voters, Christina, changed the content of politics and policy discussion? I noticed several periods, there seemed to be, at least insinuations from scholars, that there was kind of a prioritization of social issues, or what we today would call social issues, although they’re changing over time. Is that a reality or is that a myth?
Wolbrecht: Well, one is to talk about the myth, or I might call it rhetoric, as interesting in its own way. So in some sense it doesn’t matter what really explains the way that women vote. If everyone thinks the reason is X or Y, and therefore the candidates campaign on those issues, they reach out to those sorts of voters, they make policy in those sorts of ways, then it’s politically consequential, whether it’s real or not. And so we talk about it in the book building from the great work of Sue Carol about the way that terms like soccer women present women as having one set of characteristics, in that case, white suburban mothers, that really erases all the other interests that those women and other kinds of women may have. I would really argue that even if it’s a myth, when these sorts of ideas are popular, they have real political consequences.
That said, there is not a lot of evidence that women weight different issues substantially differently than men do. Women are certainly more likely to say that what we might think of very narrowly as women’s issues, like equal pay or abortion or even issues we think might broadly, is women’s issues like health and education matter more to them, but the same sorts of factors work on both male and female voters, in terms of the state of the economy, uncertainty, party identification, et cetera, et cetera. There is some reason to think that women may think about some of the same issues differently, so that they might approach, in particular questions about social welfare, in different ways. They might expand their thinking about the consequences of this or that policy on the community as a whole. Even then, it’s been fascinating to watch in this literature up until the present day, the only place you will hear talk of compassion issues is when scholars talk about the fact that women seem to be more in favor of social welfare programs and that seems to explain a great deal of the gender gap.
That’s true, but it becomes an indicator of women’s greater compassion. However, when we talk about less well off Americans, when we talk about labor union members favoring things like greater healthcare coverage and a bigger and better social safety net, we don’t call those compassion issues. We think of those in terms of people’s own self interest. And so I think this is here again where we have to ask ourselves, what sorts of assumptions are informing the way that we interpret the data that we see?
Grossmann: So Kevin, one of those assumptions is sort of that the male patterns are the normal patterns and we’re judging women as diverging from those, but in writing a book about women’s voting for a hundred years, you also sort of wrote a book about men’s voting for a hundred years. What do we learn about men if we take kind of women as the norm and try to think about men as diverging from that norm?
Corder: Well, the women diverging from men norm is rooted in some ideas that we found in our first book, this idea, or this stereotype, that women were going to pick up for grabs. That their vote was going to be kind of unknown and they didn’t have the anchor of partisanship, so they were going to be in favor of third parties or other alternatives. That kind of idea that women are up for grabs persists, and when we start to see that contemporary gender gap emerge, it’s kind of an easy story, well, women must have moved closer to the Democratic Party, and that accounts with this gender gap, and we know that story is not true, right? What we found was in those original elections, women were the ones who were less likely to vote third party that persist ’til today, that it was men who moved in the 1970s, right, toward the Republican Party. Women stayed home.
Corder: You start to see that in fact it’s the men’s vote that’s more up for grab than the women’s vote. Women are more anchored in their major party affiliation than men are. And that’s kind of not something you would expect from reading contemporary media coverage. I mean, there’s no sense … There’s never a story written about going after the men’s vote, because the men’s votes up for grabs and it’s unpredictable and it appeals to certain issues. That was, for me, the big shift, was it makes no sense to talk about women’s vote as kind of block and up for grabs. It would make more sense to talk about men’s vote up for grabs, but even … You’re not going to see that. So the idea that women are potentially moveable off their party ID was rooted in stereotypes, persisted, but it’s just not the case at all.
Grossmann: Christina, how different are the determinants of women’s and men’s vote choices? And you covered it in these five different periods, were men and women both responding to the same kind of structural changes and historical trends or when did they respond differently?
