Will a Record Number of Women in Congress Make a Difference?


Check out my latest post for InPower Women!

With the Inauguration in the rear view mirror, it’s officially time for the 113th Congress and President Obama to get back to work. Women were big winners in the November elections and the current Congress set a new record for female members when officially sworn in earlier this month. That’s the good news. The bad news is that new records means that female representation in Congress jumped from a high of 17% to a new high of 18%.

But it sounds more depressing than it really is, as these infographics from Mother Jones indicate. Some fast facts:

  • 1 in 3 newly elected members is a woman
  • 184 women ran for Congress in 2012 and nearly half were elected
  • The state of New Hampshire will be sending an entirely female delegation to Washington with a female Governor at home
  • Four states are sending their first female Senators; Hawaii, Massachusetts, North Dakota and Wisconsin

And let’s not forget that there are now 20 women serving in the Senate, up from 17 in the 112th Congress.

Read the rest at InPowerWomen.com!


Heading to Tampa…

Updates, Work

In five hours, my wonderful husband, Paul, will be driving me to the airport to board a JetBlue flight to Tampa for the Republican National Convention. The big news that I mentioned in my last blog post is that I am working with Google and YouTube on their convention coverage! I’ve been working as a booker and associate producer, liaising with media partners and helping them book guests for their hangouts on air. I’ll be heading to Charlotte next week for the Democratic National Convention.

Hopefully, my experience with the RNC will be slightly different from my experience in 2004.

Women as Candidates, Women as Symbols


I stole the title for this post from a recent event at the New America Foundation. If you haven’t been to their site or attended one of their event, I highly recommend. Not only are the topics incredibly thought-provoking (see: The Reoccurring Theme of Entitlement), but their panelists are terrific.

The most recent event I attended was their panel on Women as Candidates, Women as Symbols. The panel was moderated by Rebecca Traister, of Salon.com. While the event touched on a number of different issues about women in politics (and women as politics), the idea of women as candidates was an ongoing theme throughout the discussion. The panel was well-timed, too, happening shortly after the publication of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” in The Atlantic. The idea of women in high-powered positions was on everyone’s mind.

Again, the theme of entitlement came up as part of the conversation on why, when women represent 51% of the population in the U.S., the account for only 17% of Congress. GOOD put together the infographic to the right showing what Congress looks like now and what Congress would look like if it truly reflected the demographic breakdown. This is from 2011, so the numbers may not reflect the special election updates, but it’s a big majority of men. And a big majority of whites.

And a big part of that is not just that men feel more entitled to run for office, but that women feel under qualified and are under recruited. Michelle Goldberg, writer with Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and Jen Bluestein, from EMILY’s List, both mentioned the research of Jennifer Lawless during the panel. Studies have shown that when women run for office, they win at the same rate as men. One of the best known was conducted by the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1994 found that sex has less to do with the outcomes of an election than incumbency. And when women run for open seats, they are just as likely to win as a man. But they can’t win if they don’t run.

Lawless, along with her colleague Richard Fox, have researched why women don’t run for office. Their most recent paper, “Men Rule: The Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics” highlights seven key factors in why women don’t run:

1. Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.

2. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s candidacies aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in the electoral arena.

3. Women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.

4. Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk averse than their male counterparts.

5. Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.

6. Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office – from anyone.

7. Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks.

It’s a lot to tackle and Lawless and Fox do a great job of breaking their data. I highly recommend reading their analysis. There were so many great graphs to choose from, but the recruitment gap was particularly striking. Women are significantly less likely to be encouraged to run for office by political and non-political actors compared to men. Lawless and Fox surveyed men and women in positions that generally lead into political office; business leaders, lawyers, educators and political activists. Men were more likely to be recruited at all levels of government. 21% of men who responded said they’d been recruited for a local school board election, while only 18% of women had been recruited in similar ways. Get further up the government ladder, to statewide or federal offices, and the gap widens. Only 16% of the women surveyed had been recruited for state legislatures, while 24% of men had. And while 10% of men were recruited to serve in the House of Representatives, only 4% of the pool of highly qualified professional women were approached for the same job.

And recruitment is important, because even when specifically selected to participate in a survey because of their perceived qualification, women are statistically less likely to see themselves as qualified to run for office. One particularly amusing statistic from this study mentioned by Bluestein was that even among the men who did not think they were qualified to run for public office, “55% have given the notion of a candidacy some thought.” Again, that sense of entitlement.

While writing this, I mentioned the statistic above to my husband who suggested that perhaps it’s because young men grow up being told that they can be anything, even president. But while girls are told that they can have it all, family and a career, the reality doesn’t exactly measure up.

