For a revealing look at the GOP skinny on some specific House of Reps races, read Kos’s post “House 2006: Reynolds names names.” Kos provides NRCC head Tom Reynolds’s assessment of endangered GOP incumbents, along with the NRCC perspective on vulnerable Dem incumbents, both culled from Reynolds’ recent Roll Call article. Kos reports the DCCC’s take on Reynolds’s analysis, noting that Reynolds, who has eliminated all mention of the word “Republican” from his own campaign’s website, is also vulnerable.
In the wake of the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, The Boston Globe‘s Joseph Williams has an article discussing the pros and cons of “majority-minority” districts from a progressive point of view. As Williams explains, celebrations of the Act’s renewal are tempered with a growing concern about the dilution of the African American vote:
But the renewal overshadowed a quiet but growing debate among Democrats: whether mostly black voting districts in cities like Petersburg — which helped elect the state’s first African-American House member in more than 100 years — should be diluted to spread around liberal voters and help elect more Democrats get to Congress.
While most black politicians and activists agree with the concept of “majority-minority” districts, others say they’re a mixed blessing: By sweeping a concentrated number of black voters into fewer districts, the Voting Rights Act’s unintended effect may be to increase racial polarization and help preserve Republican congressional power
Some Democrats, including some African-Americans, believe their party has better odds of retaking Congress if African-American voters are divided among many districts, leaving just enough of a percentage in any one district to elect minority candidates while helping more Democrats run competitively in surrounding districts.
Since African Americans vote about 90 percent Democratic, finding the right balance is a difficult challenge. Democrats squeemish about addressing such raw political calculations should take note that Republicans’ are more than eager to overload districts with African American voters. As Williams notes:
…Republican-dominated legislatures try to design districts with the maximum possible number of minorities — such as the 2d district of Louisiana, which is 63.7 percent black and elected Representative William Jefferson to Congress with 79 percent of the vote.
The point is echoed by University of Virginia elections expert Larry Sabato “The Democrats have an enormous number of excess votes in these majority-minority districts.” Maryland Political Scientist Ron Walters disagrees, pointing out that 60 percent African American voters may not be enough to secure minority representation in some districts.
The debate will continue to intensify at the state level, where congressional districts are redesigned. (For a more in-depth analysis of the issue, see Thomas F. Schaller’s article). If Democrats do as well as expected in the gubernatorial races this fall, and win a few key state legislatures, they will soon be faced with increasingly difficult redistricting decisions to secure the Party’s future.
by Scott Winship
Apologies for the lack of posts, but I’m realizing that when I have a roundtable discussion to coordinate, posting has to take a backseat. I’ll do better though. Please. Don’t go.
What’s the matter with Kansas? Possibly nothing, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by Duke economist Jacob Vigdor [pdf] (go Blue Devils!). This conclusion isn’t that novel, but rather than pointing to cultural issues as the reason that working class voters vote Republican, Vigdor argues that voters’ well-being depends not only on their standard of living but on their living standards relative to others in their reference groups.
I’ll be honest with you – you don’t want to read this paper unless you love the Greek alphabet. It has a deceptively catchy title – “Fifty Million Voters Can’t Be Wrong” – but a whole lotta math. But here’s the gist. Research indicates that individual evaluations of well-being depend on how others are doing. Vigdor considers two types of “others” you and I might compare ourselves to – people in a similar economic situation as us, and people who are geographically near us. He proposes a mathematical model relating political preferences to income and income relative to a reference group. Theory predicts a number of ways that relative income could affect political preferences, and real-world trends and patterns can be cited that are consistent with these predictions. If the predictions are borne out and accurately reflect reality, then the finding that relative income affects political preferences can explain why the working and middle classes tend to vote Republican and why they have not become more Democratic than they have as inequality has increased in recent decades.
Whew! Got that? OK, let me break it down more slowly.
