Organizations encourage women to go to the polls

Michelle Kibiger

When Americans elected 73 freshman Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994, 54 million registered women voters did not participate.
More than 97 million American women are eligible to vote in this year’s general election, compared to 88 million registered men.
Since women represent the majority of eligible voters in the United States, groups like the Minnesota Women’s Vote 96 have spent the past several months encouraging women to turn out Nov. 5.
“We naturally have the majority,” said Beverly Swenson, coordinator for the Women’s Vote Project. “So we need to get women out to vote.”
Experts on political behavior say the gender gap, a term pundits have tossed about with abandon this election, is a real concern for all the candidates. Women and men have different political priorities, and candidates are scrambling to address some of those priorities.
Traditionally, women are more concerned about health care, child care, welfare, personal safety and balancing work and family, said Clare Gravon, associate director of the Center on Women and Public Policy at the University’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. She said women also tend to favor government intervention to solve society’s problems.
Gravon said the issues that affect people in their everyday lives have a disproportionate effect on women.
The issues “affect women differently and probably more intensely than men,” Gravon said.
“Women have a stronger commitment to government for social benefits and for social protection,” said Steve Smith, a University political science professor. He said women will defend more staunchly the role of government as a social safety net than will men.
Smith said the gender gap is wide in this year’s presidential race, but narrower in local races such as the U.S. Senate race between Rudy Boschwitz and incumbent Paul Wellstone. Smith said the gap dates back approximately 15 to 20 years, and has grown steadily in recent years because of Republican proposals to cut government.
“Newt Gingrich has done more than any other human being to run women out of the Republican Party,” Smith said.
Another University political science professor, however, has a different view of the gender gap. James Stimson said the gap goes back almost as far as women’s right to vote. He said women have always tended to support issues that are viewed as liberal.
“The real differences tend to be attitudes about government programs,” Stimson said.
Swenson said the Women’s Vote Project is targeting women just like the ones Stimson mentions. The project is registering women between the ages of 18 and 24, making sure they can get to their appropriate polling places and pointing them toward candidate information.
So far the project has registered more than 2,000 women. And it has helped women in outstate Minnesota by sending information packets to Duluth, Mankato and the major universities around the state.
In the last few days before the election Swenson’s group is focusing on women who are interested in politics but choose not to vote because voting is the last thing on their minds. Swenson said they are usually holding down several jobs, have one or two children at home and chose not to vote in 1992 or 1994.
“Our focus is on women because we truly believe they are underrepresented in government,” Swenson said. Women may have different viewpoints among themselves on the health care, child care, safety and reproductive rights issues, but these issues are still important to women as a whole, and the candidates don’t talk about them enough. “Women are going to vote for candidates that address those issues,” Swenson said.
In Minnesota, more than 72 percent of registered women voters voted in 1992, a figure which ranks Minnesota second among the 50 states. Although statistics regarding the 1994 Congressional elections in Minnesota are unavailable, Swenson and others are concerned that a substantial drop in turnout that year might be a trend that will continue this year.
“Our grandmothers and foremothers really fought hard for our right to vote,” Swenson said. “We need to honor that. Voting needs to become a habit for all of us.”