Caucusing and Gender

In her interview on ABC this morning Hillary Clinton raised a question about whether women have difficulty caucusing.  Whether they are likely to feel less comfortable standing up in front of others in a social setting and declaring their opinion.  

When this was reported on Talking Points Memo, the comments basically suggested that this was nothing more than Hillary bemoaning her future loss in Iowa or otherwise denigrating this suggestion.  I think this is a mistake.  I don't know the answer, but I think the issue deserves more thought than simply using it to insult Clinton.  Although, really, anytime anyone during this election has suggested that gender plays any kind of role in politics in any way that hurts women, they have been attacked, usually by the MSM (as others have documented, compare the hysteria around Clinton playing the "gender card" - which was a highly questionable interpretation of events - to Bush in his flight suit or Rudy pullinig his manly-man schtick, Clinton was seen as a whining complaint for favoritism, the others just good politics without any gender cards being played at all).

I don't believe Clinton indicated that she worried that women might feel constrained from standing up for her as opposed to one of her opponents, but that women might feel constrained from standing up under social pressure for anyone.  Given studies that have been done about the relative differences of men and women in how talkative they are (men tend to dominate mixed gender discussions) and in the classroom, I think there is a real issue to be addressed about how women participate in caucuses (see http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/html/icb.to pic58474/krupnick.html for an example of the classroom studies).  Not just whether they show up, but whether they are more or less likely to cave to social pressures in the room than men or any other differences in the quality of their participation.

I don't think this is answered simply by having a woman or two stand up and say that she doesn't care who her husband and his friends caucus for or who her friends caucus for, which is usually how the MSM deal with these kinds of issues.  There are always exceptions and we're not talking about every woman, we're talking about a gender difference overall between men and women (which of course might not exist between two particular people). I'm one of those women who never had a problem speaking in class or anywhere else, but I know that that makes me the exception rather than the rule in a lot of circumstances.  What I don't know is if caucusing is one of them.

Before the trolling starts, let me be clear that I don't think this is about Clinton winning or losing Iowa.  First, I think gender issues in politics is a bigger issue than Clinton, although certainly her candidacy has highlighted how much our society remains screwed up about gender.  Second, to the extent the phenomenon exists, I'm not sure it necessarily hurts Clinton.  The social pressure could come as much for a woman to caucus for Clinton as against her.

The caucus system completely disenfranchises some voters - first responders, people on the swing shift, military persons overseas.  What I'm also interested in is whether there are any gender effects of a system that requires you to be willing to stand and be counted?  Either in willingness to attend (women make up the majority of caucus goers, so my guess here is that it does not) or how the person participates (this I think is the real question).

It wouldn't surprise me if there were gender differences, but I have no idea.  

I do think that people's desire to simply dismiss Clinton's suggestion is a mistake.  I understand why they are doing it, but as I've said a million times before, to the extent sexism drives elections, it hurts democrats, not just Clinton.  Because even when we nominate a man, he gets painted as a woman. And because women are part of the democratic base and anything that lessens or hurts their participation is a problem for democrats (same thing for African Americans, unions, and other base constituencies).  

Tags: 2008, gender, Iowa (all tags)

Comments

19 Comments

Re: Caucusing and Gender

Very important, informative diary here... Nice work.

I disagree to some degree.  This may sound harsh, but the fact is that caucuses are party building exercises first, nominating conventions, second.  As private party meetings, they don't fall under sanctioned primaries, and unfortunately (or fortunately depending on which side you are on), can't be regulated as primaries can.  

But for those who can and do show up to caucuses (generally 55% women), they are a tremendous opportunity to have a real voice, and take leadership roles in the party.  I could site numerous examples of women I know who became delegates and then encouraged to run for office here in Iowa.  The Iowa State Assembly is stocked with women like this.

Perhaps this is more expectation gamesmanship from Hillary?  Do you think she'd have this conversation with America if she were up 10 points in Iowa?

by IowaCubs 2008-01-02 08:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

Thank you for this thoughtful post.  I agree that we cannot really know how gender may play into the caucus system.  My experience tells me that women would approach a caucus by being less direct, but not necessarily less forceful or less effective.  There may be a tendency for (some) men to discount what women think, but I doubt many of these men are Democrats anyhow.

