GOP Women: “As Conservative as the Men are”

Politico has a story today (here) that addresses the new crop of women in the Republican party.  There are a couple points in the article that I find interesting.

First, even though we all know that there are far more men than women in Congress, it’s still astonishing that there are a total of 76 women currently serving in the House.*  Though I won’t go into it much here, there’s a sizable literature addressing why the number of women in Congress is so low.  The short version presented by Fox and Lawless (abstract here, article gated) is that while women tend to fare relatively well in elections when they run, highly qualified female candidates don’t get recruited nearly as aggressively as male counterparts, and thus are less likely to run in the first place.

The second point in the Politico article is that there’s been a pretty big gender gap in the parties.  This is certainly true among mass partisans: the Center for Women in American Politics at Rutgers has consistently found that a greater proportion of women than men prefer the Democratic presidential candidate, often by a gap in the 7-10 point range.  But this is also true among members of Congress, as the female Democrats outnumber female Republicans 52-24.  Fox & Lawless find that part of this advantage may lie in the number of women’s organizations, such as EMILY’s list, who have put a priority on recruiting women, even if the party doesn’t.

The third point in the article I found intriguing is the idea that the Republican women in the House are not like their more moderate counterparts in the Senate. Rather, as articulated by Kristi Noem, (R-SD) “I definitely think the women are as conservative as the men are.”

In 1985, Susan Welch published one of the first words on gender and ideology in Congress, finding that women did have more liberal voting patterns than men, but that the differences were diminishing somewhat (here, gated).  Is this the case in the 112th Congress?  Let’s find out.

There are a number of different ways that we could try to identify how conservative the various Republican members are, ranging from issue positions on websites to interest group ratings, but I happen to incredibly fond of ideal point estimation (weird, I know).  I’ve calculated a fresh batch of W-NOMINATE scores** from the 459 roll call votes that have taken place so far this session.

So, what do we see?  The Republican women look like they are just about as conservative as Republican men.  There are some relatively moderate ones (such as Ileana Ro-Lehtinen (R FL-18) , with a first dimension score of 0.46), some not-so moderate ones (such as Michelle Bachmann (R MN-6), out on the far right side with a score of 0.90), and several in the middle. Moreover, a mean comparison test doesn’t find any gender difference in conservatism among Republicans (t=0.35, df=239, p>.70).

By contrast, Democratic women appear to still be more liberal than their male counterparts, where the most moderate woman (Shelley Berkley (D NV-1) with a score of -0.54) is still quite a bit more liberal than the most moderate man (Jason Altmire (D PA-4)  with a score of +0.02).   This is also borne out in a mean comparison test, with evidence that the Democratic women are rather more liberal than men (t=3.8, df=190, p<.01).

What we don’t see in these aggregate statistics, however, is how men and women differ on a particular subset of issues.  For example, there’s pretty strong evidence that women in office tend to focus on “women” or “family” issues such as reproductive rights, education spending and the like.   That continues to be true among Democratic women, who are among the strongest supporters of abortion rights, while many Democratic men tend to be far less enthusiastic about them.  It will be interesting to see is if the new crop of GOP women specialize in these policy areas as their predecessors often have, or if they elect to focus on areas where women have traditionally had less influence such as tax policy or business regulation.

So, is the fact that there is no gender gap among Republicans much of a surprise?  Given the national prominence of conservative women such as Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin, no, we shouldn’t be too surprised.  Perhaps the image we have of moderate female Republicans in the Senate is a function of a small sample size.  Alternatively, as the Politico article suggests, it may be the result of a different era in Republican party politics.

*Politico incorrectly reports that there are 93 women in the House.  There are 93 women in Congress: 76 in the House, and another 17 in the Senate.

**For those not familiar with ideal point estimates, I’m working on a primer which will be posted soon.  In the meantime, what you really need to know is that a score of -1 means one is really liberal, and +1 is really conservative.  The horizontal axis is the economic left-right ideological continuum (taxes, social welfare programs, etc.), while the vertical axis is generally treated as the social liberal-conservative continuum (prayer in public schools, gay marriage, abortion, etc).  There haven’t been many social issues so far, so the vertical axis isn’t too important right now.

