Closing The Gap

Women's Equality Day is a timely reminder of the impact women voters have on elections

Attendees cheer a speaker during the Women's March 'Power to the Polls' voter registration tour launch at Sam Boyd Stadium on January 21, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Getty Images

In 1973, Congress declared August 26th "Women's Equality Day."

The date, according to the National Women's History Alliance, celebrates the passage of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote, and brings awareness to the continued fight for women's equality.

Former Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) introduced the idea of the day to Congress in 1971, at a time when she and several other leaders were calling attention to the lack of women's representation in politics. That same year, she partnered with a group of activists, including Gloria Steinem, former Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hame,r to start the National Women's Political Caucus, an organization aimed at increasing women's participation in all areas of political and public life.

Since the organization's inception, not only has the number of women state legislator's increased, from 4.7% in 1971 to 28.9% in 2019, but women's participation at the polls has also increased. 

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accompanied by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks to and meets Ohio voters during a rally at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal in Cincinnati, Ohio on Monday, June 27, 2016.
Melina Mara | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Women have been the deciding voters in many past elections. According to data from the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), women have continuously voted at higher rates than men since 1980. In the 2018 midterm election, CAWP reports that it was women of color who ultimately helped the Democrats take over the U.S. House of Representatives, with 92% of black women and 73% of Latina women voting for Democratic House candidates.

Kelly Dittmar, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers–Camden and a Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, tells CNBC Make It that "simply by the nature of their numbers and reliability as voters, [women] play a key role in shaping political outcomes."

"When you're talking about an election, especially at the presidential level where Democrats are trying to take on an incumbent, which is a hard thing to do, mobilizing and expanding your base of reliable women voters who are going to support you is important," says Dittmar.

She says that the 2008 and 2012 elections of President Barack Obama are prime examples of the impact women voters, especially black women voters, can have on an election. In each election, black women voted at a higher rate than any other group of voters. In fact, in the 2012 election, 96% of black women voted for Obama, which Dittmar says ultimately sealed his victory.

"I think it's an important thing to watch in this next election if the Democratic Party is being responsive to the demands, agendas and priorities of women, especially women of color," she says, adding that Republicans should also be mindful of their female voter base because "more moderate, white Republican voters, particularly college-educated white women, have been shifting to the Democratic Party."

So far, several presidential hopefuls have shown how they plan to address the needs and concerns of women voters by outlining ways in which they will protect women's rights if elected president. Dittmar, who co-authored the report "A Seat at the Table: Congresswomen's Perspectives on Why Their Representation Matters," emphasizes that it's important for women voters to educate themselves on the policies and beliefs of each leader to ensure that they're voting for the best presidential candidate.

"It's about doing the work to be informed and making sure that you're looking at the issues that matter most to you and figuring out the candidate who aligns the most with those issues," she says. "Women voters can play a significant role in determining who's electable by casting their votes for the person who they believe will be the best for the job."

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