Just an aside, the caucus system certainly has its flaws, but overall I think it is a great system because it allows for discussion and persuasion.  It also allows (at least in theory) for candidates with much less name recognition to get some attention.  Under the best circumstances, caucuses can be very educational.  The group dynamics may squelch some of this, but I think it plays an important counterpart to the 30-second TV ad.

by the mollusk 2008-01-02 08:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

I don't know, empirically, what the answer is.  I suspect Hillary's comment was based on things she's heard from supporters.  I mean, if you ask people to caucus for you and you keep hearing from women that the process makes them nervous, you'd start to see a pattern at some point.  I'm just speculating here.

What tells me that this may be part of a calculated process of expectations management is that I remember Hillary's statement, earlier in the campaign, that Iowa and Mississippi were the only two states that hadn't elected a woman as governor, senator, or congressman.  So that's one attempt to set up an excuse: "Iowans just aren't as willing to vote for a woman."  Now we have a second attempt at an excuse: "The caucus system discourages women from participating."

I think the first comment was more blatant than the second; that Mississippi thing didn't just find its way into the conversation unbidden.  But viewing the two events in conjunction, I think there's a link.  And overall, I'd characterize it as uncool.  You don't see Obama going around suggesting that maybe Iowans have problems with a black guy.

by Steve M 2008-01-02 09:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

Indeed, we've shamefully failed to elect a woman to congress, senate or governor, this is true.

Iowa Democrats, however, have nominated dozens of women to represent the party for various statewide election posts.  Not many have suceeded, but it's unfair to blame the party for the state's general election faults.  

If she loses, it's not going to be because of her gender, but because she failed to connect with caucus participants.

by IowaCubs 2008-01-02 09:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

I just had a frightening thought... I really hope the national media doesn't get on this "Iowa hasn't elected a woman for anything" bandwagon.  It would be insulting and wrongheaded to Iowa Democratis for the reasons I listed above.

by IowaCubs 2008-01-02 09:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

Iowa Democrats have the power to erase the black mark and bring the state into the 21st Century.

Otherwise, all the excuses in the world don't hold any water.

by hwc 2008-01-02 12:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

Yes, only by nominating yet another woman can Iowa Democrats "erase the black mark."  Obviously, all those other women they nominated didn't count for anything.

by Steve M 2008-01-02 01:18PM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

I know that about Iowa Democrats, but it sure hasn't stopped certain Clinton supporters at this site from running with the "Iowans are sexist" narrative.

I think it's fortunate for Hillary that that comment has sort of faded out of people's memories because it's the sort of thing I think has the potential to really backfire.  I could easily see people taking it as "if you don't vote for me, it's because you have a problem voting for women" and getting really offended.

by Steve M 2008-01-02 09:28AM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

I think it's fair to raise the issue that Iowans have never elected a woman to statewide office as a possible negative for Clinton there.  It doesn't means democrats there are sexist.  But it does indicate that women may face electoral challenges there.  

While the Iowa democratic party to its credit has nominated women for such offices, they have never been elected.  I think it's unclear whether that's because of the particular quality of the candidates in the elections or that there is some latent hostility to women candidates, if not from democrats than from Republicans and independents.  Not all caucus goers will be Democrats.  And we've seen Huckabee's rise driven by evangelicals, so there is a strong strain of social conservatism in the state.

The lack of female success can also be reinforcing in itself.  I read an article that quoted a woman from Iowa saying she wanted to caucus for Clinton but that being from the midwest made her question whether a woman is electable.  

That's not so say that all those those opposing Clinton are sexist or a Clinton loss proves that Iowans would never vote for a woman.  It's just that I don't think it's irrelevant to her chances that women do not have a good track record in Iowa.  Just as I think a state's history of electing or not electing African-American candidates has an effect on Obama's ability to win those states in a GE (or any primary where non-Democrats can participate), even if an Obama loss wouldn't necessarily mean all of the voters in those states were racist.   If that makes any sense.

by BDB 2008-01-02 11:13AM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

In reality, I think it's part luck of the draw and part due to the fact that Iowa just hasn't had a lot of turnover in its major offices.  I mean, Harkin has been a Senator for 23 years and he's the JUNIOR Senator.

I'm confident there's plenty of sexism in America, but there is sexism all over.  Kansas has a woman governor, Michigan has a woman governor.  Minnesota and Missouri have female Senators, South Dakota has a female representing their entire state in Congress.  These are all states which are culturally similar to Iowa, so I really doubt there's something in the water.

