Want More Bipartisanship? Elect More Women


Bipartisanship is the big buzzword in today’s political climate. American voters claim to be tired of the partisan, self-righteous attitudes of some of our representatives on Capitol Hill. But on some level, we are complicit in perpetuating this attitude. We claim we’re going to “throw them all out” and yet we keep reelecting them. We get excited about rational, well-spoken candidates, but then vote for others who have signed “no new taxes” or “don’t cut Medicare” pledges which bind their policy options.

Despite our anger, we have a tendency to pull the lever at the ballot box for “D” or “R” without doing our research. With the 2012 congressional and presidential elections still 11 months away, Americans have plenty of time to review candidates’ records and decide whether they have reached across the aisle.

My advice? Take a second look at women candidates, or recruit a woman to run for office. Government institutions are gendered – meaning that stereotypical male behavior is the norm. When we elect women, we have an opportunity to shake up the status quo.

It’s easy to cast aside the idea. After all, saying that all women act a certain way or believe a certain thing is patently false – try finding the shared policy goals between Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.). But, women often take a different path to public service than men. According to a 2005 (and reconfirmed in 2008) study by Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox, even in high-powered professions like law and business, women often need to be recruited to run for office. Men on these career tracks frequently think they’re qualified to serve, but women often have to be convinced. Thus, women may come in with a more realistic understanding of their strengths, which can only create a more cordial atmosphere for intelligent policy discussion.

Women may also have different motivations for running than men. Women are more likely to view politics as a vehicle through which to achieve policy goals, while men are more likely to say that politics is another way to achieve economic goals. Which perspective is likely to get our representatives focused on the real issues?

Overall, women are more likely to emphasize integration and cooperation than men: multiple studies suggest that women emphasize inclusive decision-making as committee chairs, whereas men may focus on bargaining and negotiating. Perhaps the debt reduction super-committee could have benefited from a second (or perhaps a fifth or sixth) female member.

Ultimately, these are all statistics, and they don’t represent everyone – there are plenty of men who deserve our votes for their cooperative natures and true interest in policy.

But take the time to look for the ideal candidate next November, and take an extra few minutes to review the women who may be running in your districts. If you don’t see a good option, male or female, consider encouraging a woman to run.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons