Opinion: Republicans Backtrack on Women's Suffrage

Republicans may be beginning to regret their support for the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

When the amendment passed the Senate, in 1919, it passed mainly with the support of Republicans. At the time, the Democrats, who were strongest in the South, were the more socially conservative party. Republicans were also motivated to grant women the franchise because they believe women would vote in favor of Prohibition, a popular Republican cause. The vote was 36 Republicans for the amendment, and 8 against. Twenty Democrats voted aye, with 17 opposed. Democratic legislatures in eight Southern states rejected the amendment.

At first, women’s suffrage worked out well for Republicans. They won the first three presidential elections after the 19th Amendment passed: women voted for Warren G. Harding in 1920, Calvin Coolidge in 1924, and Herbert Hoover in 1928.

For the first sixty years after receiving the franchise, women’s voting habits weren’t much different than men’s. But beginning in 1980, women began showing signs of independent thinking. In that election, Ronald Reagan, who opposed abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment, received 54 of the male vote, but only 46 percent of the female vote. Since then, Democratic candidates have polled better among women by an average of 6 points.

Now, Republicans seem to regret giving women the right to vote. Bryan J. Fischer, Director of Issue Analysis at the American Family Institute, tweeted a poll showing President Obama leading among women, 50-42, while trailing among men by the same margin. “Women’s suffrage only thing keeping Obama in the game,” he commented.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., made the same point when he said, “If only men voted, Republicans would win every election.”

First of all, that’s not true. In 2008, Obama won the male vote, 49 percent to 48 percent, the first Democrat to do so since Jimmy Carter in 1976. There was no gender gap in that election, though, since both Carter and Republican Gerald Ford favored abortion rights and the ERA.

Which tells you that women haven’t changed in 90 years, the Republican Party has changed. Mr. Fischer’s American Family Institute is headquartered in Mississippi, one of the states that rejected the 19th Amendment. It’s also a fallacy to suggest that Republicans would win if women couldn’t vote. Parties adjust to the electorate. If only men voted, the Democrats wouldn’t campaign on women’s issues, such as abortion and equal pay.

If women won’t vote for Republicans, they shouldn’t blame women’s suffrage, they should blame their platform.

 This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $2.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.

Contact Us