Vigdor’s theory of relative income predicts that the more income inequality there is in a geographic area, the more support there will be for redistribution among the poor and among the rich who are altruistic. The idea is that when a poor person looks around and sees rich people, she is more inclined to support redistribution than if she looks around and sees only poor people. When an altruistic rich person encounters lots of poor people, she will be more likely to support redistribution than if she only comes across other rich people. Among the working and middle classes, support depends on how many rich people there are, how many poor people, and how altruistic voters are. With more rich people, for instance, the working and middle classes will support redistribution because they will benefit. When Vigdor estimates the key “parameters” in his mathematical model using statistics, he finds that the estimates are consistent with these predictions.
An implication of Vigdor’s findings is that one reason support for the Democratic Party among the working and middle classes failed to increase more as inequality grew is that segregation between the rich and everyone else has been on the rise for several decades. That means that today, the poor and the working and middle classes are less likely to see rich people when they look around than they were in, say, the 1960s.
Additional support for Vigdor’s theory comes in his finding that the relationship between income inequality and support for Al Gore in 2000 is stronger in urban counties than in rural ones. That is, in cities, people can look around and see whether there are many or few rich people, while in rural areas with low population density, it’s more difficult to do so.
Vigdor’s theory also predicts, and his data supports the predicton, that poor, working-class, and middle-class voters should have been less likely to vote for Gore the more poor people there were in their county. Rich individuals should have been – and were – less likely to vote for Gore the more high income people there were.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly for the Kansas question, Vigdor’s theory predicts that if voters compare themselves to people who are in a similar economic situation, then working- and middle-class voters should be less likely than poor or rich voters to support the Democrats. That’s because of the particular way that income is distributed in the U.S.
As income increases from $0 to a working-class income, the number of people at each income level gets larger and larger. That means that more often than not, when people in this income range (“the poor”) compare themselves to other poor people, they will find that there are more poor people doing better than them than worse. They will thus tend to support redistribution.
On the other hand, as income increases from a working-class income to an upper-middle-class income, the number of people at each income level gets smaller and smaller. When people in this income range (“the working and middle classes”) compare themselves to other similarly-situated people, they will find (more often than not) that there are more working- and middle-class people doing worse than them than better. Consequently, they will tend to oppose redistribution.
Finally, as income increases from an upper-middle-class income to an upper-class income, the number of people at each income level continues to get smaller and smaller, but the decline is not very steep. When the rich compare themselves to their peers, they will tend to find that there are nearly as many people doing worse than them as there are doing better. The rich will tend to be indifferent toward redistribution.
These predictions about support for redistribution are also supported by Vigdor’s data. Vigdor notes that since the New Deal, the income distribution in the U.S. has changed so that more people fall in the “working and middle classes” range where comparing oneself to one’s peers will produce opposition to redistribution. He also speculates that if, in the post-Civil-Rights-era South, poor whites began to compare themselves not to other poor whites but to even poorer blacks (who would not have been considered a proper reference group during Jim Crow), then southern whites would have become less redistributionist and would have moved into the Republican column, which is of course what happened.
It’s important to note that – as with all models – the estimates produced are accurate only to the extent that the model accurately depicts reality. The point of Vigdor’s analysis is not that his estimates are the final word or that relative income is the be-all, end-all, but that under fairly basic assumptions about how different factors affect political preferences, a relatively simple model applied to real-world data confirms the predictions made before he began playing around with the data. The evidence implies that Democratic underperformance among working- and middle-class voters is due in part to the tendency of people to compare themselves to others and to a number of social patterns that made this tendency prevent people from becoming more Democratic.
Incidentally, I remain a Blue Devils basketball fan even though a) their engineering school denied my undergraduate admissions application and b) Coach K is allegedly a big conservative. Don’t forget to check out the roundtable discussion on redistricting, electoral competition, and targeting of districts.
Democrats interested in longer-range strategy should check out a Sunday WaPo article by Chris Cilliza and Zachary A. Goldfarb, “Atlas Group Strives to Map Out Success for Democrats.” According to the article, three veteran Democratic strategists, Mary Beth Cahill, Steve Rosenthal and Michael Whouley are launching “The Atlas Project” to design a “comprehensive strategy” to win votes in a dozen ‘battleground’ states. The authors say the innovative project will “analyze election data, interview local Democrats, and mount a polling and targeting effort” beginning right after the November elections. Rosenthal, former head of America Coming Together (ACT), says the Atlas Project will provide
a more thorough targeting analysis than has ever been done before…In the heat of an election, it seems we’re always playing catch-up…Our goal with this project is to bring together the best strategic thinkers — the innovators at the state and national level — to learn from what’s been done over the past several elections.
