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Data from the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) make plain that the 2018 midterm election was a watershed for American women with a record number of women candidates running across levels of office and a record number of women elected to Congress and state legislatures (CAWP 2018). And although one of the most high-profile candidates—Stacey Abrams of Georgia—did not succeed in her bid to become the first Black woman governor, many women of color candidates made history (CAWP 2018). Women remain underrepresented across levels of office post-election. Still, 2018 represented a significant shift in the relationship between gender and politics. VoteCast surveys and exit polls showed that the gender gap in voting behavior was record-breaking as well. Not only did women run at higher levels than in the past, including the 1992 “Year of the Woman” election, but women voters responded. In fact, Dittmar (2018) found that nonincumbent Democratic women outperformed their male counterparts in primaries for the U.S. House.
What are the individual-level underpinnings of this sea change in women’s relationship to electoral politics? Why was the relationship between gender and political participation distinct in 2018? I use original survey data from the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey to revisit the relationship between women’s knowledge of women’s underrepresentation and their political participation (Sanbonmatsu 2003). Scholars have distinguished general political knowledge from gender-related political knowledge (Sanbonmatsu 2003; Dolan 2011). I compare the public’s knowledge about women’s underrepresentation in Congress in 2018 with past years and compare the individual-level determinants of knowledge then and now. In past research, I found that women underestimated the extent to which women are underrepresented in Congress (Sanbonmatsu 2003). Political knowledge has been shown to be a building block of participation (Burns, Schlozman, and Verba 2001).
In order to fully understand the nature of the contemporary relationship between gender and political behavior, we must evaluate how knowledge affects support for women candidates and consider whether the Trump era has altered this relationship. This paper also improves upon past research by investigating attitudes and support for women of color candidates. The paper introduces a new survey item to compare attitudes about the election of women of color with attitudes towards the overarching category “women.” Throughout, party differences will be taken into account. While 2018 was a banner year for women overall, the number of Republican women in Congress actually declined.
The analysis will include an analysis of political behavior. A new survey measure of political giving is used to determine which women gave for the first time in 2018 and to determine how giving is related to knowledge of women’s political underrepresentation. Preliminary data from the Center for Responsive Politics indicates that the number of women giving money to politics rose in the 2018 cycle, though women continue to give much less money than men. Research shows that women are underrepresented as campaign donors, with implications for the success of women candidates (Thomsen and Swers 2017; Cooperman and Crowder-Meyer 2018). Greater awareness of women’s political underrepresentation may be driving the increase in women’s contributions.