Women Voter Mumbo Jumbo or Just the Prevailing Wind?
Year of the woman? Bah. Maybe we had more run, but we lost seats overall. And Sarah Palin doesn't seem to be helping things. Most of the women she backed lost. What about women voters, who were so important in 2008? Let's get one thing straight: women are swingers. That's what the numbers say, anyway. And women swung right.
"Whereas the gender gap played a major role in 2008 with women voting for Democrats 56 percent of the time compared to Republicans 42 percent of the time, in 2010 the split was 49-48 percent for Democrats to Republicans," says a FOX News analysis. Media organizations on the right and the left (let's not kid ourselves here) are showing data that undecided women broke toward the right this year.
NPR did a story yesterdays on "10 Takeaways from the 2010 Midterms." First on the list? The gender gap. In short, according to expert on women voters, Kathleen Dolan, the gap narrowed this year.
"In several races around the country, the size of the gender gap was much smaller than usual and, in other races, a plurality or majority of women voters chose Republican candidates."
"[W]omen are subject to the same forces and trends that men voters are. In a year when the national mood pulls voters toward Republican candidates, there is little reason to expect that women as a group would stand impervious to this pull."
This could also be because the key issue this year for everyone was the same: the economy. And as the pundits on TV were preaching all through election night, voters choose the party that's opposite the ruling party when the economy is in trouble (regardless of where or when the problems began.)
The other thing that hasn't been discussed yet around women voters or women candidates is the experience level of the women on the ballot. It's great news that we had so many women run, but as we've already seen, most of the women candidates lost. Why?
My mom was in California with me for the election, and we were talking about Kansas where she's from, and where I grew up. There were two choices in Kansas 3rd district: Stephene Moore, wife of the former Congressman and a nurse, and Kevin Yoder, a member of the State legislature. Although both had big political names, it was clear who had more legislative experience -- regardless of the fact he was farther right than the moderate base in that district tends to vote. And my mom kept going back to that point.
So while you can run analyses all you want on the politics involved in the race, whether voters wanted someone on the right or left, the fact in this race, as with many others, is the more experienced candidate won. Christine O'Donnell has never served in public office, nor has Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina. The women candidates who won? Incumbents, of course.
I haven't had a chance to go through every woman candidate's record and every opponent's record to see if this rule holds true in most cases -- there are always aberrations. Certainly, in Florida it looks like there's an aberration there with Alex Sink's loss. She served as CFO for Florida, whereas her opponent had no previous political experience. He did, however, serve in the U.S. Navy, and we all know that it's easier for men with no experience to get elected than it is for women. Just like with any job. (I'm not on a feminist rant here -- this is backed up by plenty of data.)
Anyway, back to women voters. We have power. We know that. We're the base of the swinger party. So how do we use that power? I think we need to call more women to serve in public office, get appointed, get elected, and then appoint other women. Then those women will gain experience, then women voters will feel proud to vote for other women, because we'll have real momentum, regardless of party affiliation.
Look at what The White House Project, the Women's Campaign Forum, the California Women's State Appointment Project and The 2012 Project are aiming to do, as well as partisan organizations on either side. It's all about a pipeline. Women voters generally will vote for women candidates when all things are otherwise equal. But they aren't always equal. So for women who want to gain the women's vote, they have to earn it.
That's not to say the issues of the day don't matter. They always do. But you can't take 51% of the population and assume that just because we're all women, there's some magic bullet that will make us all vote the same way. You can, however, know that the issues that matter to women are critically important. We see that all over the women with development in other countries. Women build communities. So if we bring more women to the table and get them government leadership experience, everyone wins. And we'll all vote for that.