Polling firms Garin Hart Yang Research Group, Penn Schoen & Berland and Brilliant Corners have already been retained, and Copernicus Analytics has been recruited to analyze the data so political messages can more effectively win the support of specific constituencies. The first Atlas Project strategy ‘road maps’ should be available by January ’08.
A new bipartisan poll of likely voters in 50 of the most competitive districts of the U.S. House of Representatives indicates that Democratic candidates have a significant advantage three months ahead of the November elections. The poll, conducted 7/19-23 by Democrat Stanley Greenberg and Republican Glen Bolger for National Public Radio, indicates that Democrats have a 6-point lead over Republicans in the 50 districts — up 18 points from 2004, when Republicans won these districts by 12 percent.
The 50 districts were selected, according to rankings by leading political analysts, including The Cook Political Report, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the Rothenberg Political Report and National Journal’s Hotline. Of the 50 selected districts, Republican congressmen held 40 of the seats, with 9 for Democrats and 1 Independent. 12 of the 50 seats were open, with 10 held by Republicans, 1 Independent and 1 Democrat. As Bolger says of the 50 districts:
This is where the effort is going to be made. This is where the money’s going to be spent , and this is where the messages are going to be the sharpest…This is where the House hangs in the balance.
Less than a third of the respondents, 29 percent, said they planned to vote for the incumbent. Only 14 percent said they would “definitely” vote for the incumbent, compared to 24 percent who said they would “definitely” vote against the incumbent. The Democrats’ largest — and most surprising — margin of support, +13, came on the so-called “values” issues, including flag-burning, stem-cell research and gay marriage.
However, the poll indicated that values issue ranked 7th among voters priorities in chosing a candidate, behind the war in Iraq; jobs and the economy; taxes and spending; health care; and terrorism and national security.
Two thirds (66 percent) of Democratic respondents said they were “very interested” in the November elections, compared to 56 percent of Republicans saying the same. Among all LVs surveyed, 54 percent said they were “more enthusiastic about voting than usual,” compared to 41 percent who said so during the last mid-term election in 2002. Generic Democratic candidates had a +7 point advantage over Republicans among LV’s “if the election were held today.” Dems had a +31-point advantage in voting for competitive Democrat-held seats and a +4 point advantage in contests for GOP-held seats.
President Bush’s job approval among LVs in the 50 competitive districts was 42 percent, with 55 percent disapproval, slightly better for him than recent figures for the nation as a whole.
Support for U.S. intervention in international conflicts is down, according to a poll conducted 7/21-25 by New York Times/CBS News. As Jim Rutenberg and Megan C. Thee note in their wrap-up story on the survey:
By a wide margin, the poll found, Americans did not believe the United States should take the lead in solving international conflicts in general, with 59 percent saying it should not, and 31 percent saying it should. That is a significant shift from a CBS News poll in September 2002 — one year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — when the public was far more evenly split on the issue.
The poll also found that 58 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. “does not have a responsibility” to resolve the conflict between Israel and other Mideast nations, but do support an international peacekeeping force on the Israel-Lebanon border.
Rutenberg and Thee cite “a strong isolationist streak in a nation clearly rattled by more than four years of war” and add that 56 percent of those polled support “a timetable for reduction of United States forces in Iraq.” Further, a majority of respondents support U.S., withdrawall “even if it meant Iraq would fall into the hands of insurgents,” say the authors. And a large majority clearly see U.S. Iraq policy as a fiasco:
More than twice as many respondents — 63 percent versus 30 percent — said the Iraq war had not been worth the American lives and dollars lost. Only a quarter of respondents said they thought the American presence in Iraq had been a stabilizing force in the region, with 41 percent saying it had made the Middle East less stable.
