Poll: Partisan gap could limit women’s gains in November
Female candidates are having unprecedented success in Democratic primaries this year, but a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll suggests a gap in partisan perception stands in the way of translating those gains into victories in November.
Republican voters — men and women — are more likely than the general electorate to say that a man in elected office would do a better job than a woman when it comes to many of the core functions of government, particularly in the executive branch: working with foreign leaders, ordering a military intervention, addressing a terrorist attack, negotiating with Congress and addressing threats to U.S. national security.
Story Continued Below
When it comes to Congress, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to say there are benefits to electing more women. And they’re more likely to say women face more obstacles to winning public office compared to their male counterparts. A partisan gap could make a material difference in a general election, when female candidates compete among a broader electorate — and in many congressional districts that are heavily Republican.
Democrats are almost twice as likely as Republicans to say electing more women would make Congress more productive. A 58 percent majority of Democratic voters said it’s very or somewhat likely that Congress would be more productive if more women were elected, compared to just 31 percent of Republicans.
Overall, more than half of registered voters surveyed, 57 percent, said it’s harder for women to win compared to men. More than two-thirds of Democrats, 67 percent, say it’s harder for women to be elected to public office. But just half of Republicans, 50 percent, agree.
The partisan effect is greater than any gender gap. The percentage of Democratic men who say it’s harder for women to get elected, 64 percent, is greater than the percentage of Republican women who say the same thing, 55 percent.
That a majority of voters say it’s harder for women to win office shows the “Year of the Woman” — more women than ever are running for Congress and governor this cycle — has done little to change voters’ perception about the gender-specific hurdles female candidates face.
“This year has shed a spotlight on the underrepresentation [of women in elected office] and how we might change that this time around,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics. “Even though they are able to surpass or overcome those hurdles, it doesn’t mean they don’t have to answer to them in a way that men don’t.”
Eight states will hold their primaries Tuesday, including the all-party, top-two primaries in California. (Of the 98 women competing for House, Senate and governor Tuesday, 65 percent of those will be on the ballot in the Golden State.)
A record-breaking 601 women have filed or are expected to run for the House, Senate or a governorship, according to POLITICO’s Women Rule Candidate Tracker, a research collaboration with the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers-New Brunswick and the Women in Public Service Project at The Wilson Center.
Dittmar said voter perceptions about female candidates isn’t surprising given how underrepresented women remain, both at the congressional and gubernatorial level. Despite making up half of the U.S. population, women comprise only about 20 percent of Congress and occupy six governor’s mansions.
For women, many of those hurdles crop up even before they officially register as candidates. Women are far less likely to consider running for office compared to men, a statistic reflected in this latest poll.
Nearly one-fifth of male voters who haven’t held elected office said they have considered running, 19 percent, compared to only 8 percent of female respondents.
The current election cycle is also proof of that — despite record numbers of female candidates, the number of men competing far outnumbers the women running. For example, women make up only about one-fifth of all candidates running for the House this cycle, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
Voters in both parties tend to value the same traits in candidates, no matter the gender. For voters surveyed, intelligence, honesty, confidence and a vision for the United States were the most important values in a candidate, whether the question was asked about a man, woman or in a gender-neutral way.
Less important was whether the hypothetical candidate was married or had children — only about one-fifth of all voters said either quality was important.
And while 80 percent of those polled said it didn’t matter if a candidate was male or female, everything else being equal, voters surveyed did tend to place more confidence in men when it came to issues involving national security, including responding to terrorist attacks and war.
For example, a quarter of respondents said a man in elected office would do a better job than a women in ordering a military intervention. About one-fifth of voters said they trusted men more to work with foreign leaders, better handle the response to a terrorist attack and better address threats to national security.
The partisan split was striking: While 16 percent of Democratic voters said a man would do a better job ordering a military intervention, 39 percent of Republicans said a man would do a better job. That includes 44 percent of Republican men and 34 percent of Republican women, compared to 20 percent of Democratic men and 14 percent of Democratic women.
Women, meanwhile, tended to fare better on domestic issues. For example, around 20 percent of those polled said they trusted a woman more than a man to improve the nation’s health care and education systems.
But voters’ views on female candidates and issues involving national security and the military could change after this cycle, with a significant number of female veterans running in both parties. More than 40 female veterans have filed or are planning to file this cycle, according to CAWP.
“Being a veteran, especially as a woman and as a Democrat … is a great place to start to sort of establish your credentials, your seriousness, especially in the rural parts of the country,” said Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), who helps lead recruitment for House Democrats.
“That is a connection that is really important to voters, and I hear it a lot.”
The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll surveyed 1,993 registered voters from May 22-29. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Morning Consult is a nonpartisan media and technology company that provides data-driven research and insights on politics, policy and business strategy.
Steven Shepard contributed to this report.