That said, my point was more that it was politically tone-deaf to bring it up.  I mean, let's assume it's a completely accurate comment.  What good could it possibly do her?

by Steve M 2008-01-02 01:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

It may very well be driven by the luck of the draw and not sexism.  I doubt Iowa is more sexist than Kansas (I'm originally from the midwest).  

I think it tends to go more to the issue of deciding who is electable than anything else.  The barrier hasn't been broken in Iowa, maybe for reasons having little to do with sexism, but I think it can still have a  psychological effect on the electorate to see women run and always lose (and I confess I don't know exactly how many women have run).  Kind of like how African-Americans in South Carolina were slow to embrace Barack Obama because they doubted he was electable, not by them, but by white America.

I think this is something Obama and Clinton face throughout their runs.  We know white males are electable as President.  We don't know about women and African Americans.  We like to think so, I believe so, but I have nothing to base it on in terms of past experience.  

by BDB 2008-01-02 02:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

I should've added that it was politically tone deaf of her to bring it up.  This is the kind of things you have surrogates do and in a more subtle way, saying something like "Senator Clinton is trying to do what no woman has done here in Iowa, win a statewide election (even if a caucus isn't really an election)."  Then leave it to the reporters or other to fill in the Iowa history.  

That gets in the point that expectations should be lowered without directly attacking Iowa or its voters.  

by BDB 2008-01-02 02:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

I agree wholeheartedly. I may be generalizing a bit too broadly, but I would assume that this phenomenon is even greater in a relatively "conservative" midwestern place such as Iowa. But on the other hand, I think these caucuses are bringing out for the most part only the most motivated of supporters.  It maybe that if you're actually committed enough to caucus, it's unlikely that you're going to be swayed by anything other than whatever issues may sway any other voter (second thoughts about electability etc).

by highgrade 2008-01-02 09:18AM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

No other midwestern state has failed to elect a woman to a major office (Congress, Senate, Governor). Only Iowa.

Enough excuses from the Hawkeye state.

by hwc 2008-01-02 12:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

And you know, if Hillary wins the caucus, Iowa still will have failed to elect a woman to any of those offices.

For Iowa Democrats to nominate a woman for major office is hardly a milestone, considering that they've done it many times in the past.

Your persistent accusations of sexism just make you look like a partisan clown.

by Steve M 2008-01-02 01:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

To start with, I think we should note that every major network and print outlet has repeated stated that "women won't go out in bad weather" as if the 21st century world where women are allowed to vote has somehow been time shifted back to the days of June Cleaver when housework was all women did and, by god, they did it in pearls.

It disgusts me that Democrats aren't standing up and pushing back against the mainstream media meme -- a narrative that is straight out of the all-boys club Republican world view.

I don't know about the rest of you. But, all the women I know go out in bad weather.

by hwc 2008-01-02 09:51AM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

If Clinton accomplishes nothing else in her run, she has brought out the latent misogyny and sexism in the media and shown that we still have a very long way to go.  Win or lose, she's providing a huge amount of data for media studies, gender studies and others interested in political and gender issues.  Obama, for his part, will provide the same on race, particularly since his run can be compared to Jesse Jackson's.  Just by running, they are doing a great thing, IMO, expanding opportunity for future folks to participate.

by BDB 2008-01-02 02:58PM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

My concerns with the effect of the caucus system on gender was not that women would not be vocal enough to participate in the system, but rather that older, more traditional wives would not be willing to publicly vote differently than their husbands.

My concerns are not Iowa-based, but rather out of the idea that there are women in all 50 states who would vote their conscious in a secret ballot, but would not be willing to walk to a different side of the room as their husband. Or, of course, if she wants to vote for an entirely different party, she would have to go to an entirely different place.

Also, this is not a strictly female concern. I could certainly see a timid husband being scared to act differently from their politically vocal wife.

I guess the public forum of the caucus system is uncomfortable to my waspy East Coast sensibilities.

by Jreddish 2008-01-03 03:07PM | 0 recs
Re: Caucusing and Gender

Conscious = conscience. I'm distracted by the chaos of the precinct televised by C-SPAN right now.

by Jreddish 2008-01-03 03:09PM | 0 recs

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