The poll had some good news for Dems, with 53 percent of respondents saying they held a “positive view” of the Democratic Party, compared to 37 percent saying the same for the GOP. Asked who they would vote for “if the election were held today”, 45 percent of RV’s chose the Democratic candidate in their district, compared to 35 percent for the Republican.
by Scott Winship
The thought occurred to me today while pondering my place in the world that perhaps all of you were running out of patience waiting for me to finally reveal what I’m reading. Well, all that waiting has finally paid off, because today I’m going to reveal the answer:
Kidding of course – those books are all crap….(rimshot)….is this mike on?….
I’m actually reading a history of the Democratic Leadership Council (Reinventing Democrats, by Kenneth Baer), a netroots manifesto (Crashing the Gate, by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas), and a triumphalist history of Republican strategy (One Party Country, by Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten). I’m enjoying all three, but what’s interesting is how they complement each other in a number of ways. I’ll hopefully get to some more examples in future posts, but today I want to focus on one issue the books all examine in their own way: the inability of the Democratic coalition to unify around a common strategy.
Baer’s account describes how the moderate Democrats who would come to form the core of the New Democrats relentlessly try to overcome the power of liberal activists affiliated with the Party’s most powerful interest groups. They first attempt to insert their ideas into the Party platform but are rebuffed. Next they attempt to change Party rules so that elected officials – more moderate than activists, said the New Dems, because they must appeal to diverse constituents and better appreciate electoral realities – are better represented among convention delegates.
Meeting with limited success again, they form the DLC and become involved in efforts to front-load the 1988 primaries with southern contests, which they believe will advantage moderate candidates that appeal to the more conservative South. Instead, Jesse Jackson is the big winner, winning essentially all of the African American southern vote. Dukakis’s loss convinces the New Dems to abandon the Big Tent strategy they had been pursuing, to instead sharply contrast themselves with other Democrats, and to seek out a candidate they can run in the 1992 election. This is as far as I’ve gotten, but I can’t wait to see what happens next. (My understanding is that they recruit a gregarious southern governor…)
Armstrong and Moulitsas also finger interest groups as (one) problem blocking Democratic electoral success, but their diagnosis is rather different from that of the New Democrats. Instead of interest groups being too liberal, they find them too parochial. Environmental groups, minorities, feminists, GLBT organizations, civil rights activists, and even labor (they argue) pursue their own narrow interests at the expense of overall Democratic prospects. In the end, for instance, abortion rights groups do themselves no good by supporting pro-choice Republicans because they are just strengthening an anti-choice majority. Rather than pulling in different directions, Democratic constituencies need to cooperate in multi-issue coalitions to elect more Democrats. This is as far as I’ve gotten, but I can’t wait to see what happens next. (I understand that they recommend new information technology – some system of tubes? – as a way to return power to progressives…)
In contrast to this depressing picture of disunity, Hamburger and Wallsten document the remarkable achievement of Grover Norquist in unifying conservative constituencies around the “Wednesday meeting” at the American Enterprise Institute offices. Norquist drums into his colleagues’ heads the point that their shared goal is to build and maintain a conservative majority, which requires that everyone occasionally sacrifice in the short-term. He also has a canny gift for linking issues across interest groups. Making the case to social conservatives that they ought to oppose Democratic efforts to promote fuel-efficient vehicles, Norquist tells Phyllis Schlafly, “You can’t have a whole lot of kids in a tiny fuel-efficient car.”
Hamburger and Wallsten also recount the history of the early-‘90s congressional redistricting. The re-drawing of district boundaries was driven by an unholy alliance between Republicans and African Americans who wanted to maximize their representation in Congress in the wake of favorable court rulings requiring districts that were fairer to black candidates. As a consequence, blacks experienced gains in the 1992 elections, but so did Republicans, who sliced away right-leaning white voters from formerly Democratic districts in the course of giving African Americans districts that optimized their electoral opportunities. Once again, Democratic division and Republican unity strengthened the power of conservatives – the GOP would win back the House for the first time in 40 years in 1994, in large measure because of the redistricting. This is as far as I’ve gotten, but I can’t wait to see what happens next. (My understanding is that it involves one of the parties winning control of all three branches of government…)
What can we take away from these three books? My conclusion is that there is a critical need to sort through two questions. First, are the Democrats’ electoral problems due more to being out of synch with voters or to being divided? And relatedly, why have Democrats been unable to achieve the unity that Republicans have?
