Monday, April 28, 2008

Women in the 2008 Election

Women in the 2008 Election
Taught by Dr. Barbara Palmer

Why watch CNN when incisive and cutting edge election expertise is right here at WPI? This weekend intensive explored the immense impact that women are having on the 2008 election as voters, candidates, campaigners and analysts.

We became political ad script writers for a woman congressional candidate with help from Matt Erickson of Lafuens, Kully & Klose. Allison Stevens of the Washington Post and political strategist Julia Piscitelli described the “hemlines, hair and husbands” challenges that women candidates face from the media and how to overcome them.

Each of us will handicap a House race for a woman candidate using the Index of Woman-Friendliness developed by Professor Barbara Palmer and Dennis Simon in Breaking the Political Glass Ceiling. I’ll be analyzing the OH 15th, an open seat held by Republicans since 1967 and by a Republican woman since 1992. Will the district go for the Republican candidate (a man) or the woman candidate (a Democrat)? Ask me after May 8th (when the analysis is due) and I’ll tell you what I think.

One theme raised by nearly every speaker is the vital role that young women play as voters and future candidates. Susannah Shakow of Running Start and Liz Berry of Women Under 40 PAC, emphasized how important it is to support young women’s political leadership aspirations and to increase their number in elective office. Shelley West of The Polling Company/Women Trend cautioned us not to think of women voters as a monolith. Age, race, education and class are just a few of the factors that inform our perspectives as voters in addition to gender – so don’t think of “women voters” as just one thing.

Respecting and honoring multiple identities was a theme in several speakers’ perspectives on the historic 2008 presidential election, where the Democratic candidate will either be the first African-American or the first woman to head the ticket. Danielle Prendergast described her groundbreaking research on African-American legislators demonstrating there is more than one way that race informs representation. She and the class reflected on intersectionality of race and gender in the campaign and the challenge of choosing between fundamental identities in the Democratic primary. Karen Defilippi and Stephanie Foster, both hot off the state caucus/primary trail for the Clinton campaign, described the challenges and opportunities for a woman candidate and Senator Hillary Clinton in particular.

Some pundits already are saying that the 2008 election is “one for the ages.” Let’s make it one for every woman as well.

Written by, Lucy Gettman
WPPL Graduate Certificate Student