Weber StudiesHome , Archives , Reading Room , Search , Editorial Info , Books , Subscribe ,  West Links
Fall 2004, Volume 22.1


read-ing [from ME reden, to explain, hence to read] _ vt. 1 to get the meaning of; 2 to understand the nature, significance, or thinking of; 3 to interpret or understand; 4 to apply oneself to; study.


Women in Western Politics

In the years since the Center for American Women and Politics began collecting and analyzing women's political participation (1971), Utah has consistently ranked lowest in the West for percentage of women in elective office. Utah was the fourth state to include woman suffrage in its constitution (1896). The West led the nation in granting suffrage and in electing women to legislative positions. Soon after suffrage was extended to women throughout the nation (1919), however, the North caught up. From 1933 until 1987, the North had the highest percentage of women legislators of the four regions of the country. In 1987, the West once again surpassed the North and continues to be the region with highest percentage of female legislators. In October 2004, the Center reported on women in state legislators:


In 2004, 1,659, or 22.5%, of the 7,382 state legislators in the United States are women. Women hold 411, or 20.9%, of the 1,984 state senate seats and 1,248, or 23.1%, of the 5,411 state house seats. Since 1971, the number of women serving in state legislatures has increased more than four-fold.

The ten states with the highest percentages of women state legislators are:

State % Women
   Washington 36.7
   Colorado 34.0
   Maryland 33.5
   Vermont 31.1
   New Mexico 30.0
   California 30.0
   Connecticut 29.4
   Delaware 29.0
   Oregon 28.9
   Nevada 28.6


Source: "Women in Elected Office 2004, Fact Sheet Summaries," Center for Women and Politics,


Women in Monied Politics

The gender gap in electoral politics in the United States is understood as differences between men and women in presidential voting. The gap emerged in the 1980 election between Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Ronald Reagan. In this election, men gave 54 percent of their vote to Reagan
compared to 46 percent of women, creating an 8-point gender gap. Until the 1980s, women continued to vote much like men, except in smaller percentages. But with the Presidential election of 1984 exit polls revealed that more women voted than men and that women (as they had for the first time in 1980) voted Democratic in significantly larger percentages than men.

This partisan disparity was evident throughout the 1980s and early 1990s but reached its zenith in the 1996 election. In 1996, 54 percent of women cast their vote for Democrat Bill Clinton compared to 43 percent of men, generating an 11-point gender gap. In 2004, the gender gap was 7 percentage points, with 48 percent of women versus 55 percent of men voting to re-elect President Bush. The 2004 gender gap is smaller than the 10-point gap in the 2000 election, when 43 percent of women versus 53 percent of men voted for George W. Bush.

In 1999, Anna Greenberg cautioned us in her Working Paper for the John F. Kennedy Center for Government at Harvard "Deconstructing the Gender Gap" ( Women tend to be more supportive of activist government on a range of economic issues, and these preferences can be linked to voting decisions. However, there are political divisions between women, and the roots of these differences in women's experience in particular social and historical contexts. Economically vulnerable women and minority women are more likely to vote Democrat than upscale and white women. Socially conservative or religious women are more likely to cast their lot with Republicans than secular women. Religiosity affects whites, but not minority women, by pushing them in a conservative direction.

In 1999, the Center for Responsive Politics (established in 1983, Washington, D.C.) studied the gender gap in political contributions. Some geographic differences in contributions by gender also were identified, although men accounted for a majority of all individual political contributions in every state and region. The five states with the highest percentages of women contributions were western states. Four of the five states with the highest percentage of male contributions were in the South. Again, Utah's women behave more like Southern than Western women:


Women vote in larger numbers than men, but women are responsible for only about one-quarter of the large individual hard money contributions (that is, itemized donations of at least $200) to candidates, parties, and political action committees. That figure has remained fairly constant over the past four election cycles. Men tend to consider their contributions as investments to further their own influence and business interests, while women are more cause and issue oriented.

Like men, women gave most of their money to incumbents, but they tended to contribute to challengers and open-seat candidates at a higher rate than men did. Current members of Congress who did best among women contributors tended to be fairly junior. In contrast, the candidates receiving the largest percentage of their contributions from men were overwhelmingly male, mostly Republican, and more likely to be senior incumbents.

In the 1998 election cycle, women gave 51 percent of their contributions to Democrats, whereas men contributed only 42 percent to Democrats. While women's dollars have grown as a proportion of the total flowing into campaigns, they still represent just one-fourth of all political giving.

Female Democratic candidates collected on average nearly 43 percent of their campaign cash from female donors, while female Republican candidates raised 29 percent from females.

Women accounted for 26 percent of contributions to Democratic male candidates and 24 percent to Republican men.

States with the highest proportion of contributions from men—about $4 out of every $5—were Utah, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Arkansas. States with the highest proportion of female contributors—$3 out of every $10—were Washington, New Mexico, California, Nevada and Idaho.


In their post-election analysis of 2004 races, the Center noted that "Money Won Big." In 96 percent of House races and in 91 percent of Senate races, the candidate who spent the most money won. The biggest spender was victorious in 413 of 432 decided House races and 31 of 34 decided Senate races. On Election Day 2002, top spenders won 95 percent of House races and 76 percent of Senate races.