Closing the gender gap is about more than just increasing diversity in politics. It’s about issues that directly affect women being discussed and voted on by predominantly male politicians. Bluestein commented at the panel that “the safest time to be a women is when Congress is on recess.” She also mentioned that there has only been one day in this Congress where there have been no debates on “truly anti-women legislation.” I haven’t been able to find verification of that, but I wouldn’t be surprised. It seems nearly every bill up for debate has some sort of anti-abortion or anti-contraception amendment added. Recently, Senator Rand Paul stalled a vote on flood insurance — yes, flood insurance — in order to get his amendment on fetal personhood debated.

Sandra Fluke, who says she didn’t intend to become a combatant for women’s issues, made the point that the Republicans in Congress have managed to divorce many of these issues that directly affect women from women. Paycheck fairness becomes about tort reform. The Violence Against Women Act, which has been reauthorized and expanded twice since it was first enacted in 1994, has turned into a fight against gay people, even if the coverage is just as needed in the gay community as it is for straight women. And contraception and abortion are repeatedly turned into religious freedom arguments, despite the fact that different religions have different beliefs about abortion. (And, incidentally, the clip linked, of Michigan state Representative Lisa Brown, became a debate about the use of the word vagina, rather than abortion.)

But it’s also about more than just the issues that are being debated. It’s also about how things get done (or, in this Congress, don’t get done) and how successful the ultimate outcomes are. We can look at the business world for reference of how important it is to have women represented in positions of power. In 2012, only 18 companies in the Fortune 500 were led by women, the most ever. There has been a lot of discussion on why there aren’t more women leading companies or sitting on boards of directors, but there has been just as much research into how having women in leadership positions can affect a company. And the effect can be significant. InPower Women has put together an impressive collection of studies and research on women, leadership and business. For example, one study by Catalyst 2011 found:

Despite a rough economic period, Fortune 500 companies with three or more women in board positions created a competitive advantage over companies with no women on their boards in the following three areas:

  • Return on Sales: 84% advantage
  • Return on Invested Capital: 60% advantage
  • Return on Equity: 46% advantage

This study was conducted on financial results of 524 public companies, which demonstrated a sustained commitment to women in leadership, as measured by the presence of women on their boards for four of the five years analyzed. Previous studies in the series have also found a connection between gender diversity on corporate boards and financial performance.

Another really interesting study in the Harvard Business Review looked at collective intelligence and the number of women in groups. The graph below kind of speaks for itself.

Reading into the study a bit though, I found another key point from Anita Woolley, part of the team that conducted the research. She commented that social sensitivity is important in group performance and women tend to score higher on tests of social sensitivity than men. Having more women in groups leads to more listening, more constructive criticism and more open minds. Having more women in the political arena could lead to the same results, but rather than affecting a group or a business, women could affect change in their communities and the nation.

Looking at countless studies about the benefits of diversity, both gender and cultural, it’s hard to believe that more women aren’t inclined to run and more women aren’t recruited to run. But perhaps looking back at the second key point from the Lawless/Fox study, that the candidacies of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin “aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in the electoral arena,” can answer more questions about why women aren’t more inclined to run for office. So much of the coverage focused on the fact that they were both women, rather than their qualifications (or lack thereof). Consider how frequently the press on Clinton mentioned her pantsuits or her laugh. Meanwhile, Sarah Palin’s legs were a constant topic of conversation.

In an article late last year, Christina Bellantoni wrote about Michele Bachmann’s primary run. Bellantoni highlighted the ways in which Bachmann’s campaign differed from Clinton’s or Palin’s. While Clinton downplayed her role as a mother, keeping Chelsea largely out of sight except for a limited number of tightly controlled events, Palin paraded her children out on the campaign trail. Bachmann spoke about her role as a mother to emphasize her strengths as a woman and as a candidate. In some ways, Bachmann’s campaign was particularly unique because a significant proportion of her press coverage focused on her extreme views and the crazy statements she’s made during her time in office and on the campaign trail, rather than the fact that she was a woman. Not to say there wasn’t sexist coverage, though perhaps it was a bit more subtle. For example, a great deal of attention was paid to her severe migraines. Replace migraines with PMS and we’ve heard this story before. Also, as Michelle Goldberg pointed out on the panel, Bachmann’s views weren’t that much more preposterous than Rick Santorum’s and he came close to nabbing the nomination.

In November, women will not be sitting this election out. More than 223 women are still in the running for Congress. If half of those women win, Congress will be nearly 21% women, a four-point gain. There are still a number of primaries to come, so the number of women on the ballot in November is certain to shrink, but we could see an unprecedented number of women running. Will we start seeing headlines about 2012 being “The Year of the Woman” like we did in 1992 or 2008? Unfortunately, it’s already underway here (and here and here).

