Holly Richardson: Why the GOP is struggling with women

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mia Love makes a statement at her election night party at the Hilton Garden Inn in Lehi on Wednesday Nov. 7, 2018.

My column last Saturday looked at some of the hard numbers of the Republican Party and women. Fewer Republican women are running, far fewer are winning and women voters are leaving the GOP and heading in ever larger numbers to the Democratic Party. Today I’d like to look at some of the reasons why.

First, let’s look at the percentage of women who identify with the Democratic Party. Earlier this year, after interviewing 10,000 voters, the Pew Research Foundation released new numbers that showed that the share of women who identify with or lean toward the Democratic party is now 56 percent, while only 37 percent affiliate with or lean Republican.

Broken down by generation, only one still leans more towards the Republican party: The Silent Generation. For those women, born between 1928 and 1945, their support for the GOP is at 48 percent, while 46 percent align with Democrats. However, by the time we reach the Millennials, they are three times as likely to identify or lean Democratic as Republican - 70 percent.

Other notable gaps are seen in those voters with a college degree, with 58 percent now identifying as a Democrat or leaning Democratic and the racial divide, with Asian American, Hispanic and African-American voters overwhelmingly aligning with the Democratic Party.

One note of particular interest to Utah is that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are now almost as likely to identify as “independent” or unaffiliated (41 percent) as they are to identify as Republicans (45 percent).

Clearly, party identity is a factor in getting women candidates elected in the GOP — the GOP base remains older, whiter and more male than the Democrats' base.

No discussion of the GOP struggles with electing women would be complete without acknowledging that President Trump as the standard-bearer of the party hurts female candidates. Nowhere was that more evident than his icky remarks about Rep. Mia Love the day after the election when he said that she “gave [him] no love. And she lost. Too bad.” He has been difficult for the women of the Republican Party, both candidates and voters.

Moving on, Republicans don’t have a deep bench of women in the political pipeline. As I mentioned on Saturday, there are fewer Republican women in state legislatures. Nationally, the numbers are 36 percent of Democratic state legislators are women while only 17 percent of Republican state legislators are women. In Utah, the numbers are more depressing: just over 8 percent of Utah’s Republican senators are women and just under 12 percent of Utah’s Republican representatives are women.

Research by Crowder-Meyer and Lauderdale have found that well-educated people working in “high-status” jobs (like attorneys, for example) tend to be the ones who are willing to run for Congress. Among Democrats, about half of the people with those attributes are women, while only about a fourth of Republicans with those attributes are women, so in theory, the pool of potential candidates is smaller. However, being an attorney is not actually a requirement to run for office.

The Democrats have prioritized getting women elected in ways that Republicans simply have not. Emily’s List, for example, focuses on getting pro-choice Democratic women elected at all levels of government, raising and spending almost $45 million in 2014, raising $48 million in 2016 and an eye-popping $110 million this cycle. They recruit candidates, offer them training, help them raise money and mobilize their base to get their candidates elected. They also encourage moms to run, emphasizing that the experiences and perspectives of women and mothers bring value to the political system.

In contrast, a conservative counterpart, Maggie’s List, raised and spent less than $210,000 in 2014, spent only $138,000 in 2016 and just under $200,000 in 2018. Republican pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson told a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight: “Republicans are not fans of ‘identity politics,’ and for many Republicans, that means specific, gender-based appeals.” Political science professor Corrine McConnaughy, a specialist in the role of ethnicity, gender and race in politics, said bluntly: “Democrats make it easier to ‘run as a woman'. That’s in large part because the Democratic Party brand/image is actually feminized to include issues that are consistent with feminine traits of compassion and nurturing — things like health care, education.”

David Hopkins, also a political science professor, has found that voters think that potential female candidates are “less conservative” than their male counterparts. “There is some scholarly evidence that voters tend to perceive female politicians as more liberal than men,” Hopkins said. This perception makes it harder for women to win Republican primaries against male opponents, according to FiveThirtyEight. In fact, they say, “how much a district leans Republican has a clear effect on the chances that that district will elect a woman. All else being equal, red House districts are much more likely to elect a man.”

The question is, “Now what?” Stay tuned. I have some ideas.

(Photo Courtesy Holly Richardson)

Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, is a political science junkie and policy geek who also cares about the “why” and the “now what” questions.

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