Wolbrecht: So, we try to emphasize in the book, as political scientists like to say, the consistency rather than other things. In a historical sense, men and women react overwhelmingly the same way. Men and women both are mobilized by and converted, for example, to the Democratic Party during New Deal Realignment. Democratic … Excuse me, women and men fall away from the Democratic Party after the peak in 1964. That doesn’t mean they always respond to the same extent. As Kevin was suggesting, one of the things we see when we look at the early gender gap is that men and women are pretty similar in their democratic identification in the mid 1960s, but as both sort of shift in a Republican direction, and of course Southern Realignment’s a big part of this story, et cetera, men just shift at a sharper rate.
Wolbrecht: Women also become more Republican, but just not as much as men become more Republican. And the gender gap, at least initially, is in large part sort of an outcome of that process. Similarly, in some of our other work, that we bring into this book as well, there’s some evidence that women swung more to the Democratic Party during the New Deal, and certainly more of them were mobilized initially into the Democratic Party in the 1930s. Certainly, men and women mostly live in the same environment and react in many of the same sorts of ways, but there are sort of important differences that can be consequential.
Grossmann: So Kevin, we’ve gotten this far and we’re still talking about women and men as two big voting blocks, but you are clear that there is a whole lot of diversity within the gender categories. What are those sources of differences and how do they compare between women and men?
Corder: Well, the differences are race, place and education, I think the three that come out the most in the book. Racial divisions are, of course, enormously important, right? And so if you look at white voters compared to minority voters, minority voters are overwhelmingly supportive of the Democrats. White voters barely supportive of the Republican Party, in presidential elections. And the difference between men and women within whites and with minorities is very small compared to the racial differences. If you understand that alone, you understand voting behavior better than thinking about women. Place is kind of remarkable too. We have two figures in the book, one from 1920 and one from 2016 that show presidential support for the Republican Party by state for 10 to 12 states, and you can see that it matters a lot more where you live than whether you’re a man or a woman. Women and men in California vote similarly, men and women in Oklahoma vote similarly, and there’s nearly nothing that men in Oklahoma share with men in California or women in California share with women in Oklahoma. Place really matters. All the various things that go into that. And education too. There’s a, as you know, growing difference between people who have not and have completed college, and that difference is growing and men and women are moving in the same directions with people who have completed college more likely to support the Democratic candidate.
Grossmann: Christina, women voters are diversifying like the rest of the electorates, and you point out the growing diversity by race and motherhood especially. How are those changes affecting women’s voting?
Wolbrecht: In our five historical chapters, we look at many of these same variables over time. And so Kevin mentioned race, place and education. We also look at age, marital status, parenthood, and what is a challenge and an opportunity in that is both what those different characteristics, and we might think interests, predict over time, but also of course their sort of variation within the population of men and women. And so to be an unemployed woman in the 1950s, when there were big racial differences and most of the employed women are going to be either poor women or women of color, not having a job made you very, very Republican if you are a woman, staying home in the 1950s. By the 2000s, with all these changes we’ve had in women’s employment and expansions in women employment, it’s no longer a racial marker in that same way. And we see much fewer sort of examples of differences between women who are married versus not, and so on.
Jane Junn has been particularly great about emphasizing that it’s a dynamic electorate, and one of the things that’s sort of interesting is that the female electorate actually appears to be more dynamic, in the sense that it is becoming more racially diverse more quickly, it has undergone, across this a hundred years, more dramatic shifts in terms of, again, things like marriage, parenthood, et cetera, and so thinking through the effects of those and what they mean politically at different points of time just really reminds us that there is no male and female voter in time and memorial. That we have to understand voters, as Kevin has already said, in their geographic context, but also in particular times and in terms of diversity and distribution of characteristics among those groups as well.
Grossmann: So Christina, we have a large gender gap now, is that explained by women and men having a different voting behavior set of determinants or just that they differ in the kinds of things that drive voting behavior?
Wolbrecht: What we argue, or one of the sort of main contributions of this book, is to think about just exactly the distinction you just drew, and to argue that most of our explanations for the electoral behavior of men and women fall really into one of two camps. The first one you described, we term distinctive gender. That there’s just fundamentally something about women that leads them to have different preferences or prioritize different issues, and this goes back to sort of essentialism, right? That women are fundamentally different. But even if we don’t sort of think that these differences are written in your genes, we might think that we know that men and women are socialized in different ways, they have different incentives for various kinds of behaviors, and so we might think that that results in adults who just have somewhat different priorities and make political decisions in different ways.
