Guest Blogger Jennifer Marsico is a sernior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute.
In 1982, three women ran for the U.S. Senate and 55 ran for the House. Thirty years later, Congress is no longer a man’s world: this year, 18 women are seeking Senate seats and 163 are running for House seats. Women are no longer a novelty on the ballot, but how has that fact affected the voting behavior of female voters? Or, to put it more simply, do women vote for women?
The short answer: these days, women vote for Democratic women.
In The American today, AEI senior fellow Karlyn Bowman and I look broadly at women in politics. We begin by looking at Jeane Kirkpatrick’s groundbreaking 1974 book Political Woman, the first major study of women in political office. We then look women’s attitudes about politics, their involvement, and voting patterns. For the first time, we examine the female vote in Senate and gubernatorial races in which at least one woman was on the ballot. (We begin looking at races in 1980—the first year for which we have exit polls in multiple state-level contests –.and continue our examination through 2010.) During the 1980s, when the appearance of a woman on a ballot was something of a rarity, women tended to vote for those female candidates, regardless of those candidates’ party affiliation. In the entire decade of the 1980s, there were just nine races in which men voted for a female senatorial or gubernatorial candidate in greater numbers than did women—and in no race was the gender gap greater than six points. (This does not include one race in which both the Republican and Democratic candidates were female.)
But as more and more women threw their hat in the political ring, female voters became more selective about which women they choose to support for office. Whereas voting for a woman may once have been a novelty or a sign of gender solidarity, female voters now appear to be choosing to support female candidates who share their political philosophy. And since women tend to be more Democratic, it’s not surprising that they tend to support Democratic women. In 2010, for example, every one of the eight Republican women running for a Senate seat or governorship got more of her support from men than from women. Female voters today are more likely to choose a candidate on the basis of partisan and philosophical identification than on the basis of gender.
For our full analysis, please check out our article at http://www.american.com/archive/2012/october/the-past-present-and-future-of-the-womens-vote.