The Pew Research Center has some interesting data on voters’ views about the gender gap in politics:
“Republicans and Democrats have widely different views about where things stand today and what factors are holding women back. Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are more than twice as likely as Republicans and those who lean Republican to say there are too few women in high political offices (79% vs. 33%). And while 64% of Democrats say gender discrimination is a major reason why women are underrepresented in these positions, only 30% of Republicans agree. …
“By 20 percentage points, Republican women are more likely than their male counterparts to say there are too few women in high political offices (44% of GOP women vs. 24% of GOP men) and in top executive positions in business (49% vs. 29%) in the U.S. today. And while most Republican women say it’s easier for men to get these positions, closer to half of GOP men say the same.”
As the Republican Party has shifted its focus from conservatism to white male grievance, these results are understandable. The Republican men who have swooned over President Donald Trump’s nostalgia for a bygone era (when women primarily stayed at home) are not about to see a need for more women in politics, nor are they prepared to say that there is something wrong with the system that produces a preponderance of men in business and political leadership.
What’s striking is the large majority of Americans (67 percent) who think it is easier for men to get elected than for women and who think “there are too few women in high political offices (59%) and in top executive positions in business (59%).” Perhaps President Trump’s tenure and the #MeToo movement have left the impression that women are a safer bet when it comes to certain issues. “Roughly four-in-ten adults (41%) say women in high political offices are better than men at serving as role models; 4% say men are better at this. Women are also seen as better able to maintain a tone of civility and respect: 34% say female political leaders are better at this, while 9% point to men.” Republicans consistently rate women lower than Democrats do when asked whether women have an edge over men in compassion, the ability to compromise, and being honest and ethical.
To the extent that members of the public see Trump — and, for example, an all-male contingent of Republican Judiciary Committee members — behave in ways they find disrespectful — if not downright obnoxious and misogynistic — the preference for women politicians might intensify.
These attitudes are reflected in the number of women each party has nominated in this cycle. Ronald Brownstein points out in the Atlantic:
“Democrats have positioned themselves to benefit from that energy by nominating female candidates in 183 House races, according to the Rutgers University Center for American Women and Politics. That easily outdistances the previous record of 120 in 2016, and is much more than the 70 women who ran in 1992. (Republicans have nominated just 52 women in House races this year.) According to the center’s calculations, Democrats have also set records with 15 female Senate nominees (including two challengers in Nevada and Arizona who are best positioned to win GOP-held seats) and 12 gubernatorial picks.”
There are a few takeaways from all this.
First, the parties might become as polarized on gender as they are on race, with women voters overwhelmingly supporting Democrats and elected Democratic women vastly outnumbering elected Republican women.
Second, Trump personally, and the fight over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, might aggravate these trends. Kavanaugh’s confirmation, Brownstein explains, could wind up “helping Democrats in-and of-all races hold more college-educated white women. Such a shift, if combined with greater minority turnout, could be the final piece to elect more white Democratic women, as in 1992, and more women of color.”
The irony should not be lost on us that in losing her 2016 race, Hillary Clinton fundamentally shifted the gender balance in American politics. It would be some consolation both to women and Democrats more generally if the fury many women felt in the election of a self-confessed sexual predator translated into a permanent deficit for the party that stuck by him.