While it’s encouraging to see coverage of the important issue of gender disparity in politics, most of the coverage sets an impossibly high standard for women. Not all the women running for office will win (especially since women are running against women in some races) and if women are just as likely as men to win elections, they’re also just as likely to lose. While we’re almost certain (I hope!) to see an uptick in the number of women serving in Congress, we’re still not getting anywhere close to equal representation. When that happens, write all the “Year of the Women” headlines you want. I’ll just be happy to see it happen.

Money in Politics Survey Analysis


So, thanks again to everyone who took the survey! Your responses really helped and the data was really interesting. You can see the raw data in my previous post, but I wanted to parse a few of the questions further. Of my 52 respondents, only one describe their political leanings as right. So, for the purposes of my analysis, I chose to ignore that one respondent. Sorry to whoever that was! I did appreciate your contribution! Unfortunately, without more responses from that side of the aisle, it was impossible to draw any conclusions with a sample size of one.

That said, there were a few responses in my money in politics survey that really took me by surprise. This is the breakdown of how the (now) 51 respondents reported their political leanings:

And when it came to campaign finance reform, most answered that it was a very important issue to them:

Respondents generally agreed that there is too much money being spent on political campaigns,

that there should be limits on the amount of money spent on political campaigns,

and that money can corrupt political campaigns.

And yet, the majority of respondents were pretty wishy-washy about the idea of publicly financed elections:

This was probably the most interesting piece of data in the entire survey. Purely publicly financed elections are a frequently floated idea to limit the amount of money spent on political campaigns. Proponents of public financing say it will even the playing field and limit the influence of private corporations and individuals on candidates. But even though a majority did respond that they agreed with the statement to a degree, nearly half were on the fence.

A few more interesting bits of data. When asked how familiar they were with the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the majority of respondents said they knew about the decision:

And a vast majority were not fans of the Super PAC:

Incidentally, the one respondent that identified as right said that Super PACs have had a positive effect on our electoral process. Again, that respondent is not included in the data above.

So, what does it all mean?

All semester long I’ve been focusing on the movement to respond to Citizens United by abolishing corporate personhood through a constitutional amendment. In conducting this survey, my goal was to gain insight on how people felt about money in politics in general. With this data, I hoped to gain a better idea of how to prepare targeted arguments in this debate.

One of the main problems with political activism is that there are so many issues to get fired up about; women’s reproductive rights, taxes, entitlements, corporate subsidies, environmental issues, etc. Along with Social Security, campaign finance reform has long been a third rail of electoral process. After all, it’s hard to get political candidates on board with changing the way campaigns are financed as they are trying to finance a campaign. In order to move forward on this issue, it will take a groundswell of support from the general population. And this data, though limited, could help activists understand how to steer the debate in order to gain support.

People do care about campaign finance reform, but as I mentioned before, public financing is probably not the road to take in order to gain support for this movement. I recently observed an Occupy Wall Street working group about getting money out of politics. While the group formed around the idea of responding to Citizens United, there was no real agreement on how that should be done. One member of the group insisted that the only way to solve the problem was to have purely publicly financed elections. Based on my data, I don’t think he will get the support he’s hoping if that’s where he’s focusing his argument.

I think the main takeaways from the data is that people are angry and frustrated about the amount of money in politics. And that’s where to start in order to gain support. If you draw people into the debate by talking about the negative effects of money in politics and the influence of Super PACs, then people will be more likely to get fired up about the rest of the movement’s goals.

In retrospect, I do wish I had included a few more questions about the corporate personhood movement and specifically, parsing the specifics of the Citizens United decision. While a majority of people said they were familiar with the decision, I wonder if they really understand what the ruling actually meant. From my other questions, I got the sense that people understood that the decision has lead to an influx of money in our campaigns from corporations, however, I don’t know if people really understand that the decision definitively afforded corporations personhood under the Fourteenth Amendment, said corporations had the First Amendment right to free speech and determined that the spending of money is a protected form of speech. Part of the reason I chose not to include specific questions about the Citizens United decision was that I couldn’t figure out a way to ask those questions without specifically biasing the answer. I did ask one specific question about the decision, whether spending money should be treated as a protected expression of speech:

Clearly, respondents disagreed with the statement, but this data gives me no indication as to whether people know that the Supreme Court has already made a decision on this issue. Which is the primary reasons there is a movement to overturn the decision through a constitutional amendment to begin with.

And the other regret is that I didn’t get more responses from the right. I posted my survey on Facebook and Twitter and my husband, who is involved in the movement, posted the survey on a couple websites he frequents about the issue. Based on the locations of my respondents, though, it’s a pretty clear that most  responses were from my friends, my family and my family friends living in New York and Connecticut. I only received one response from a red state, Texas. And, incidentally, the only respondent who identified as right was from Massachusetts. I did tweet the survey with the hashtags #GOP and #tcot a few times to see if I could get any responses, but none of those efforts lead to any survey takers.

