Most of the time I feel like we are getting nowhere. There’s still a gender wage gap, still a women’s leadership gap (in spite of our superior educational attainment), still a motherhood penalty, and more women than men in poverty.
But researching this post perked me right up. Women have real power at the polls. More than men, even. Women are a larger share of the population, and more of us actually cast ballots. In every single presidential election since 1964, women have cast more votes than men. Data show that in 2008 and 2012, black women voted proportionally more than any other group, as well. The difference in who actually turns out can be dramatic. In 2008, 10 million more women voted than men. Four years earlier, the difference was 8.8 million.
Maybe the seven decade fight, from the the 1848 women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls until passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, made our vote more precious. Perhaps we feel an urgency to make up for lost time. Nearly a century and a half passed from the birth of the United States until the first election in which women’s votes were counted. Perhaps with less privilege and fewer resources, women feel the consequences of poor policy more keenly than men. Considering the modern day complexity of actually getting to the voting booth – work, children, and the obligations and demands pressing down on us from every direction – our turnout rate is nothing short of heroic. Yay, us!
Women voters are changing in ways that will have political ramifications, too. This is the first presidential election in which the population of unmarried women is greater than that of married women. Unmarried women tend to have lower wages, not be homeowners, and are more likely to live in poverty than married women. If they turn out, their experiences could determine results both up and down the ballot.
At the same time college-educated women are being courted by both campaigns because there is no road to the White House without them. Recently the Washington Post reported “Female voters … almost certainly will swing the election. Clinton and Trump are targeting many intersecting groups and subgroups of swing voters, but strategists for both campaigns said white women with college degrees are at the top of their lists.”
Women are half the workforce and more highly educated than men. With so much at stake, our political engagement remains high. We don’t all vote the same way, but historically tend to favor Democratic candidates. If white women with college degrees line up against Trump in sufficient numbers, he may not see the inside of the Oval Office. PopSugar notes that college educated white women are the largest segment of white voters. So far, Trump is having trouble with this slice of the electorate. Romper has observed All The Things Donald Trump Has Said About Mothers Don’t Make Him Look Great.
College educated white women have left their imprint all over the presidential campaigns. Student loan debt is an issue because women’s lower wages, even when working full-time and year-round, mean it takes them longer to pay off the debt than men with the same loan balance, major and degree. That brings the gender pay gap into the mix. Women’s income is essential to their households now that 2/3 of all families with children have mothers who are primary or co-primary breadwinners. Who gets time off when a baby comes, and whether or not that time is paid, impact women’s income and family economic security.
Women are still doing much more unpaid domestic labor than men even when both are employed, which drives down their employment, income, and financial status post-retirement. It’s no exaggeration that barriers to women’s advancement threaten our economic strength. Inadequate paid parental leave, exorbitantly expensive child care and a work culture that prizes long hours over performance aren’t merely inconveniences, or even socio-economic problems – they threaten our national security by pushing out the most educated segment of the labor force.
The 2016 election takes place 96 years after passage of the 19th Amendment by which women won the vote. We are the game changers this year, both in the raw number of voters and in shaping the central issues. It’s high time. It’s beyond time.
Voting doesn’t require a man’s upper body strength, an old boys’ network, or even a drop of testosterone. Make a voting plan today – figure out where you’ll vote and when, if you need early voting, an absentee ballot, or a babysitter. Vote.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington