Gender Stat: Politics 2013 - Page 3

Beyond the Numbers: Women as Political Participants

A few studies and reports on gender and political participation (as voters and candidates) were published in 2013. They include:

  • The Center for American Progress released “A Dual Disenfranchisement: 2013 Update,” which delves into voting rates for women of color. Their analysis of the 2012 election found a moderate balance in the way white women voted—42 percent for President Obama and 56 percent for Mitt Romney. Among African American women and Latina voters, the contrast was stark: 96 percent and 76 percent voted for President Obama, respectively; at the same time, 3 percent of African American women and 23 percent of Latinas voted for Romney. Like white women, women of color out-voted men of their respective race/ethnic groups in 2012, and they also faced various challenges in exercising their right to vote. The report looks at many barriers to voting (workday voting, costs associated with travel to polling stations, felony disenfranchisement, naturalization and registration requirements, rules and regulations, voter ID laws, limits on early voting, elimination of same-day voter registration, reduction of accessible polling sites, etc.) and how they impact women of color’s voter participation and civic engagement.

  • There is an increasing sense that politics in general and elections in particular are weighted toward the wealthy. The 2010 Citizens United ruling significantly amplified the political “voice” of the wealthy. Concerns about money’s ultimate influence on public policy are central to skepticism regarding the rise in spending and growth of Super PACs in American politics. If money is an expression of political voice, more money may mean a louder voice in debates about public policy priorities and decisions. According to a recent report, the majority of Americans do not share the views of the political elite: the largest political donors are more likely to be wealthy, white, and male, and are more conservative than average Americans, especially on economic matters. The researchers say of these donors, “Turning your megaphone up to eleven won’t always mean you get your way—but it sure increases your chances, and it sure makes it hard to hear the rest of us.” Thus, those most likely to give political money and those giving the most money have—at the least—a greater chance of being heard and responded to in today’s political debates.
  • Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox, the authors of Girls Just Wanna Not Run: The Gender Gap in Young Americans’ 
    Political Ambition
    , believe that a socialized ambition gap” turns women and girls away from the idea of running for office well before the beginning of their careers. Although levels of political ambitions and interests seem to be similar among male and female high-school students, when college-aged women are asked about which jobs they find to be appealing, barring income as a factor, they report teaching to be more appealing (42 percent) than becoming a mayor (8 percent) and becoming a business executive to be more appealing (33 percent) than a member of Congress (11 percent). However, the complexity of assessing causal factors in explaining women’s lack of political ambitions—and hence, women’s under-representation—does not end here. Lawless and Fox also found that young men are simply socialized to enter the political arena more than their female counterparts. Young men are encouraged to think about politics as a plausible career path by their parents, while young women are exposed less to political information and discussions, whether at home or in school. Crucially, young women are much less likely to be encouraged to run for office or to believe that they can be qualified to do so than young men.
  • A few 2013 studies released look at the role gender-stereotyped socialization and sexism play in women’s political participation. One, “Traits versus Issues: How Female Candidates Shape Coverage of Senate and Gubernatorial Races,” for example, found that female candidates had a harder time convincing voters to evaluate them by their merits and issues rather than their traits, such as appearance and styles of presentation. Another, “Measuring Stereotypes of Female Politicians,” showed that female politicians get caught in a double bind women in corporate leadership positions know all too well: they are perceived simultaneously as not possessing stereotypical female characteristics (e.g., compassionate, sensitive, nice, etc.) and as lacking stereotypical male characteristics (e.g., leadership, competence, assertiveness, charisma, etc.). 

  • Nonprofit released an analysis of the biennial U.S. Census survey. Among other things, the report highlighted the 15 percent gap—the smallest it has been in the last four presidential elections—in voter turnout for the 2012 presidential campaign between lower income and higher income households: voter turnout for households of less than $50,000/year income was 62 percent, compared to 77 percent of those of more than $75,000/year.
  • According to the Center for Responsive Politics, candidates, political parties, and outside groups spent approximately $2.3 billion on the 2012 U.S. presidential race alone. Reasons cited for why U.S. elections costs are so high included the larger number of offices and shorter term lengths (hence more campaigns) than most other democracies; a candidate-centered electoral system that focuses more on individual candidates than their parties; and the prevalence of TV and airwave-based campaign tools, which are expensive. By contrast, Germany’s September 2013 federal election, in which Angela Merkel won re-election, cost approximately $93 million, much of it coming from public financing. The U.K. spent about £31.5 million ($48 million USD) for its 2010 general election; the U.S. spent about $3.6 billion that year. Outside the U.S., other democracies tightly regulate and monitor election spending. For example, candidates in the U.K are barred from purchasing television or radio time. Public financing is fully integrated into the election systems in countries such as Denmark, Finland, Germany, Mexico, Sweden, and Turkey, to name a few. In Norway, political parties are funded primarily by the government—74 percent in 2012—to reduce their reliance on big donors and corporations.

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