I can’t say that I have the answers to these questions, but I’ll speculate here and hopefully generate some discussion. Taking the second question first, I wonder whether there is something about the Democratic coalition that makes its constituent parts more difficult to bring together. The Republican coalition basically consists of economic conservatives, who want small government and low taxes; social conservatives who want to preserve traditional institutions and promote traditional morality; and neoconservatives who are mainly concerned about how to leverage American military power to promote the nationalist interest abroad.
These groups aren’t usually inherently in conflict. Social conservatives do not advocate heavy government spending or regulation, even if many of them are sympathetic toward the poor and environmental protection. Economic conservatives are willing to tolerate large military budgets, to a point. Neocons have historically been skeptical of government intervention in the economy and in personal lives and concerned with morality. Social conservatives tend to be patriotic and pro-military, if often isolationist. And economic conservatives are (usually) comfortable with the traditionalist agenda of social conservatives, so long as the courts are there to block its more illiberal components. The point is that – until the Iraq fiasco, and now the immigration debate – it was relatively easy for these three groups to live with each other so long as each of them won some of what they wanted some of the time. Sometimes a wedge issue such as stem cell research presents itself, but not often.
Contrast the Republicans with the Democratic coalition. Social liberals include feminists, GLBT groups, environmentalists and civil libertarians who are mainly concerned with higher-order needs such as fulfillment and quality of life. Professionals and the well-educated overlap with this category but add a significant concern about fiscal responsibility. Economic liberals include labor and minority groups who are primarily concerned about their economic wellbeing. Minority groups also have their own concerns around discrimination and civil rights.
This coalition is far more problematic. Professionals who are deficit hawks are in conflict with economic liberals who want more social spending and may oppose excessive redistribution or excessively progressive taxation. Social liberals are often foreign policy doves while economic liberals are often hawks. Environmentalists and labor often have opposing interests. Economic liberals are often social conservatives and reject the modernist agendas of the social liberals, such as gay marriage. To some extent, the perceived interests of whites and nonwhites have conflicted, as busing, neighborhood segregation, and affirmative action battles have demonstrated.
Prior to 1992, the Democratic Party managed these competing constituencies by accommodating those preferences in each group that were liberal – so fiscal moderates, social conservatives, foreign policy hawks, and working-class whites competing with minorities for resources had to look elsewhere if those non-liberal preferences trumped their liberal ones (social liberalism in the case of fiscal moderates, economic liberalism in the case of social conservatives, hawks, and working-class whites). The story of Republican realignment is the story of non-liberal values in these groups trumping liberal ones. The Clinton years were a period of moderation, but since 2000 the grassroots of the Party has drifted slowly back toward uniform accomodation of liberal preferences (in a new effort at unity).
To return to the other question raised by the books I’m reading, it may be that attributing Democratic decline to either excessive liberalism or to disunity obscures how these two are related. Toeing the liberal line on all or most policies may necessarily alienate significant numbers of Democratic coalition members, who will then find a home in the Republican coalition. While Norquist needs only to convince Republican constituencies that they cannot always win, achieving unity among Democratic groups may require a Norquist-like figure who can convince each constituency that they must sometimes lose. The rightward tilt of the country might make unity more difficult to achieve among Democrats. What do you think?
by Scott Winship
When it was announced a year ago that Hillary Clinton had accepted the Democratic Leadership Council’s request to lead their agenda-setting efforts for the 2006 and 2008 elections, many critics were, shall we say, angry. David Sirota’s feelings toward the DLC – and toward Senator Clinton by association – summed up the prevailing attitude:
The fact is, the Democratic Party has to make a choice: Is it going to continue to follow the DLC, be a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate America, and lose elections for the infinite future? Or is it going to go back to its roots of really representing the middle class and standing up for ordinary people’s economic rights?
Well, today the DLC unveiled its agenda, The American Dream Initiative [pdf]. It remains to be seen how DLC critics will react, but to my mind, there is far more here that they should embrace than reject. To begin with, the initiative was undertaken cooperatively not only with the moderate Third Way, but with the Center for American Progress and the Howard Dean- and labor-friendly NDN. What did this coalition recommend in the end?