Source: Douglas Weber, "Sex Money, and Politics," Center for Responsive Politics.

The four stars in the blue field on this card represent the first four states to pass women's suffrage— Wyoming, 1890, Colorado, 1893, Utah, 1896, and Idaho, 1896.

Source: Women's Internet Information Network


No "Girlie Men" in the West

In the region of the country most associated with images of rugged, independent, violent masculinity, the governor of the largest state in that region, California, evoked gender images in his speech at the
Republican Convention. Michael Lerner, editor of the liberal Jewish magazine Tikkun, expressed concern for the long history of bullying behind that formulation of masculinity:


When California Governor and film star Arnold Schwarzenegger attacked the "girlie men" who were supposedly not strong enough to defend the United States from terror, he was uncovering a central issue in the 2004 election….

One of the central challenges for boys in the United States is the societal demand, usually faced between the ages of 9 and 16, to dis-identify from the love and nurturing that they get from a "mothering" figure in their early years in order to assume the independent and "tough" stance of "man" as it has come to be understood in the last few centuries in the West. To be a "man," one must be able to stand on one's own without reliance on others, not cry or be "too" emotional, not be vulnerable, not be "too" focused on loving or caring for others, and not be physically weak.

In the public sphere, such anxiety is often manifest in aggressive behavior toward those labeled "weak" on defense and national security. While it may be argued that politicians who choose to emphasize such issues do so for ulterior motives—personal or economic—such political posturing may be equally symptomatic of an anxiety about their masculinity. If one did not perform military service during Vietnam, for example, or have the courage to refuse and resist the war publicly, one might find oneself being questioned about how strong a leader one might be when faced with contemporary challenges. Sometimes a way to cover up the appearance of not having manifested this tough-guy courage in the past is to question the authenticity of their masculinity, transposing the schoolyard bully syndrome into the center of American politics…. Sadly, these dynamics manifest themselves in both major political parties, and too often the competition around who is tough replaces a discussion of what we could do to heal the world's pains and generate more trust and global solidarity, peace and justice.

Instead of trying to prove themselves tough, we believe it would be more healing for our leaders, teachers, authors, and preachers to challenge the whole distorted conception of what provides safety and security in our world. We'd like to see our leaders affirm that being "girl-like" is really something to be valued as one part of our identity. The "girlish" qualities that are being disparaged—interdependence, emotionality, caring for others, and vulnerability—need to be publicly defended as part of what it is to be a healthy human being. Indeed, what it means to be morally self-conscious. Those men
who have felt the need to suppress that part of their emotional makeup need to be treated in therapy and given sympathy, but prevented from serving our country in any official capacity until they've been cured....Compassion for others, a capacity to understand their needs, and a willingness to communicate with honesty and vulnerability—these are the character traits that a leader needs in order to build the kind of global relationships with others that will isolate terrorists and make wars unnecessary.

Source: Michael Lerner, "Girlie Men and the Psychodynamics of Bullies in the 2004 Election," Tikkun 19 Nov/Dec2004: editorial.


New Mexico—Politics of the Past

In June 2004, editors of the British journal Economist analyzed the significance of the Hispanic vote in New Mexico.


In just one way, New Mexico is a typical swing state. In 2000, its presidential contest was the closest of all: Al Gore won by 366 votes, or 0.06 percent of the vote. If there had not been a snowstorm in three mainly Republican counties, George Bush would have won by a corresponding sliver.

In another way, New Mexico can be said to represent America's future. It is the state with the highest proportion of Hispanic people—some 43 percent of the population. When you factor in Native Americans, it is already a "majority-minority" state. Much of the rest of the country may eventually come to look like it.

Otherwise, New Mexico is not at all typical. It is quite different from California because most of its minorities have been there for ten or 20 generations, rather than one or two. And it is the opposite of Florida, where Democratic-leaning Latino immigrants are offsetting the influence of Republican-leaning whites. In New Mexico, white Republican arrivals are offsetting the influence of indigenous, Democratic-leaning Hispanics. In this sense, New Mexico does not foretell America's future; it reflects a chapter of America's past.

Two-thirds of its Spanish-speakers are descended from families who settled in the isolated northern tip of Spain's New World empire before the Pilgrim Fathers arrived on the East Coast. Their language sounds like the one Cervantes used. They are citizens, while 60 percent of California's Hispanics are not. They never use the word Latino—a useful potpourri term for Spanish-speakers coming from all over the American continent. New Mexico's old Hispanic families describe themselves as Spanish.

This makes the battle for their vote different from the campaign in Florida, California or New York. In New Mexico, Spanish-speakers have their own political institutions. They have sent three of their number to the Senate and three to the governor's office, including the current Democrat, Bill Richardson (who has a Mexican mother). And they vote. Elsewhere in America, Hispanic political influence is muted by low turnout. In New Mexico, the participation rate is 40 percent. This is lower than the white rate, and it is falling, but it is still far greater than anywhere else.

