Beyond the Debate: Women and 2016

as seen on the Huffington Post Politics

With Hillary Clinton, the most serious female Presidential candidate in election history headlining tonight’s Democratic debate, (and Carly Fiorina’s standout performance in the last Republican debate) the influence and interests of women voters will be a major factor in the Presidential campaign. If the trends of the past 35 years hold, women will make up the majority of voters in 2016. It’s a little appreciated fact that every presidential candidate, male or female, should keep top of mind over the next year. When it comes to Presidential politics, women voters wield incredible power, voting in extraordinary numbers and at higher rates than men in every election since 1980. The fact is, without women, no candidate of either party can win the Presidency.

Hillary has not shied away from embracing her gender in this campaign and has made it clear that advocating for women will be a top priority. The reality, like with many campaign promises, is much more complicated. Women do have huge influence in elections, but when it comes to passing legislation that impact women’s lives or issues, the prospects are bleak. A recent paper by University of Chicago Law Professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos found that women’s opinions on policy have significantly less influence than men’s on policy outcomes — at both the state AND federal levels. In Stephanopoulos’ words: “Despite their large population share and the range of laws protecting them from discrimination, women continue to be alarmingly powerless relative to men.”

How can this be? One key reason of course is that political leadership in Congress is not reflective of the population it serves (the “record breaking” representation of women in Congress is still only 20 percent) — and male representatives (from both parties), are not endorsing the positions of their female constituents. Ensuring women are better represented at all levels of government is essential. It’s notable that not one women has emerged as a candidate for Speaker of the House. But it’s also important to hold legislators, of both parties, accountable from representing their female constituents.

For this to happen, women will need to do more than just support Hillary or Carly (or anyone else) for President. Compared to men, women remain under engaged in almost all other facets of political engagement – from demonstrating interest in politics, to writing to their representatives, to donating to political campaigns. Women overwhelmingly want to make a positive impact in their communities, but the majority choose to give back through charities or non-profits rather than engage in change making through policy.

Changing this reality will take time but we need to encourage women to speak up about the issues that matter to them, connect them with policy makers and with their representatives, and give them the tools and resources to engage in politics in ways that work for their lives.

It is hugely important that women continue to wield their power at the ballot box, but they must also speak up for their interests once they have sent their representatives, be it Presidential or Congressional, to Washington. No matter who becomes President, that will be essential.

You can access the original article on the Huffington Post Politics website.