The other explanation, the second thing that you said, we call resource inequality, and this is the idea that men and women are essentially the same, it’s just that the distribution of politically relevant characteristics is different, right? If historically we know that education and income are huge predictors of turnout and vote choice, and historically, women are less likely to have income and they are, to this day, of course, more likely to be poor or on average poorer than men are, then that alone might be the explanation. As we go through these different explanations, both sort of the research on them and then looking at them throughout our five periods, what we find time and time again is that part of it certainly is this resource inequality, that it did matter for women’s turnout and vote choice as women increasingly moved into the workforce, as women attained higher levels of education.
All those sorts of developments are going to matter, and so as women have come to look more like men in some of these characteristics, that we know are politically important, sure enough, their political behaviors come to look similar. What we point out, however, is that in all that literature and in our own analysis as well, there remains these stubborn differences. It’s not always the case that women and men of similar education levels vote exactly the same, and there are still lingering places in which, for example, the female electorate is more racially diverse, et cetera. But at the same time, there do seem to be persistent gender differences, even when we control for differences in race, differences in employment, marital status, et cetera. I’m going to give that sort of classic answer, which is, it looks like a little bit of both. Men and women are different in important ways, in terms of sort of their resources and their place in society, but they also may be different in more fundamental ways, that are a little harder for us to get purchase on.
Grossmann: Kevin, that gap is even bigger among political elites. That is, women are more likely to be Democratic voters, but they’re even more likely to be Democratic candidates, activists, donors. How much is that elite division playing a role in voter division and why would the elite kind of gap be growing at an even faster speed?
Corder: Harder question, I think, is why the elite gap is growing so much faster. I mean, we show in the book, and people know that the opportunity for women who want to run for Congress is in the Democratic Party and in the Democratic primary, and the gap between the number of Democratic members of Congress and women members of Congress and Republican members of Congress, is just getting bigger and bigger. Thinking about the implications of that though and how that translates into gender gap among voters is interesting to me. I would just point out that a lot of people expected, in the ’64 to ’76 period, as women became politically energized and engaged and entered the labor force and were more likely to participate, you had a big wave of women candidates in the early 70s that there was an anticipation that was going to spill over into a major advantage for Democratic candidates.
But that didn’t happen until 1980, so there was a decades long gap between the big changes in the parties and then the spill over into party identification and presidential vote choice for women in the 80s. I would not be surprised, and Christina might disagree with me on this one, I’m not sure, we haven’t talked about it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you see this disparity between Democratic women members of Congress and Republican women members of Congress to begin to spill over more into voting behavior with a growing gap in favor of the Democratic party.
Wolbrecht: Of course I’m not going to disagree with Kevin. What I love about this question is we just talked about these explanations for the gender gap, resource inequality and distinctive gender. And what’s similar about both of them is they’re basically trying to explain women’s preferences. Why do women like? Why are women more reluctant about force? Why do women like social welfare more than men? And the model seems to be, men and women have slightly different distributions of policy preferences and that leads to a slightly different patterns of party identification and then vote choice. But Matt, as you well know, the literature and party identification suggest that that’s all the assumption, that people have these set policy ideas and that leads to their party identification, is not really the way that most scholars think about party identification anymore, rather party identification is this long sort of socialization process and that it’s a form of group identity.
And when I say anymore, there have been this idea exist since the very classic voting studies. And so the way to think about party identification is less a policy oriented choice and more looking out and saying people like me are Democrats, people like me are Republicans, and Heather Ondercin has done some great work on this in particular, and it has been true since the early 1990s that more candidates for office are Democratic women than Republican women. We’re seeing dramatic shifts in that now in terms of both the caucuses, both parties caucuses in Congress, and simply their candidates at all sorts of levels. And so I agree with Kevin that if we think part of this is party signaling, where do people like you belong, where do women or certain kinds of women belong, that I think it would be interesting to see if that’s eventually going to have some gender gap effects.
