What influences women’s votes?
Following their well-researched study of women voters immediately after the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1919 (Counting Women’s Ballots: Female Voters From Suffrage Through the New Deal, 2016), Wolbrecht (Political Science/Univ. of Notre Dame) and Corder (Political Science/Western Michigan Univ.) extend their inquiry to the present, offering an authoritative academic analysis of how women voted in presidential elections over the last 100 years. After an overview chronicling the fight for suffrage, the authors organize their investigation by historical period: the 1920s and ’30s, marked by a world war and Great Depression; the 1940s and ’50s, when traditional gender roles seemed entrenched; the late 1960s and ’70s, when second wave feminism “challenged and transformed” assumptions about women’s interests and the Voting Rights Act brought African American women to the voting booth; the 1980s, when pollsters discovered the gender gap; and 21st-century elections, ending with the defeat of the first woman presidential candidate. The authors assert that two factors traditionally have been thought to shape women’s voting behavior: distinctive gender (women have “distinctive traits, values, and capacities”) and resource inequality (women have less access to political information than men). Although until the 1960s, women were less inclined than men to vote, in the ’60s and ’70s, the turnout gap “narrowed to nothing,” and women became “more supportive than men of social welfare programs.” In the ’80s and ’90s, women were more likely to vote than men and also more likely than men to support Democratic presidential candidates, whom they deemed more progressive than Republicans. Drawing on abundant research data, the authors reveal that a consistent theme among candidates is that “women’s interests are fundamentally tied to motherhood and the home,” but they argue convincingly—and often densely—that “women are not just one kind of voter and are not mobilized only by their gender per se.” Rather, distinctive gender traits and access to resources intersect with race, employment, education, social class, and religion. “Gender matters,” they write. “It is just not the only thing that matters.”
A sturdy scholarly contribution to women’s studies and political analysis.