Overall, I found process designing and implementing a survey to be challenging and surprisingly enjoyable. I found myself checking the responses every few minutes to see if anyone new had taken the survey. I especially enjoyed the open-ended questions. The data was nearly impossible to quantify, but some of the responses were a hoot. I do not envy organizations like Gallup or PPP who do this on a daily basis, but it did make me wonder whether the national pollsters that make headlines regularly put as much thought into the wording of their questions as I did.

Money in Politics Survey Results


Well, the survey was live for just under a week and I managed to collect 52 responses. I definitely would have like to get more, but since I only needed twenty, I’m pretty pleased with the final results. I conducted my survey with Google Docs and they provide great visualization tools. Below are the results. Thanks to everyone who took the survey! I really appreciate the help!

Other Responses:
None/Public Financed Only – 8
Tax Filers – 1
Everyone, with Limits – 3
How would you define a Super PAC? (This got a lot of great answers. Not all of the answers were exactly right, but most had the gist of it. Some of my favorite responses are below.)
  1. Runaway money train.
  2. a clever way to circumvent the intent of campaign finance laws (snark).  they can run ads, but they can’t give the money to the campaigns or parties.  however, when the your top advisers are RUNNING your Super PAC, the line between the two evaporates.
  3. A ridiculous electoral loophole.
  4. A scam.
  5. Monstrously evil.
  6. a good way to influence elections using money from mysterious sources.
  7. A veil behind which plutocrats hide.
  8. Lawyer-created gimmick to allow a person to receive massive funding under the illusion that he has no connection or communication with those funding him.
  9. bad
  10. A legal mechanism for corruption and the production and dissemination of political propaganda
  11. “Greed protecting greed”
Connecticut – 18
New York – 13
California – 5
Washington – 2
Pennsylvania – 2
Washington DC – 2
Maryland – 2
Rhode Island – 1
Minnesota – 1
Massachusetts – 1
Texas – 1
Illinois – 1
New Jersey – 1
Virginia – 1
Oregon – 1
I’m going to be writing up an analysis of my results in the next week and will post that as well. Thanks again for everyone who participated! And anyone who didn’t, you can still take the survey here. I’m no longer collecting data for my class, but I’m still interested in hearing from more people. I think they’re important questions with serious implications for our political process.

Money in Politics Survey


My last semester of graduate school is coming swiftly to an end. It’s amazing how quickly this semester has gone by. Three years of graduate school have crawled at times and I’m glad to be finishing up. I think I’ve gained a lot of great knowledge and skills from the New School and I’m definitely glad I decided to get my MA. I think I am a better journalist, a better producer and better researcher because of the media studies program.

And speaking of research.. My last assignment before my final in my research for media activism class is to conduct a survey on my topic. I was surprised by how difficult writing a survey is. Finding nuanced questions that don’t emphasize one answer or another was trickier than expected. I think it’s easy to look at a bad survey and pinpoint why it’s bad, but writing an even-keeled survey does take some skill. Hopefully, what I ended up with will help gather information without pushing people towards one viewpoint or another. The real goal is to get a sense of how people feel about money in politics, not to change minds. With the answers to these questions, I could develop a more targeted media strategy, if I want to pursue this topic in the future as a media activism project. That’s definitely still up in the air, but in the meantime, I would appreciate if everyone answered a few questions. I’ve, supposedly, embedded the survey below, but it seems some browsers have trouble with embedded Google forms. If you can’t see the survey below, click over to the Google documents page here. Thank you for your help!

“Now I Get” What Meta Means..


Today was one of those days when I truly understood the concept of meta-. Roughly translated, meta is a prefix meaning on or about, but in our vernacular (or rather, according to the Urban Dictionary) it means “to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential.” That said, I was working on a segment about dry eyes and Computer Vision Syndrome while suffering from dry eyes and Computer Vision Syndrome! Some of the monitors over at ABC News are just really big! At least I am well-armed to combat CVS now. Dr. Roy Chuck from Montefiore will be in tomorrow to talk about the causes and treatments for both. It should be an interesting segment.

My other big project for the day was tweaking the copy on the “Now I Get It!” segment on the Tea Party. Leading up to the start of the primary season, ABC News is producing segments on key terms that are frequently thrown around during the election. Not sure what the Iowa Caucus really is? Take a look at the breakdown by my colleague, Dan Kloeffler:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Breaking down the Tea Party to a minute long voice-over was a fun challenge. With so much to talk about, it was really hard to condense the entire 2010 Midterm elections, for example, down to a single sentence. The final script was approved today and Dan laid down the track. As you can see from the previous video, the process can be pretty labor intensive, since it’s entirely done with animation. I can’t wait to see the final product though!