How Are Women Not Running America?

American men, our days of political power surely are numbered. I don’t know how we have hung on as long as we have.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released voter demographic data from last year’s presidential election, and the picture does not favor men’s political fortunes.

Most media outlets focused on the fact that for the first time, eligible blacks voted at higher rates than whites and every other racial and ethnic group. That’s good insofar as it’s always good when a group votes in greater numbers.

Likewise, it was disappointing that the number of young voter participation decreased steeply from four years before. Youthful exuberance for President Barack Obama apparently had run its course.

Other Census data were interesting, but not as surprising. For example, educated people vote more frequently than uneducated. Turnout also increases with age and household income. The American most likely to cast a ballot is a married, 65-year-old, black college professor whose family earns at least $150,000.

And that professor probably is a woman. Women last year continued a decades-long trend of turnout rates greater than men.

How, then, have women not taken over the country? Not one female president. Only one-in-five senators and representatives. Only one-in-10 governors.

Women have the numbers to dominate on Election Day. In November, 71.4 million women voted compared to 61.6 million men. In part, that was because women outnumber men generally, but they also take greater advantage of their right to vote. Last year, their turnout rate ran 4 percentage points ahead of men’s.

These sorts of figures transcend state lines and regional stereotypes. Some of the states with the biggest turnout advantage for women were in the South. Men, meanwhile, had the advantage in only Arizona and North Dakota.

This is nothing new. November was not a breakthrough election for women like it was for blacks. Women’s breakthrough year was 1980 when, according to Census records, women turned out at a greater rate than men for the first time. Their advantage has widened almost every four years since.

That’s 32 years of electoral dominance without political dominance.

Granted, women and men do not vote monolithically. Some women would vote against Hillary Clinton if she runs in 2016; some men would vote for her. Heck, some women vote for Republicans who would limit reproductive rights and who preach a faith of female subservience.

Women did help propel some Democrats to victories last year. Meanwhile, groups like EMILY’s List and the Center for American Women in Politics for years have promoted women in politics. Yet gains have come slowly and gender equity in elected office remains elusive.

This reflects poorly on a nation that fancies itself a shining light of democracy. When the political leadership is so far out of step with the electorate and the composition of congress so drastically diverges from the population as a whole, the nation can hardly claim to be an exemplar of representative government. Even entrenched power eventually must yield to demographic trends.

Christian Trejbal is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists and chair of the Open Government Committee. Overcoming graduate degrees in philosophy, he worked as an editorial writer at The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times for more than a decade. In 2013, he and his wife moved to Portland, Ore., where he writes freelance, pursues a couple of book projects and provides public policy analysis. Or, as his wife prefers to say, he is a stay-at-home dude. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal.

Images source: Wikimedia Commons.

Graphs created by the writer based on U.S. Census Bureau data.

  • Chris, This is something I really think about a lot. A LOT! How is that there are so many organizations that are supposed to be grooming and encouraging women to run, yet we have made so few gains?

    • Chris Trejbal

      At some point one must ask whether the groups that are advocating are doing something wrong or not enough. I look at Emily’s list, and it sure looks like they are doing things well, but if the metric is successfully electing women to parity, it’s hard to conclude they have been roaringly successful.

    • Jonathan Menon

      The patriarchal structure of society has been entrenched for thousands of years. Things like that don’t change on a dime. And the last fifty years of post-Betty Friedan feminism is pretty much still a dime.

      It’s a much more difficult problem than we usually believe.

  • Lisa Solod

    I keep thinking: it’s going to change, it is. But after more than 40 years of being a feminist, I still wonder why we keep having to fight the same battles over and over again. Women WILL run the US when: labor laws are fair, child care is a given, men step up far better than they have in terms of household work and caring for children, young women realize that the rights they have enjoyed all their lives are being whittled away at and DO something about that, and when women who DO run whatever show they run will stop pretending that they aren’t feminists. Still, it’s a daily struggle for most women who simply do not have the time or the resources to run for office, or, most importantly, those old boy connections that have made it possible for men–so many of them incompetent–to run the country for so long.

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