The report of the initiative begins with a priority that will set off red flags with some DLC critics: fiscal responsibility. The report calls for caps on discretionary spending but it does not propose the repeal of any of the Bush tax cuts. Instead, it would raise over half a trillion dollars over 10 years by eliminating corporate tax subsidies, downsizing the federal consultantocracy, capturing capital gains taxes that are currently evaded, and other measures.
Given the difficulty of closing corporate tax loopholes and the fact that spending caps are likely to be relatively high in order to accommodate the new programs below, it is difficult to see how we can reduce the deficit without at least a partial roll-back of the Bush tax cuts. But strategically, the initiative is clever in that it proposes other ways to fund new spending, so that if deficit reduction remains necessary after these savings measures, a rollback of the Bush tax cuts could be justified on the grounds that the additional revenues will be for fiscal responsibility rather than additional spending. The new programs are “paid for”.
The American Dream Initiative’s revenue-generating measures would allow for substantial additional social spending. The plan calls for boosting the number of college graduates by one million by 2015. It would do so through a $150 billion block grant to states to make public colleges and universities more affordable and raise graduation rates, a $3,000 refundable tuition tax credit (which would replace and expand a number of existing tax credits), secondary education reform, and additional money for non-traditional college students.
In health care policy, the American Dream Initiative would allow small businesses to join together and create a bigger insurance pool (thereby making coverage for their employees more affordable), and it would seek to achieve universal coverage of children. The initiative would invest in health care information technology to reduce costs and the frequency of medical errors. Finally, it proposes an attack on obesity, anti-smoking campaigns directed at children, creation of a National Center for Cures to make health care research more efficient, more liberal stem cell research policy, and allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices with private insurers.
What else? How about a Baby Bonds program that would give interest-bearing $500 bonds to all children at birth and again at age 10? How about making the mortgage interest tax deduction available to taxpayers who don’t itemize? A $5,000 refundable tax credit for down payment costs? Tax incentives for the construction of affordable homes? Expanding FHA loans and creating tax incentives for employer-provided housing assistance? Done and done.
Want more? The initiative proposes employer-mandated retirement accounts for all but the smallest employers, with tax credits to help businesses pay for them. It would also make employees opt out of contributing to these accounts rather than depending on them opting in. And it would make the existing Saver’s Credit refundable, giving lower- and middle-income families a fifty percent match for savings of up to $2,000 a year.
Finally, the American Dream Initiative would expand the economy through fiscal responsibility, increasing international trade, and investing in technology and alternative energy. It would require companies to offer the capital-building benefits they give their executives to all their employees and would make them report to the SEC data on profitability, foreign vs. domestic employment, and CEO and average-worker compensation. And it would impose additional regulations on pension and mutual funds to protect investors.
Presumably, few of us support all of these ideas, but taken together, this agenda strikes me as “progressive” by just about anyone’s definition. Of course, by itself it won’t necessarily be enough to win in 2008. After all, it plays to the Party’s strengths in economic and social policy. The 2008 nominee will also need an equally promising strategy on national security and on values.
To my mind, the best way to frame the entire agenda – from domestic policy to foreign policy to values – is to emphasize a duality that is central to the American Dream Initiative: the linking of opportunity to responsibility. We need to join the American Dream to the social contract, requiring responsibility from parents (for enrolling their children in available health insurance and other programs), non-custodial dads (for paying child support), recipients of means-tested benefits (for becoming self-sufficient), and college students receiving federal aid (for giving back to their communities). Employers must be responsible in their relations with consumers and employees and accountable to them. And the commander-in-chief must be accountable when he or she deceives the citizenry, bungles wars or recovery efforts, and explodes the budget deficit.
Wooing values voters doesn’t require us to become anti-abortion or anti-gay. By embracing the social contract – the idea that in return for providing public aid, society rightly can make requirements of beneficiaries – Democrats can tap into responsibility, a value that is as deeply felt as opportunity in America. And appealing to responsibility can link the American Dream Initiative to our foreign policy critique of Republicans while partly inoculating us against a values-based attack.
