Opinions

What will it take to achieve gender equality in American politics?

In the past century, since the passage of the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, Americans developed nuclear bombs, traveled to space and invented the Internet. But the country has not come even close to achieving equal representation for women and men in politics.

Women in office

Men

Democratic

Republican

All parties

Independent

Women

50%

U.S. Senate

26%

U.S. House

23%

Governor

18%

Lt. Governor

35%

State legis.

29%

Mayor*

27%

President

0%

*100 largest cities.

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

at Rutgers University

Women in office

Men

Democratic

Republican

All parties

Independent

Women

50%

U.S. Senate

26%

U.S. House

23%

Governor

18%

Lt. Governor

35%

State legis.

29%

Mayor*

27%

President

0%

*100 largest cities.

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

at Rutgers University

Women in office

Men

Democratic

Republican

Independent

All parties

U.S.

Senate

U.S.

House

Governor

Lt.

Governor

State

legis.

Mayor*

President

50%

Women

26%

23%

18%

35%

29%

27%

0%

*100 largest cities.

Source: Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University

The United States is 83rd in a global ranking of women in the lower house of the legislature, right between Tajikistan and Armenia. Here’s how it compares with other Group of Seven countries:

G-7 countries

50%

Women

France

39.5%

Italy

36%

Britain

34%

Germany

31%

Canada

29%

United States

23%

Japan

10%

Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union’s rank of

women in the lower house of the legislature.

G-7 countries

Women

50%

France

39.5%

Italy

36%

Britain

34%

Germany

31%

Canada

29%

United

States

23%

Japan

10%

Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union’s rank of women in the

lower house of the legislature.

G-7 countries

France

Italy

Britain

Germany

Canada

United

States

Japan

50%

Women

39.5%

36%

34%

31%

29%

23%

10%

Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union’s rank of women in the lower house of the legislature.

Men have dominated U.S. politics for most of the country’s history, and remain in control of the vast share of elective offices long after women secured the right to vote.

Share of men and women

in the U.S. Congress

100%

Men

80

60

40

Women

20

1789

1850

1900

1950

2020

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

Share of men and women in Congress

100%

Men

80

60

40

20

Women

1789

1850

1900

1950

2020

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

Share of men and women in Congress

100%

Men

80

60

40

20

Women

1789

1850

1900

1950

2020

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

Only in 1992 did women start to make a dent in that reality. That year, a record number of women ran for office, prompted in part by the treatment of Anita Hill during the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas the year before — by the all-male Senate Judiciary Committee. In what became known as the Year of the Woman, more than two dozen women were elected to Congress.

Since then, the number of women in Congress has continued to grow, a development largely led by the Democratic Party. Nonetheless, women still hold a disproportionately small share of seats:

Percentage of women in each party

U.S. House

U.S. Senate

Dem.

Rep.

Dem.

Rep.

50%

38%

women

7%

38%

17%

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

Percentage of women in each party

U.S. House

U.S. Senate

Dem.

Rep.

Dem.

Rep.

50%

38%

women

7%

38%

17%

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

Percentage of women in each party

U.S. House

U.S. Senate

Democratic

Republican

Democratic

Republican

50%

38%

women

7%

38%

17%

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

“If you think that women have had the right to vote for 100 years, and we are still living in a situation where women make up less than 25 percent of members of Congress, [then] this is a process that is painfully slow,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

A painfully slow process

After women earned the right to vote starting in 1920, men and women have tended to vote in similar ways. But a fundamental shift began in 1980, when, for the first time, more women turned out to vote in the presidential election than men. That trend has continued since, year after year. The paradox of women in politics is that they vote in greater numbers than men but remain so dramatically underrepresented in elected office.

Registered voters

Turnout

80%

Women

70

Women

60

Men

Men

50

40

1976

2016

1976

2016

Source: U.S. Census

Registered voters

Turnout

80%

Women

70

Women

60

Men

Men

50

40

1976

2016

1976

2016

Source: U.S. Census

Registered voters

Turnout

80%

80%

Women

70

70

Women

60

60

Men

Men

50

50

40

40

1976

2016

1976

2016

Source: U.S. Census

Women’s turnout is just part of the story of how their voting behavior has evolved. A noticeable — and, in recent years, widening — gap emerged between how women and men voted. Since 1980, women have been more likely to support Democratic candidates and to endorse more liberal policy positions, while men have generally favored Republican candidates and more conservative positions.

