Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Women's perceptions of voting kept them away from the polls

On this, the last day of Women’s History Month, it is fitting to reflect on a note-worthy suvey of women and the voting franchise. Though women won the right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920, they did not exercise their newly-granted power in an equal proportion to men until sixty years later. 59.4% of voting-age women participated in the 1980 presidential election, in comparison to 59.1% of their male counterparts.

Of interest to today’s students, perhaps, are the reasons that women did not go to the polls in greater numbers. The results of a 1924 University of Chicago poll of non-voting women give insight into the attitudes of women during the period.

Students might not be surprised to learn that the number one reason given by women who opted not to cast a ballot was “general indifference to politics or to the particular election that year.” However, a more startling rationale for staying away from the voting booth was given by 11.4% of women: a “disbelief in woman’s voting.” Ethnic background and age were predictors of this response, with a tendency for the anti-suffragist belief to be shared by German, Irish and Italian women of older years. Teachers can ask students to examine why these groups would have shown a tendency to hold this view.

“Objections of husband” were cited to a lesser extent than the women’s own objections. Teachers can prompt students to consider why women might have been the greatest impediment to their own voter turnout.

Let’s celebrate the fact that in 2009 women continue to vote in equal numbers and percentages to men!

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