Virginia Sapiro Discusses Gender Issues in the Upcoming Election

Dr. Virginia Sapiro, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Boston University, kicked off the guest speaker series for the Brace Center for Gender Studies on Tuesday evening. Sapiro explained why more women identify themselves as Democrats and more men as Republicans. “I’m a social scientist. I’m not a pundit,” said Sapiro. As a social scientist, she said that she examines long-term trends to understand the reasoning behind public opinion. Sapiro presented a graph of voter turnout by gender in presidential elections for the last 40 years. Since 1984, women have voted more than men and because of this, women “can really make a difference,” said Sapiro. Sapiro said that the most important factor in determining whether citizens vote is partisanship. “Around 1980…you begin to see that women are more likely to say they are Democratic,” said Sapiro. “And Republicans have a little more strength in base among men.” The reasons behind the divergence in gender partisanship are manifold. When Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson began pushing for equal rights in the middle of the 1960s, white southerners, especially men, began to leave the Democratic Party, according to Sapiro. Furthermore, during the election of 1980, Republican candidate Ronald Reagan “galvanized” people. He convinced men in particular that Democrats had interfered with the economy and reduced employment in America. However, women were not as swayed because they possessed different fundamental beliefs, according to Sapiro. She then related age to candidate preferences, especially with this year’s election. According to polls that Sapiro presented, Obama is much more popular with 18 to 29-year-olds than McCain. But recently, “there has been a shift among older people [to Obama],” she said. “If young people actually get out and vote, [they] will make a big difference for years to come,” said Sapiro. “This is crucial.” Sapiro also addressed the selection of Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as McCain’s running mate. “It’s about fundamental issues. It’s not about whether the candidate happens to be female or male,” said Sapiro. During a question and answer period, one student asked Sapiro whether a Clinton nomination would have shifted the female voting base. Sapiro said that Clinton as a presidential candidate would not have a significant effect because few people who supported Clinton do not support Obama and Clinton has “high negatives” in opinion polls. Another student asked if the negative press of Palin’s vice presidential nomination had facilitated or hindered future female candidates. Sapiro responded that, at the very least, another woman would not have to “be the first” to run. Kathleen Dalton, Instructor in History and Co-Director of the Brace Center, said the presentation succeeded in making students more comfortable with political discussions and social science. Dalton said she met Sapiro at Boston University and asked her to come speak at Phillips Academy. Sapiro wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “I became involved in the young women’s movement when I was in college in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It became part of my academic and scholarly interests as well.” According to Dalton, the Brace Center has booked Jennifer Lawless from Brown University, who is running for Congress; and Susan Faludi, the author of Backlash, Stiffed and Terror Dream.