Share voting

Democrat for

president

Share voting

Republican

70%

60

Women

Men

50

40

Men

Women

30

20

1980

2016

1980

2016

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

Share voting

Democrat for president

Share voting

Republican

70%

60

Women

Men

50

40

Men

Women

30

20

1980

2016

1980

2016

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

Share voting Democrat for president

Share voting Republican

70%

70%

60

60

Women

Men

50

50

40

40

Men

Women

30

30

20

20

1980

2016

1980

2016

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

In presidential elections, when Democrats won, female voters provided the winning margin.

Percentage voting for the winner

in presidential elections

Clinton

Obama

70%

Men

60

52%

Women

50

40

41%

30

20

10

1980

2016

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

Percentage voting for the winner

in presidential elections

Reagan

G. H. W.

Bush

Clinton

G. W.

Bush

Obama

Trump

70%

Men

60

Women

52%

50

40

41%

30

20

10

1980

’84

’88

’92

’96

2000

’04

’08

’12

’16

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

Percentage voting for the winner in presidential elections

Reagan

G. H. W.

Bush

Clinton

G. W. Bush

Obama

Trump

70%

Men

60

Women

52%

50

40

41%

30

20

10

1980

’84

’88

’92

’96

2000

’04

’08

’12

’16

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

The difference in party preferences is mirrored by differences on key issues, with women tending to be more liberal than men. The chart below compares men’s and women’s preferences on several issues.

Gender difference on key issues

More liberal

More conserv.

-1

-0.5

0

0.5

1

Gun Control

Women

Men

Education

Health care

Childcare

Millionaire Tax

Welfare

Gay Rights

Defense

Immigration

Source: Analysis of 2016 data American National

Election Studies by Tiffany D. Barnes,

University of Kentucky, and Erin C. Cassese,

University of Delaware.

Gender difference on key issues

More liberal

More conserv.

-1.5

-1

-0.5

0

0.5

1

1.5

Gun Control

Women

Men

Education

Health care

Childcare

Millionaire Tax

Welfare

Gay Rights

Defense

Immigration

Source: Analysis of 2016 data American National Election

Studies by Tiffany D. Barnes, University of Kentucky,

and Erin C. Cassese, University of Delaware.

Gender difference on key issues

More liberal

More conservative

-1.5

-1

-0.5

0

0.5

1

1.5

Gun Control

Women

Men

Education

Health care

Childcare

Millionaire Tax

Welfare

Gay Rights

Defense

Immigration

Source: Analysis of 2016 data American National Election Studies by Tiffany D. Barnes,

University of Kentucky, and Erin C. Cassese, University of Delaware.

But that liberal tendency is not true of all women. Within party lines, both genders tend to think rather similarly, as shown here:

Gender gap differences within

parties are relatively small

More liberal

More conserv.

-1

-0.5

0

0.5

1

Men

Women

Gun Control

Women

Men

Education

Health care

Childcare

Dem.

Rep.

Millionaire Tax

Welfare

Gay Rights

Defense

Immigration

Source: American Party Women Redux: Stability

in Partisan Gender Gaps, by Erin C. Cassese,

University of Delaware, and Tiffany D. Barnes

and Victoria D. Beall, University of Kentucky.

Gender gap differences within

parties are relatively small

More liberal

More conservative

-1.5

-1

-0.5

0

0.5

1

1.5

Women

Men

Gun Control

Women

Men

Education

Health care

Democrats

Republicans

Childcare

Millionaire Tax

Welfare

Gay Rights

Defense

Immigration

Source: American Party Women Redux: Stability in Partisan

Gender Gaps, by Erin C. Cassese, University of Delaware, and

Tiffany D. Barnes and Victoria D. Beall, University of Kentucky.

Gender gap differences within parties are relatively small

More liberal

More conservative

-1.5

-1

-0.5

0

0.5

1

1.5

Women

Men

Women

Men

Gun Control

Education

Health care

Democrats

Republicans

Childcare

Millionaire Tax

Welfare

Gay Rights

Defense

Immigration

Source: American Party Women Redux: Stability in Partisan Gender Gaps, by Erin C. Cassese,

University of Delaware, and Tiffany D. Barnes and Victoria D. Beall, University of Kentucky.

Still, it holds true that the majority of women of all ages and education levels have identified with liberal policies and gravitated toward the Democratic Party in recent years:

Party identification among women

Share who identify as or lean toward each party.

Democratic

56

50%

Republican

38

’94

’06

’19

Generation

Millennial women

Generation X

50%

’06

’19

’94

’19

Baby Boomer

Silent Generation

50%

’94

’19

’94

’19

Education

College graduate +

Non-college grad.

