The Authors of 'A Century of Votes for Women' Weigh in on What Kind of Difference the 'Women's Vote' Makes

Suffragettes marching for the right to vote in 1913. White became the color of the cause, which eventually opened the door to electoral participation for generations of women. Hulton Archive/Getty

Ever since women earned the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment 100 years ago, pundits have been trying to understand why women vote the way they do. Political scientist professors Christina Wolbrecht and J. Kevin Corder studied the history of women's voting patterns in their new book A Century of Votes for Women, and in this Q&A, they discuss what we need to understand about women voters for the 2020 elections, how having a female presidential candidate could affect voting patterns and the possible significance of having a woman on the ballot.

Why this book?

CW & KC: Politicians and the press have been speculating about the "women's vote" for more than 100 years. Observers confidently report the conventional wisdom of the time without much attention to what the evidence actually says. We wanted to tell the story of the first century of women voters in the U.S.: How the press covered them, how politicians reached out to them and what we actually know about how women used their ballots in American presidential elections since suffrage.

"The Squad" is a vocal group of progressive female congresswomen. Does their style or self-proclaimed nomenclature have any impact on female voters, voting patterns or perceptions by voters?

CW & KC: If there is an impact, it is much more likely to be tied to someone's partisanship and not their gender. Republican-leaning voters—women and men—see the four as a threat to core American values rooted in capitalism and Christianity. Democrat-leaning voters—also of both genders—see them as part of a diverse, progressive future that includes an important voice for women.

Is the key to reaching women voters focusing on social issues?

CW & KC: Again and again, observers expect women to vote based on women's issues such as equal pay, abortion and sexual harassment. Again and again, political scientists fail to find any evidence that this is the case. Other issues—in particular, the economy and government's role in providing for the welfare of its citizens—tend to play a much bigger part in determining the voting choices of women and men.

What differences between groups of women voters are important to understand?

CW & KC: A woman's educational attainment, marital status, age and especially race and ethnicity tells us more about whether or for whom she will vote than her gender per se. At the same time, women in nearly all groups are around 8 to 10 points more likely to vote Democratic than are men.

Christina Wolbrecht Matt Cashore

Are female voters as a bloc going to have an impact on the 2020 primaries? On the presidential election itself?

CW & KC: One thing we know for sure is that women voters are not a bloc. Based on recent elections, we'd expect that a super-majority of single women will vote for the Democratic candidate and a bare majority of married women will vote for the Republican. About half of white women will vote for the Republican candidate, while the vast majority of black women will support the Democratic nominee.

The primaries are harder to predict, but we should not expect even Democratic women to act as a bloc within their party. Other factors—especially race, education and age—will be key for understanding the primary election vote of any woman or man.

Do women voters view or react to female presidential candidates differently than male candidates? Is it different than how male voters view them? Do female voters hold female candidates to different standards?

CW & KC: What evidence we do have suggests that it might be men, not women, who react differently to female presidential candidates. In 2016, women were 12 points more likely to vote for Clinton than for Trump. That's pretty much the same advantage that Obama enjoyed in 2008 (13 points) and 2012 (11 points)—which suggests it's that the candidate is a Democrat, not a woman per se, that explains women's vote.

For men, the advantage was the opposite: Men were 12 points more likely to vote for Trump than Clinton. But, in 2012 and 2008, when there wasn't a woman in the race, Republican candidates Romney (7 points) and McCain (1 point) had much smaller advantages among men. This may be part of a trend of men increasingly preferring Republican candidates, or it could be a response to DonaldTrump and against Hillary Clinton in particular.

Do you think women will vote in larger proportions for a female presidential candidate than a male with similar policies?

CW & KC: In the general election, probably not. Both women and men are overwhelmingly likely to vote for their party's nominee, regardless of gender. What little evidence we have doesn't suggest women particularly favor women candidates even when all the candidates are of the same party.

This does not mean that women candidates don't have an impact. The presence of women candidates, at any level, can encourage greater interest, engagement (such as discussion) and activism (such as campaign donations) among women—and especially among young women.

J. Kevin Corder Susan Hoffmann

Do you have any habits around voting? Do you prefer the old-fashioned lever booths or the newer, digital ones?

KC: I like the mail-in absentee ballot, now an option for anyone in Michigan, since I can take my time with ballot questions and learn about candidates for non-partisan offices.

CW: For me, it's got to be the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Drive to the polling station, thank the poll workers and cast my ballot in person. Among other things, voting is a ritual in which we reaffirm our commitment to a democratic form of government and I value all the pomp and circumstance.

Do you predict that we'll have a female 2020 Democratic presidential nominee?

CW & KC: We would be surprised if there is not a woman on the ticket as the nominee or the vice-president. That said, polls, nationally and in early primary and caucus states, don't seem to indicate that being a woman is a particular advantage.

READ MORE: Predicting How Women Will Vote Requires Looking Beyond Gender Alone