One of the things we do see consistently in the book is that these things take time. As we’ve always known, peoples basic sort of inclination in terms of voting is a pretty stable thing. One of the things we talk about in that chapter about the late 60s and early 70s is men’s and women’s voting doesn’t really change that much, because it takes a while for these things to be processed through the electorate. And I think that’s a really interesting thing to watch for going forward.
Grossmann: And Heather was a guest on episode two of the podcast, for those of you who want to go back and look at that. Kevin, we’ve seen some big changes lately. In the 2018 congressional primaries, there’s some evidence that women candidates were more likely to win and that women voters were more supportive of women candidates. And then we get to these 2020 presidential primaries and it looks like somehow everything changed and we’re not valuing descriptive representation for women as much as we thought in the Democratic party. Care to comment on that and sort of how we should think about women voters versus men voters in the gender representation of the candidates.
Corder: Well, the way I think about this is that both men and women voters are used to seeing candidates on the ballot for Congress and primaries and general elections that our women and having contests that involve two women or two men or men and women, so it’s not a novelty. It is still a novelty that we have female presidential candidates, and I think what we’re learning from right now is that we have very different standards and we, men and women, appear to have very different standards for evaluating male and female presidential candidates. I mean, Hillary Clinton, when she ran, she had an overwhelming advantage over other candidates in terms of her experience, her base, her organization, her fundraising, and it was still a contested election. She came in with a ton of advantages. She was held to a different standard, and I think that the women candidates in the current race, they don’t have those kinds of overwhelming advantages, and so they’re facing a difficult threshold. I think that the idea of a woman president is still new and novel, whereas the idea of a woman Congressman is not. I don’t think that there’s a big difference in the way men and women are approaching this question. I think both men and women are putting up a higher threshold or standard for what they expect of a female candidate for president.
Grossmann: Christina, any thoughts on the 2018 primaries? What we should take from them and then what we should be looking at going forward for 2020?
Wolbrecht: Any good social scientist can tell you that the past is our best predictor, and so I don’t see any reason to expect anything different in 2020 then women will turn out at higher rates than men do. Women, in general, will be more likely to vote for Democrats than men are. That doesn’t mean they will all vote for Democrats, but it means they’ll be more likely than men are. If the past is our predictor, we would expect white women to just barely be more likely to vote Republican than they are to vote Democratic. And for women of color, particularly black women, to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, even more so than do Democratic men. In terms of this question about Clinton and now female candidates this time around, I agree with everything Kevin said. We don’t have a lot of evidence that women candidates mobilize women voters. That is that all other things being equal. If a woman sees her party or another party, nominate a woman, she’s likely to do that. Let me say that in a different way, that we know that party identification is the main sort of predictor here and the idea that on gender identity alone, women are going to change their votes is extremely unlikely. That doesn’t mean that the presence of women candidates doesn’t matter.
We have some evidence from Clinton and for other places that this may mobilize women as donors, it might mobilize women as activists in very specific ways. These questions are always complicated. It is important to note, as Kevin has been saying, that in some ways, Trump was mobilizing and the sort of issues he was talking about are not just attractive to white men, but they’ve been attractive to other people as well. And so Erin Cassese and Tiffany Barnes have a great paper where they show that actually the big swing in 2016 is among less well educated women, white women in particular, who moved pretty dramatically to Donald Trump. In this year, right, where we have this incredibly gendered campaign, the first woman nominee, and all the things that Donald Trump has said and been accused of, that’s really the group that moved the most. And so we just need to be, again and again, not to sort of repeat ourselves ad nauseum, remember that there are lots of different women who are motivated by lots of different concerns and interests and identities. And so we simply can’t describe women as one solid block or assume that they vote for women candidates, because that’s in their gendered interest or they perceive it to be in their gendered interest.
Grossmann: Is there a case for change though? Obviously, we should expect the past to continue, but we saw the Women’s March the day after President Trump’s inauguration. Women have been leaders of the resistance and the much larger share of candidates, is that not a sign that there’s a possibility of a broader shift among women in 2020?