50%

’94

’19

’94

’19

Source: Pew Research Center annual survey.

The data from 2018 and 2019 years has been

combined. Don’t know responses not shown.

Party identification among women

Share who identify as or lean toward each party.

56

Democratic

50%

38

Republican

’94

’06

’19

Generation

Millennial women

Generation X

50%

’94

’06

’19

’94

’06

’19

Baby Boomer

Silent Generation

50%

’94

’06

’19

’94

’06

’19

Education

College graduate +

Non-college graduate

50%

’94

’06

’19

’94

’06

’19

Source: Pew Research Center annual survey. The data from

2018 and 2019 years has been combined.

Don’t know responses not shown.

Party identification among women

Share who identify as or lean toward each party.

Democratic

56

48

50%

42

Republican

38

’94

’06

’19

Generation

Education

Millennial

Generation X

College graduate +

Dem.

50%

50%

Rep.

’94

’06

’19

’94

’06

’19

’94

’06

’19

Baby Boomer

Silent Generation

Non-college graduate

50%

50%

’94

’06

’19

’94

’06

’19

’94

’06

’19

Source: Pew Research Center annual survey. The data from 2018 and 2019 years has been combined.

Don’t know responses not shown.

In the 2018 midterm elections, the first after the election of President Trump, the share of women voting for a Democratic candidate for the House continued to move upward in nearly every demographic segment. The racial divide is particularly stark: 92 percent of Black women favored Democrats in 2018, compared to 49 percent of White women. Among White women without a college degree, 42 percent voted Democratic.

Black women have been staunch

Democratic supporters

Share voting Democratic in 2018

Black

92%

Latina

73%

White

49%

Among women who

voted Democratic

Education

(White women)

Marital status

70%

Unmarried

College

50

Married

women

Non-college

20

’16

’18

’16

’18

Source: National Election Pool exit polls,

2016 and 2018.

Black women have been staunch

Democratic supporters

Share voting Democratic in 2018

92%

Black

73%

Latina

White

49%

Among women who voted Democratic

Education (White women)

Marital status

Unmarried

70%

70%

College

50

50

Married

women

Non-college

20

20

’16

’18

’16

’18

Source: National Election Pool exit polls, 2016 and 2018.

Black women have been

staunch Democratic

supporters

Among women who

voted Democratic

Share voting Democratic in 2018

Education (White women)

Marital status

Black women

Unmarried

70%

92%

College

Latina

50

Married

73%

Non-college

White

49%

20

’16

’18

’16

’18

Source: National Election Pool exit polls, 2016 and 2018

Today, there are nearly eight times more Democratic women in the House than Republicans.

Women in the U.S. House

88

80

Democratic

60

40

20

13

Republican

1917

’40

’60

’80

2000

’20

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

Women in the U.S. House

88

80

Democratic

60

40

20

13

Republican

1917

’40

’60

’80

2000

’20

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

Women in the U.S. House

88

80

Democratic

60

40

20

13

Republican

1917

’40

’60

’80

2000

’20

Source: Center for American Women and Politics

So what will it take to achieve gender equality in American politics?

It will take some more time and a lot more effort to reach equal representation. I asked my colleague David Byler, a statistics expert, to estimate how long it would take for women to reach equal numbers in Congress at the current pace. His estimate: about 60 years.

Percentage of women in the House

and estimated time to reach

equal representation

50%

Trend

40

30

20

Democrat and

Republican

combined

10

10

1950

2000

2050

2080

Source: David Byler’s analysis of data from the

Center for American Women and Politics

Percentage of women in the House

and estimated time to reach

equal representation

50%

Trend

40

30

20

Democrat and

Republican

combined

10

10

1950

2000

2050

2080

Source: David Byler’s analysis of data from the

Center for American Women and Politics

Percentage of women in the House and estimated time

to reach equal representation

50%

Trend

40

30

20

Democrat and

Republican

combined

10

10

1950

2000

2050

2080

Source: David Byler’s analysis of data from the Center for American Women and Politics

The idea of possibly waiting another half-century is disheartening. But concerted effort by both parties and some unpredictable factors could change that perspective. For example, Trump’s election motivated scores of Democratic women to run for office in 2018. This year, again, women are seeking office in record numbers, with Republicans also part of the push. As a result, a record number of women are running for House seats, with nearly 300 women securing their party’s nomination, including more than 200 Democrats and nearly 90 Republicans.

That’s progress, for sure. But it’s not enough — not even close. In fact, it is appalling that after a century we remain so far from equality, especially on the Republican side. It should not take another 60 years to fix that.

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