Do Democrats owe their Senate majority to women?

November 9, 2012

This election has already been likened to 1992, a year when so many women were elected to office that it became known as “The Year of the Woman.” A historic number of women will take their seats in the U.S. Senate.


U.S. Senate candidate U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) celebrates her victory over Republican candidate Tommy Thompson as she enters the stage on election night on Nov. 6, 2012 in Madison, Wis. (Darren Hauck — Getty Images)

Now comes news from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University that women’s votes made the difference in the outcomes of several high-profile races that helped Democrats retain control of the Senate.

The center took a close look at seven hotly contested Senate races and found that men voted for the losing Republican candidate, while a majority of women cast their ballots for the winning Democratic candidate.

“The composition of the United States Senate in the 113th Congress would look very different if it were not for the votes of women in these races,” said Susan J. Carroll, senior scholar at the center. “Women and men preferred different candidates and women’s preferences prevailed.”

So which senators owe their seats to women?

Here’s what the Center for American Women and Politics had to say:
Democrats Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bob Casey (Penn.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.), and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) were all elected because of the votes of women, according to the center’s review of exit polls. In Connecticut, men split their votes evenly between Democrat Chris Murphy and Republican Linda McMahon, while women showed a clear preference for Murphy.

In the two U.S. Senate races where Republican candidates made controversial comments about rape, women’s votes played important roles in the victories of the Democratic candidates. In Indiana, a majority of women voted for Democrat Joe Donnelly, while a majority of men cast ballots for Republican Richard Mourdock. In contrast, in Missouri, a majority of both men and women voted for Democrat Claire McCaskill, although women were 7 percentage points more likely than men to vote for McCaskill.

Some of the largest gender gaps were in races where Democratic women won, including incumbent Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), who won the votes of 72 percent of women compared to 59 percent of men, and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), who ran against a Republican woman and won the votes of 77 percent of women and 59 percent of men. Senate newcomers Warren won 59 percent of women and 47 percent of men; Baldwin won the majority of women, with 56 percent of their votes, but only 46 percent of men voted for her.

This data leaves one question: What do these outcomes mean for the next woman to run for the White House?

Krissah Thompson is a National Staff Writer for The Washington Post.

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has covered local businesses, traveled to El Salvador and Guatemala to tell stories of immigrants’ connections to their home countries and reported from the newsroom’s Prince George’s County bureau. More recently, she has written about civil rights, race and politics.
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