Are Generation Z women making the political future female?

Dr. Melissa Deckman, the Louis L. Goldstein Professor of Public Affairs and Chair of the Political Science Department at Washington College

Dr. Melissa Deckman, the Louis L. Goldstein Professor of Public Affairs and Chair of the Political Science Department at Washington College. (Submitted photo)

On Oct. 22, The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead networking series is hosting a virtual networking event focusing on the pivotal role women play in elections.

The keynote speaker will be Dr. Melissa Deckman, the Louis L. Goldstein Professor of Public Affairs and Chair of the Political Science Department at Washington College who also chairs the board of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Her bipartisan speech will focus on Gen Z Women – The Political Future is Female. We reached out to Deckman to discuss her speech and her thoughts on women in politics.

The Daily Record (TDR): Our virtual event is focusing on the pivotal role women play in elections. Why is that role so important?

Dr. Melissa Deckman (MD): Women’s roles in U.S. elections are important because women are more likely to vote than men, so they play a disproportion role in determining the outcome. I’d also add that in the age of Coronavirus, women’s concern about health care will make them turn out at higher numbers. In 2018, women voters’ concerns about whether Congress would strike down the Affordable Care Act was a leading factor in Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives.

TDR: How are women of color making a difference in elections?

MD: Women of color are pretty uniformly Democratic so I think that with demographic shift showing that people of color are becoming a larger part of the electorate, their influence in shaping the nomination process and electoral outcome is really growing in importance.
I would also say that we are seeing a record number of women of color running this election cycle as well, which is pretty exciting. As voters and as candidates, I think women of color are poised to make a bigger difference in this election cycle.

TDR: Your talk will focus on Generation Z (defined as those born between 1996 and 2015) women. Why do you believe that group will make a big difference in the political landscape?

MD: My research finds that Generation Z women are more engaged in politics than Generation Z men, which historically is not the norm. Moreover, it is young women who identify as Democrats and who are unhappy with the current trajectory of American politics who are the most politically active. Young women’s higher levels of involvement in politics it should hopefully balance out the scales, which means we will have more equal representation of both men and women in our political sphere, making our system more democratic.

TDR: What are some of the characteristics that Generation Z women in the political world have?

MD: My research finds that Gen Z women are very progressive and they are far more likely to lean toward the Democratic Party than Gen Z men. Gen Z women care passionately about climate change and gun violence prevention and are also more likely than their male counterparts to say that equal rights for women, racial and ethnic minorities and LBGTQ Americans are driving their engagement in politics.

TDR: Why do you believe the political future is female?

MD: Young women are more passionate about politics and see politics impacting their daily lives in many ways, from climate change to gun violence to civil rights. Young women also have incredible organizational skills and are more adept than young men are at using social media for political engagement. There is a lively activism space online that speaks to young women especially. They are also inspired by seeing more people that look like them play a more vocal role in politics, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Stacey Abrams. Politics is beginning, slowly, to diversify, and that is inspiring to many young women.

TDR: Women have had to take on extra responsibilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic including homeschooling and daycare. How could this potentially impact their political strides?

MD: Studies show that women have been shouldering the coronavirus burden at home more than men, which is causing many women to advocate for things such as enhanced access to childcare or changes in our education system that makes learning more equitable. I think women are also realizing their greater vulnerability in terms of employment issues; once the pandemic is over and life resumes back to a greater sense of normalcy, women may be poised to advocate for issues such as equal pay and more adequate health care as well.

TDR: This year marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment. Within the past few years, there has been a real surge of women getting into politics. Why?

MD: I think that more women are getting into politics now largely because of Donald Trump’s election, the women’s movement and the #MeToo movement. In 2018, we saw a surge of women running as candidates, unlike anything we’d seen before. Most of those candidates in 2018 were Democrats who were unhappy with Donald Trump’s policies and behavior. Now in 2020, however, we are seeing more Republican women running for office as well because I think that Republican women feel as though women on the left don’t necessarily represent their interests.

I think a net positive with the 2018 elections is that women from both sides of the aisle are seeing that when women do run for political office, they do just as well as men do, so I think that has helped to reduce some of the barriers to consider running for office. At the end of the day, however, women are still less likely to run for office, so that hurdle remains.

TDR: What are some of the reasons that you’ve seen why women don’t typically run for office?

MD: A lot of studies show that women lack confidence. They don’t think that they are well prepared for politics as men. Studies also show that women need to be asked more than men to run for office, and the Democratic Party has been better at recruiting women to run than the GOP. The other issue that women face when deciding to run for office is that they are what some scholars call “relationally embedded,” which means that women often consider the impact of running for office on their children or their parents if they are responsible for elder care. The work-family balance matters more for women candidates than for male candidates still today.

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