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8 Responses to GOP Women: “As Conservative as the Men are”

  1. Jay Maggio says:

    This is a smart analysis. Could it possibly be that the “moderate” ideologies of women Republicans in the Senate has more to do with the *state* from which they come then from their gender? It seems like Snowe and Collins fit in well with Chafee/Spector brand of Republicans, which, as Politico suggests, are mostly dead, or registered Dem or Ind. (Scott Brown is late addition, but I think he is an isolated case.)

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  3. ouroboros says:

    Any ideas about why there’s that very defined curved boundary on the Republican side?

    Here’s a comment I left on Yglesias, where I first learned about this graph – I thought I’d repost it here at the original, since I’d be very interested to hear the author’s thoughts as well as anyone else’s:

    As someone who looks at a lot of data, I’m struck/puzzled by the relatively smooth ‘boundary’ curve on the Republican side – it looks like it was externally imposed somehow (which makes me suspect an artifact of the calculation method).

    Assuming that it’s real, it’s difficult to interpret. Something like “the less extreme you are on the left-right continuum, the more extreme you have to be on the liberal-conservative issue”, but it’s hard to understand why that would be irrespective of the direction of that extremism.

    It makes more sense on the Democratic side: the more “left” someone is, the less “liberal” they’re allowed to be, whereas the more centrist (further to the right) they are, the more free they are to be socially liberal.

    Anyone else have thoughts about this?

  4. I thought the 2nd dimension had at times been had votes on social issues, particularly race during the Civil Rights Movement, load onto it but that in recent times most social issues, such as abortion and gay rights, are primarily loading onto the 1st dimension? While you can load some votes onto the 2nd dimension, most of them are civil liberties, foreign affairs, or just entirely random issues.

  5. Michael E Sullivan says:

    I am also suspect of the very curved boundary on the republican side. I notice the same thing on the democratic side for one half. It probably is a calculation artifact, perhaps based on the fact that a number of potential votes have elements of both dimensions , such that it is literally impossible to be extreme on both axes (in order to be close to +1 on horizontal, you must vote very consistently with conservative economic bills, even if they contain socially liberal riders/elements.

    What’s interesting is that the democrats in the center horizontally, are *not* socially liberal, but in fact are the most socially conservative of all members. So in fact, it appears to me that under a different coalition dogma, one with less rigid republican whipping, they would be economically moderate republicans, who are free to be especially conservative socially. I think most of these guys (and they are all guys) are currently democrats who buy their economic centrism with social conservatism within otherwise R territory.

  6. Eric Galloway says:

    It sure looks like the reason there are no moderate women Republicans is that by and large there are virtually no moderate Republicans at all. The Republican grouping is a single cluster, where as the Democratic grouping is spread wide. The set “ALL REPUBLICANS” is a much more homogenous set than the set “ALL DEMOCRATS” bye far

  7. Nate Birkhead says:

    To Jay, yes I think that’s exactly what it is. This was a simple analysis that didn’t include any sort of district level variables. I’ve recently been pointed to Frederick (2009, published in Congress and The Presidency), who does show that district variables help to explain this variation.

    To Ouroboros and Michael, good eyes. The curved boundary is the result of the algorithm for the calculations, which constrains values to the unit circle. The members of Congress who are stacked on the edges are likely to be more ideologically extreme (either more liberal or more conservative). I’m in the process of calculating some ideal points using a Bayesian algorithm (Simon Jackman’s IDEAL) which doesn’t censor these values, but it’s a much slower process.

    To VA-Liberalitarian, you’re right. I was a bit sloppy. The second dimension is most commonly civil rights, while now is a bit of a catchall for trade, immigration and the other factors you mention that cut across the main partisan divide. But there are social issues on there as well. For example, in the 111th Congress, the Stupak-Pitts amendment loaded on the 2nd dimension, with a cutting angle of -53 degrees.

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