The Impact of Women's Suffrage: Female Voters and the Election of 1920
44 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 4 Sep 2011
Date Written: 2011
The national enfranchisement of women in 1920 represented the largest expansion of the voting population in American history, nearly doubling the size of the American electorate. How did women use their new right? What factors influenced their choice to embrace the right to vote or to continue to abstain? Were they distinctively supportive of one party over the other? The 1920 election has been heralded as a “return to normalcy.” Yet, women at the voting booth was hardly normal politics. Using a combination of new data and new methods, we estimate the proportion of women who entered the electorate in support of the Republican, Democratic and third party presidential candidates. We construct a ten state sample that covers a wide range of political contexts: states in several regions, states that are traditionally one-party GOP and one-party Democratic, states that are highly competitive, and states that have a variety of rules covering registration. Capitalizing on recent advances in approaches to ecological inference and Bayesian treatments of the ecological inference problem, the estimates recover the true/observed behavior of women and men in 1920 Illinois and permit us to investigate a variety of characteristics of turnout and vote choice in the rest of the U.S. We find that, in some ways, women did make politics more “normal” - they contributed to strengthening and solidifying the dominant political power in Republican states and to dampening the Republican surge in at least one traditionally-Democratic state (Virginia). If Republicans were the party of normalcy, then women were again “normal” voters, in that most women did enter the electorate as “particularly” Republican partisans. Yet, as our analysis shows, men favored the Republican party at similar levels, and in states where turnout had been low in previous elections, the numbers of new male voters were considerable. On the whole, Republicans netted many more new male voters than they did female voters in 192'3 Male voters, overwhelmingly Republican and voting in large numbers, created a landslide for Harding; women, even more Republican but voting in smaller numbers, intensified this Republican surge.
Keywords: women, politics, suffrage, ecological inference
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