Thursday, November 28, 2013

More Women=Less Gridlock?

There is a belief that if women achieved a majority in Congress- to reflect the majority of women in the population- "they wouldn't find themselves in as much gridlock, with as much conflict and partisan grandstanding as their majority-male colleagues." Supporters of this theory site the "Sisterhood in the Senate" phenomenon where the 20 female Senators (regardless of party affiliation) meet regularly for dinner to promote compromise and cooperation.

Women in the Senate gained much public attention and praise when 6 of the 14 Senators that led the compromise ending the government shutdown in October were women. Similarly, in January, women in the Senate claimed that with more women, the fiscal cliff issue would have been solved more easily.

According to Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), the women in the Senate "don't believe in the culture of delay." Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) agrees: "One of the things we do a bit better is listen. It is about getting people in a room with different life experiences who will look at things a little differently because they're moms, because they're daughters who've been taking care of senior moms, because they have a different life experience than a lot of senior guys in the room."

Still, the notion that women lead or act differently in Senate or in Congress is not supported empirically. The pivotal politics theory, for example, places members of Congress on a linear ideological spectrum and identifies key players at the 3/5 required for cloture, the 2/3 required to override a veto, and the median voter required for a simple majority. The gridlock interval is location in between the veto pivot and the filibuster pivot. Of course, this theory depends on politicians acting rationally and acting in accordance with their own political preferences; it does not take into account gender identity.

The only reason why gender could make a measurable difference in the prevalence of gridlock is if one gender acts more rationally than another. Women may claim to be better compromisers, but I do not believe that this extends to women acting irrationally and voting against their own political preferences or the political preferences of their constituents.

Would more women in politics lead to less gridlock? No. Women do bring different perspectives, and they bring attention to more women's issues, but changing the gender demographics in Congress will not decrease gridlock. Only more moderate pivots would lead to less gridlock. This could be possible with rule changes, such as the newly adopted "nuclear option"- where only a simple majority is required for cloture- and with the election of more moderate candidates in the future.

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  1. Jane--Fair point that more women in congress will not bring less gridlock as we look at the proposals on the floor now compared to the pivot points. But, it could be said that more women in congress will bring forth more legislation that is appealing to more members of congress, more rational actions in committees, and this could potentially spur more movement. As you mentioned above six out of the 14 Senators that led the efforts for compromise were women--well above their 20% level of representation in the chamber. Women might not change pivot politics and that schema, but they might be able to succeed in bringing more congressmen to the table to foster discussions on the controversial issues.
    Sophie S.

  2. I agree with Sophie on this one. It is clear we cannot just state that more women lead to less gridlock, but women bring a different culture and perspective into Congress. In addition to being better listeners, I believe that being the minority brings them together. Despite party lines, there are certain things that most women will agree with each other one, if not actual legislation then just the fact that things need to get moving. I think it's really important to recognize the benefits they bring to our legislative branch and hopefully encourage more support and understanding to what they do to help.

    - Maddie J

  3. I agree that having more women in congress does positively change the culture of congress, but it will probably not affect the amount of gridlock. If political offices or preferred policy preferences are at stake, politicians will hold tight to their own political preferences. I think the government shutdown was a special case of bipartisanship because the majority of legislators in Congress and a majority of Americans did not want to see the government shutdown or the US default on its debt.

    --Arthur Townsend

  4. I think that having more women in Congress is a good thing, but I'm not sure how much change will come about if women were the majority in Congress. First of all think a lot of women are being opportunistic about the issue of compromise since they are a minority group in Congress. I don't think it is really fair to say that having more women in Congress will bring about less gridlock because they are better listeners. Additionally one interesting theory related to the idea of women succeeding in Congress that we mentioned in class is that the current women in Congress might be better legislators because they have to overcome more obstacles than men to get elected. This could explain why people think women could be more compromising, however I think that if women were the majority in Congress it would dilute their impact as a united group.

  5. Remember in class we once discussed the theory of super-qualified female members of congress. Essentially, women have to overcome more obstacles in obtaining a congressional seat, therefore they have to be much better legislators than the male counterparts to receive the same level of recognition or support. In effect, they’re held to a much higher standard. This could explain why the women we’ve observed in Congress have, proportionally speaking, produced rather large effects on policy outcomes or agreements like the shutdown deal. Like Jane, I’m not inclined to believe that simply adding more women solves the problem (‘good’ stereotypes are still stereotypes). We need to add more high quality legislators, regardless of gender.


  6. Another issue that I think has been overlooked is the fact that members of Congress are actually acting extremely rationally, given their incentives and punishments.Its the system itself that is causing these issues, not the gender of its members. If you replaced every single member of Congress with a woman, we would be in the exact same mess we are now. Brian N