Wolbrecht: Well look, I’m a political scientist and I was greatly humbled by the 2016 election, so apparently anything is possible. Things that I would not have necessarily expected beforehand. I agree that the level of activism following the 2016 election has been remarkable, and it’s also been very gendered. You mentioned the women’s marches, but I would also include the activism on gun control, which is led by groups like Moms Demand Action, right? Very gendered right there. Obviously the MeToo movement. All of these things have sort of drawn attention to specific interests of women and how women sort of situate themselves politically. I think the fact that it’s called Moms Demand Action is fascinating. So yes, there may be ways in which women are particularly mobilized. I guess I’m not as convinced that whether or not women are mobilized in the 2016 election is going to depend on the Democratic party nominating a woman. And in the end it will be interesting to see … 2016 was this completely bizarre election. The primary process was completely different than we expected, unprecedented things happening, but that election got normalized and election day 2016, in terms of voting patterns, had some differences and I think, but education being the most relevant, but in many ways was sort of shocking in how very normal, in the sense of looking like the past, it actually was.
Grossmann: Kevin, where are you going from here? What’s going to be in book three that you guys write together?
Corder: Well, I’m studying bank regulation now. It’s just something I’ve had a long running interest in and it’s totally separate from the research on women in politics, but I returned to that for a few years and then maybe Christina and I will get together for the next project after I do one on banks.
Wolbrecht: I want to point out, one of the reasons I’ve collaborated with Kevin all these years is that we live close to each other and Kevin has a place near a beach and the last time that we were on a beach together with our families, we agreed that two was probably enough for right now. We’ll work on these, but as Kevin said, I sort of surprised him. He came down to sign the contract for the last book and I said, “Here, I outlined a new book.” Maybe there’s a reason Kevin didn’t come down to sign the contract for this one.
Grossmann: Well, maybe talk a little bit about your individual research trajectories then. What are you taking from this analysis forward?
Wolbrecht: I want to yes, point out that Kevin has a very amazing record working on a completely different topic altogether. We were in graduate school together and so this is, I think, a good reminder to some of your listeners of the advantage of building those sorts of strong relationships when you’re in graduate school. I am really in the short run, like Kevin, focused on the Suffrage Centennial next year. I think it’s a really exciting opportunity. For our research to not be just relevant to our fellow scholars or our students, but to be part of an important, I think nationwide discussion about voting rights and women in political power and all these sorts of questions. With Dave Campbell, I’m still working on role model questions, looking at whether it matters when those women actually run for Congress or run or sit in any sort of political office or run for any office, frankly. And what that means for the engagement and interest in politics, particularly among younger girls. You hear a lot about breaking that glass ceiling or Clinton herself often took on that mantle of a role model. You see that now with Elizabeth Warren doing pinky promises with girls, that running for president is what girls do. And so we’re interested, we worked on this for awhile, but we’re interested in sort of thinking broadly and theoretically about it and continuing to go in that direction.
Grossmann: And anything we didn’t get to that we should include or any takeaways we should leave with?
Corder: Look for Christina’s Twitter feed of newspaper headlines and yeah, you want to talk about that?
Wolbrecht: If you’re interested in how women have women have been thought about and talked about and how they voted over the last 100 years, Kevin and I gathered a ton of information about newspaper coverage of women voters in a bunch of national newspapers, New York Times, Washington Post, L.A. Times. We included the Chicago Defender, which is the most important black newspaper of the 20th century, and some of that is in our last two books, but we couldn’t sort of fit it all in. And sort of consistent with this idea of engaging the public more broadly, I have a project for 2020 with some student RAs of a Twitter account that every day will sort of tweet out different newspaper stories about women voters on the day that it appeared.
So one day it might be a story from 1923 and the next day it might be a story from 1996, and that account is @WomenVote100. There’s lots of great suffrage Twitter accounts out there that I’d encourage people to follow, but we would love to have people following that as well.
Grossmann: Well, thank you all. There’s a lot more to learn, but the Science Of Politics is available biweekly from the Niskanen Center. And I’m your host, Matt Grossmann. Thanks to Christina Wolbrecht and J. Kevin Corder for joining me. Please check out A Century Of Votes For Women and then listen in next time.
Photo Credit: Public Domain