Saturday, November 2, 2013

Should Republicans Care About Descriptive Representation?

An ABC News Fusion Poll recently found that 43% of Americans believe it would be a good thing if more women were elected to Congress, but the discrepancy between Democratic and Republican poll participants is significant. While 60% of Democrats stated it would be a good thing if more women were elected to Congress, just 23% of Republicans agreed, and 75% of Republicans stated it would make no difference to them if more women were elected to Congress. Among Republicans, partisanship was more of a determining factor than gender, as there was almost no difference in the responses of Republican women vs. Republican men. For Republicans, 22% of men responded that electing more women to Congress would be a good thing, and 24% of women responded that electing more women to Congress would be a good thing.

If this poll accurately reflects the opinions of Republican voters, then substantive representation, not descriptive representation, seems to be the most important factor in voting decisions. But if descriptive representation were completely irrelevant, it would not seem worthwhile for Republicans to raise money exclusively for female candidates in order to gain more descriptive representation for women in Congress. Still, PACs such as She-PAC and VIEW PAC have been working toward collecting donations and supporting conservative female candidates. Another Florida-based PAC, Maggie’s List, began raising money for candidates in the 2000 election, mimicking the EMILY’s List model to help female candidates with fiscally conservative political preferences and shifting the Party’s focus away from social issues by not even taking social preferences into account when creating the list. While Maggie’s List is still a relatively new PAC with just $57,000 in donations through June 30- compared to EMILY’s List’s $6.9 million- the PAC intends on growing in publicity and funds in order to make a measurable impact on the next election by helping more fiscally conservative women win office.

Despite the ABC poll’s suggestion that Republicans do not care about more descriptive representation of women in Congress, the gender gap in votes should serve as a sign for the Republican Party to reach out to more women. In the 2012 Presidential election, women were the decisive vote; if only men had voted, Republican nominee Mitt Romney would have won the election. But President Obama won the election with a 10% gender gap: he won 55% of women’s votes and 45% of men’s votes. This may be because the Democratic Party has identified as more substantively representative of women, especially young and unmarried women, as they have prioritized women’s issues such as access to contraception and abortion clinics. The Democratic Party also prefers stricter gun control policies, which tends to be more popular with women than men. This substantive representation complements the higher descriptive representation of Democratic women in Congress; there are currently 75 Democratic women in Congress and 23 Republican women in Congress.

In a New York Times interview, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, stated: “There is no doubt we need to do a better job as a party in reaching out to women, recruiting strong women candidates and sending a more positive message.”

Even if Republican voters do not understand the potential benefits of increased descriptive representation of women, the Republican Party should still care about descriptive representation, and it seems the Party has identified this as an area for improvement. Increasing descriptive representation of women in Congress is the first step towards closing the gender gap, and if PACs such as Maggie’s List continue to shift the Party’s focus away from social issues and more towards fiscal issues, the Republican Party may be able to convince female voters that they align with women on the substantive level as well. This combination of both descriptive and substantive representation will be necessary in in fighting the image of the Republican “War on Women." Only then can the Party earn back the trust of median female voters, who often identify as fiscally conservative but socially liberal.

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  1. I would be curious to know how many female voters are "up for grabs" so to speak- ie how many women are not aligned with either party and would be potentially swayed by Republican attempts to win them over. If there aren't actually that many women voters who are open to the Republican party, it would seem that the Republicans could be taking a big risk in changing their message to appeal to women.


  2. This has been an especially important issue in the Virginia gubernatorial race this year, as Republican Ken Cuccinelli has been blasted for not supporting women and is thus losing drastically in polls to Democrat Terry McAullife (the most recent Washington Post poll had 58% of women supporting McAullife and only 34% for Cuccinelli). While this is an extremely small sample size with some confounding factors, I think it still illustrates the problems Republicans are having convincing women that the Republican Party is acting in the best interests of women. Of course, the easiest way to convince voters otherwise is to have female candidates. This is likely why we see so many Republican interest groups supporting female candidates.

  3. Chris, it would seem that increasing descriptive representation would be an "easy" way to appeal to women, but given the poll results, women who identify as Republican do not agree with that: Only 24% of Republican women responded that electing more women to Congress would be a good thing compared to 69% of Democratic women. That's why I think push for interest groups to support conservative women is not simply an effort to appeal to women, but an effort to appeal to women who do not currently identify as Republican. These women are the median voters: independents or even registered Democrats. Kate, I agree this involves some risk, but given the significant gender gap, I think it is necessary.

  4. Republicans could support increase in descriptive representation of women even if they do not care much about it as a tactic to appeal to moderate or independent women, reflecting what you said. Ideologically moderate women, or more casually political female voters, may be swayed toward supporting the Democratic party in seeing higher descriptive representation of women. Increased efforts by Republicans to support more women in Congress could at least somewhat persuade more women that Republicans care about their representation.

  5. I think a lot of why Republican women do not seem to care about descriptive representation is that the Republican party does not highly value putting women in office. Thus, if a woman is choosing between parties and really cares about having descriptive representation, she would choose the party that shared her values and would thus self select to be a Republican.

  6. I wonder what this does for legislation. Does having more or less female support cause any sort of moral obligation (or lack thereof) by representatives? I agree with what Jenny said, but one thing I wonder is, if women like Sarah Palin or Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (nationally and representative (R-FL)) are standing strong and supporting the values of the GOP, why there are not more women feeding off of that energy. - Erica