How Women Have Shaped Politics Over the Last Century

In 2020, women set a new record for the number of female major-party candidates running for seats in the House of Representatives, with 583 female candidates filed to date. Joe Biden has tapped Kamala Harris, one of six women to run for the Democratic presidential nomination this year, to run as his vice president. And in the White House, nearly half of President Trump’s staff are now women. As we mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment tomorrow, it’s safe to say that women are now a dominating force in American politics. But it hasn’t been a smooth journey.

It took more than 70 years after Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the first women’s rights convention before women everywhere could vote in a presidential election. Congress passed the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919, and it was ratified by the states and ushered into law on August 18, 1920.*

Today, even with record numbers of candidates, women still trailing men when it comes to getting names on the ballot, constituting only 29.1 percent of all U.S. House candidates this year, for example. But when it comes to actually casting their ballots, women continuously surpass their male counterparts in voter turnout.

How did we get here? And what immediate effect did women’s suffrage have on female political participation? Conventional wisdom during the early 20th century held that women voted just like their husbands in the decades following the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Even sophisticated pollsters fell into this trap: “How will [women] vote on election day?” scoffed pollster George Gallup in 1940. “Just as exactly as they were told the night before,” he said, although there’s little empirical basis to support this claim. The Census Bureau did not begin tracking voter turnout until 1964 and exit polling did not become a commonplace practice until the 1960s and 70s, meaning it’s extremely difficult to track female policy preferences in the aftermath of the 19th Amendment’s passage. 

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