Election 2000: The Women's Count

Last Updated: Sunday, November 12, 11 p.m. EST

(WOMENSENEWS)– One House and one Senate race in which women are candidates are still in doubt.

In Washington State, Maria Cantwell, self-made Internet millionaire, surged ahead with a 10,000 vote lead over the Republican incumbent, anti-choice Sen. Slade Gorton, yet no winner has been declared. Cantwell could join three other women who will take seats in the Senate: Jean Carnahan from Missouri, Hillary Rodham Clinton from New York and Debbie Stabenow from Michigan. If Cantwell wins, the U.S. Senate will have a total of 13 women, an increase of nearly 50 percent.

In Florida, where the Presidential candidates are at an impasse, longtime state Rep. Elaine Bloom (D-North Miami) has sued to contest her 500-vote loss to 20-year-House veteran, anti-choice Republican Clay Shaw. Bloom has petitioned three county courts for a second manual recount of the vote in Congressional District 22, along the east coast from Miami’s South Beach to Juno Beach.

In Michigan, Democrat Dianne Byrum lost by 424 votes in her bid to retain the seat vacated by Senator-elect Stabenow.

In California, Jane Harmon apparently regained her Congressional seat she she gave up to run for governor 1994. Also, state assembly member Democrat Susan Davis has defeated Republican Brian Bilbray, who calls himself pro-choice but receives only a 49 percent rating from NARAL. However, healthcare attorney Gerrie Schipski narrowly lossed to pro-choice Republican Steve Horn.

And Lauren Beth Gash of Illinois and Maryanne Connelly of New Jersey, both pro-choice Democrats, lost painfully close races. In Oregon, the so-called Measure 9 that would prevent all mention of homosexuality in public schools is narrowly losing. Most other anti-gay measures around the nation seemed to have passed at this writing.

The Picture for Many State Legislatures Is Still Unclear

While much of the world’s focus is on Florida, the elections for many state legislatures are undecided as well.

“Many states are refusing to release figures on elections that haven’t been certified yet,” said Gilda Morales of the Center for American Women in Politics. “All we have to go on is The AP–and many of those races are winning or losing on 50-vote margins.” Morales was referring to The Associated Press, a news wire service.

In the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, voters elected as Governor the former mayor of San Juan, Sila Maria Calderon of the Popular Democratic Party, at the same time they voted overwhelmingly not to seek U.S. statehood. Calderon becomes the fourth woman to win a gubernatorial race this election, along with incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, Democrat Ruth Minner in Delaware and Republican Judy Martz in Montana. Two other states currently have women governors.

In all the above races, and in the Presidential contest, women have been a powerful force.

If Al Gore wins, it will be because women voters put him there. And women such as Michigan senator-elect Debbie Stabenow and the reelection of Governor Shaheen.

“Pollsters still have this idea that the voter you need to cater to is this blue-collar white man who hates gun control and abortion,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “But that’s not who we’re hearing from in this election.”

Al Gore, President of Women; George Bush, President of White Men

CNN has already coined the phrases. On election night, anchors called Texas Gov. George W. Bush “president of white men” and Al Gore “president of women.” Those facile phrases, based on answers from exit polls, don’t begin to describe the extent to which a Gore victory, if it happens, will be clearly attributable to women’s votes. And if it doesn’t happen, it will mean that Gore did not reach a crucial cross-section of women in swing states.

The numbers, please:

From Voter’s News Survey exit polls, we know that 54 percent of women voted for Gore, versus 42 percent of men. Most striking: 58 percent of working women voted for Gore, and 2 percent for Nader. Only 39 percent favored the Texas governor.

“Bill Clinton would not have been reelected in 1996, were it not for black women,” said Ethel Klein of EDK Associates, referring to the post-election analysis of exit poll data. “Could this be happening with Al Gore this year?”

Unfortunately, the Voter’s News Survey–the source of all those exit polls used and interpreted by major media–are not releasing that figure yet. White women split evenly between the two candidates, with 48 percent supporting Gore, as opposed to 36 percent of men, mirroring the total figure. The Voter’s News Survey doesn’t provide a similar statistic for black women, though they report that 90 percent of AfricanAmericans voted for Gore.

“It’s outrageous that VNS hasn’t given us that breakdown,” said Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, chair of the Black Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C.

Gender Gap Varies State by State

What’s clear, then, is that women of color played an important role in Gore’s lead in the popular vote. What of the electoral vote? State by state, the gender gap helps answer that question.

In states that Gore won, the gender gaps ranged from solid to astonishing: 20 percent in Delaware, 14 percent in Hawaii, 18 percent in Maryland. The same goes for some of the states he lost: In Utah, 15 percent, in Wyoming, 14 percent more women than men favored Gore.

However, the gap nearly disappears in states like Arkansas, where 4 percent more women than men voted for Gore, or Colorado, where the gap was only 3 percent. Why the difference?

The Feminist Majority’s Smeal claims it’s because Gore did not keep a focus on women’s issues.

“Gore was so busy trying to cater to that mythical male anti-abortion gun owner,”Smeal said. “For example, in the second debate he didn’t talk about gun control or the Million Mom March, even though Tipper was in the march. He didn’t talk about the minimum wage. Women in those states didn’t hear from him–even about choice.”

Women’s Vote Produces Pro-Choice Winners

Regardless of who wins the presidential election, the women’s vote has been essential in promoting women candidates and in defeating anti-choice politicians.

Women built the new, pro-choice Senate. In addition to providing the margin of victory for Clinton (61 percent of the women’s vote), Stabenow, Carnahan and prospectively for Cantwell in Washington, the women’s vote was crucial in pro-choice Mark Dayton’s victory over anti-choice Sen. Rod Grams in Minnesota (gender gap: 10 percent) and in Jon Corzine’s victory in New Jersey (gender gap: 13 percent).

In governor’s races, the effects were even more dramatic: Ruth Ann Minner’s victory in Delaware was aided by a gender gap of 19 percent, and Shaheen would not have been reelected without the women of New Hampshire: 14 percent more women than men voted for her.

For years, exit polls have been an increasingly significant, if controversial, force in elections. This year, they’ve become even more so, with the results from Florida thatencouraged the networks to call states inaccurately and to prematurely declarevictory for Bush.

In the meantime, the questions asked by the pollsters help to frame the answers–andto compose the snapshot of the electorate elicited by their information.

Pollsters Do Not Ask Questions That Could Reveal Support for Women’s Rights

In the 1992 election, pollsters did ask about feminism, but they didn’t repeat the question in later years. They ask today whether voters are liberal, conservative or independent, and about their views on the legality of abortion.

In the issue questions, this year’s pollsters focused precisely on the issues laid out by the campaigns: tax cuts, Social Security, the environment, health care.

“They don’t ask about the minimum wage, about women’s rights,” said Smeal. “They asked voters detailed questions about their position on abortion–but they haven’t told us how many made it a priority in their vote.”

As soon as possible, both the Black Leadership Forum and the Feminist Majority hope to analyze the raw data, “so we can cross-tabulate what we need,” said Scruggs-Leftwich.

Whatever the presidential result, Smeal and others emphasized that the majority of voters did not vote for George Bush. And the majority of voters cast their votes in favor of reproductive choice, if Gore and Nader are counted together.

“We need to create a shift in the way politicians think of voters,” said Smeal. “We are the majority of voters. And until politicians, especially Democrats, figure that out, we’ll all be struggling like this.”

Chris Lombardi is a free-lance writer based in New York, covering politics, women’s issues and human rights.