One of the great failures of American democracy is our inability to produce even a semblance of gender parity among elected officials in our federal, state and local political institutions. For example, the Center for American Women in Politics (CAWP) reports that women hold only 14 of 100 U.S. Senate seats (9 Democrats), 67 of 435 House of Reps. Seats (43 Democrats) and 8 of 50 governorships (6 Democrats). The shortfall raises an interesting question: Would women voters be more likely to vote for women candidates, and which party would benefit?
It’s a hugely complicated question and one of the subjects addressed in an interesting scholarly paper presented in April to the Midwest Political Science Association by Kathleen Dolan, a University of Wisconsin political scientist. While the aforementioned statistics suggest Democrats would likely derive the greater benefit from fielding more women candidates, the answer is more complex. As Dr. Dolan explains in her paper, “Women Candidates in American Politics: What We Know, What We Want to Know”:
Analyzing the NES data for congressional races from 1990-2000 indicates that there are some circumstances in which women voters more likely to choose women candidates than men voters do, but the relationship is not overwhelming. Here the effect seems to be conditioned by the office being sought – women voters were significantly more likely to choose women candidates for House races than were men, but there was no sex difference in voting for women candidates in Senate races (Dolan 2004). Too, the effect in House races was not overwhelming. Women’s probability of voting for a
woman candidate in these elections was .59, while for men the probability was .50. Clearly, this doesn’t signal a wholesale embracing or rejection of women candidates by either sex. So, while women may be more likely to vote for women than are men in some cases, this relationship does not hold in all circumstances. Nor does it hold true all of the time. When each election from 1990 to 2004 is analyzed separately, women were more likely to choose women candidates in House elections in only one year, 1992, the so-
called “year of the woman.” And, interestingly, in 1994, men voters were more likely to choose women candidates in Senate races than were women voters. These findings would cause us to conclude that the potential for women voters to favor women candidates is there, but may not be strong enough to determine a person’s vote in specific electoral situations and is rarely strong enough to overwhelm traditional influences like party identification and incumbency.
…But, as my work on vote choice indicates, party identification and incumbency drive voting for women. At the same time, some scholars suggest that some women will cross party lines to support women (Brians 2005; King and Matland 2003). So, it would be interesting to know more about what factors pull people away from their baseline preference and what it takes for that to happen.
Dolan has a lot more to say in her lengthy paper, and students of political strategy should find the entire paper of interest. For more on the gender gap with respect to political parties, see Anna Greenberg’s “Moving Beyond the gender Gap.”
Democrats may well have much to gain by fielding more women candidates, and the November elections offer an opportunity to increase women’s congressional representation substantially. Although filing deadlines for ’06 have passed in at least 46 states, CAWP reports that 13 Democratic women (and 6 Republicans) are running for U.S. Senate and 116 Democratic women are running for U.S. House seats (56 Republicans), with 8 Democratic women running for governorships (and 8 Republicans).
Democrats would do well to make a point of recruiting more women candidates, not only because we want to win more, but because it will make our democracy stronger and our society better. As the late Coretta Scott King said:
The lack of gender parity in government is not only unjust; it goes a long way to explain why children and families are being shortchanged by government policies. For improving the quality of our lives, where we really need some more assertive women is in the halls of congress, our state and local legislatures… Gender alone is no guarantee of effectiveness in leadership. But it is important that women achieve the full measure of opportunities guaranteed by all of the great democracies. Our world will never be in balance until women have a fair share in political decision-making.
The Washington Post today launches a new daily guide to the ’06 elections, “Bellwethers: Key Issues in the Battle for Congress.” The feature focuses on how voting may be affected by eight major “issues,” including: Iraq; immigration; President Bush; corruption; “pocketbook” concerns; GOP chances in the northeast; Democratic chances in the “upper south”; and ballot measures. The feature includes dozens of cross-links to useful data, including candidate bios, district and state demographic profiles, opinion polls, financial information and voting records — much of it nicely illustrated with clickable maps and jazzy graphics. WaPo says ‘Bellwethers’ will be an “organic” feature, which presumably means it will be updated and expanded with new developments. ‘Bellwethers’ offers substantially more easily-accessible content than the New York Times 2006 Election Guide and promises to be the best election tracking gateway offered by a daily newspaper