On top of this, almost a tenth of the population is Indian, mostly Navajo, the largest proportion in the country after Alaska. In New Mexico, "minorities" do not merely form a majority, but a settled majority, resident for 400 or 1,000 years. Whites are first—or second—generation newcomers, whether conservative oil men or left-wing environmentalists. New Mexico may vote like the nation. But it does so because of a distinctive demography and culture.

New Mexico has a tiny population—smaller than that of Phoenix. Chris Garcia, a professor at the University of New Mexico, breaks the state down into five regions:...two Democratic, one Republican, two swing—cancel each other out. The Spanish families and Indians were members of Roosevelt's New Deal coalition and have remained Democrats since; in almost European fashion, they tend to view the government as beneficent. The Anglo newcomers are more dog-eat-dog individualists.

Source: "Not Really like Anywhere Else," Economist, Vol 371(19 June 2004):34.


They Have What it Takes

In 2003, Kathy Kiely, writing for USA Today, noted the political power of American Indians is not in their numbers, but in their campaign contributions:


Historically, American Indians have been one of the nation's smallest and least influential minorities. Now, they're emerging as a political powerhouse. Tribes are pouring millions into California's gubernatorial recall race, the latest example of a remarkable turnaround that's taking place nationwide.

For generations, descendants of the country's oldest inhabitants have felt cheated and belittled by the political system. "When we were kids and we played cowboys and Indians, even the Indians didn't want to be Indian," says Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe.

Today, politicians are scrambling to get the Indians on their side. In state after state, Native Americans have proved they have the money and the votes to be kingmakers.

Since 1990, contributions by Native American gaming interests to federal candidates have jumped nearly 4,000-fold, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. At least two members of the U.S. Senate arguably owe their seats to Native Americans. Native Americans have helped elect governors and U.S. House members. They are putting tribal members on school boards, county commissions and state legislatures….

In California, where the state's first governor did his best to exterminate the Indians 150 years ago, Native Americans ...heavily [underwrote] the race to pick the state's next chief executive. More than $11 million of the $66 million that [was]spent on the recall campaign came from Indian tribes, according to California Common Cause.

Tribes with big moneymaking operations, like resort casinos, want the government's hands off. They like politicians who agree to limit regulation and taxation of businesses run by tribes, sovereign nations under the Constitution. Poorer tribes are looking for a hand up: money for hospitals, schools and basic infrastructure. "I'm fighting a damn war on poverty out here," says Kurt Luger, head of the Great Plains Indian Gaming Association.

Indians still lag behind the rest of America economically. According to the 2000 Census, median income for Native American households was $30,599, compared with $41,994 for the nation. But two developments have sparked their political revival:

Gambling money: The biggest factor in the tribes' new political power was the 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision that blocked states' efforts to control gambling on Indian reservations. In 1988, Congress approved the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, giving many tribes an opportunity to become self-sufficient for the first time since their hunting grounds were deeded away by the U.S. government.

Contributions from Indian gaming interests to candidates for Congress and the presidency exploded from $1,750 during the 1990 election cycle to nearly $6.8 million during the 2002 campaign. Indian tribes have become big spenders in statewide campaigns, too. Jim Knox of California Common Cause says they are now among the highest-rolling political players in his state, "bigger than perennial powerhouses like the teachers, the doctors and lawyers."

A 50-50 nation: The closely divided American electorate has made even small constituencies crucial in an election. Even though American Indians account for just 1% of the nation's population, they can hold the key to
victory in some battleground states....

Politicians' courtship of the nation's most historically disempowered minority delights some. "It's delicious, really," says David Wilkins, a professor of Native American history at the University of Minnesota.

The first Americans were the last to be granted the right to vote. Congress got around to granting Indians full citizenship in 1924—four years after women gained access to the ballot box. Until then, even Indians who tried to assimilate into mainstream society were regarded as members of "an alien nation," in the words of an 1884 Supreme Court case.

Even after they got the right to vote, many Native Americans were reluctant to use it. Johnson says that when he began representing South Dakota in the U.S. House in 1978, "it was rare you'd find a tribal leader willing to get on a stage with a white politician." The senator explains, "They were cynical about `white man's politics.' "

After decades in which the federal government tried to erase Indian identity by forcibly assimilating Indians and terminating recognition of tribes—efforts that continued until the late 1950s—many Indians championed separation as a means of self-preservation. Participation in state and local politics "was taboo," Luger says. "Why would you want to mess around in a non-Indian election when we were supposed to be sovereign?"

Other Native American activists say the true beneficiaries of the political awakening are not newly rich casino tribes. Raymond Uses the Knife Jr., vice chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, says many residents of his central South Dakota reservation are so poor they don't have TVs or radios. "They're shut off from mainstream America," he says.

Across the country, more and more Indians are seeing politics as a way back in. Says O.J. Semans, a member of the Rosebud Sioux tribe: "We wanted people finally to realize that we exist."

Source: Kathy Kiely, "They Have What It Takes: Cash, Votes,"USA Today, 20 October 2003. See also: Karen MacPherson, "American Indians Flex Political Muscle, Post Gazette, 10 February 2004, . For the national Congress of American Indians Native Vote project:


Back to Top