Monday, January 18, 2010

The Gender Factor

I haven't followed the special election here in Massachusetts for Ted Kennedy's Senate seat closely enough to say whether Attorney General Martha Coakley is to blame for mismanaging a campaign that she could well lose tomorrow. A couple of weeks ago, nobody was giving her opponent, State Senator Scott Brown, a chance.

Though there are many differences, the 2002 Massachusetts governor's race might offer a bit of an explanation. In that year, a conventionally handsome, moderate-sounding outsider named Willard Mitt Romney defeated an accomplished, tough, insider pol with two X chromosomes, State Treasurer Shannon O'Brien.

In both cases—2002 and 2010—it's hard to imagine that if the hard-bitten insider had been the man, and the sunny outsider the woman, that the insider would have lost. We tell women in politics that to be treated as equals they have to "get down in the political trenches." But when they do—Coakley had a reputation as a tough prosecutor as Middlesex County D.A. and it's easy to imagine her driving a hard bargain in a legislative conference—we don't necessarily care for that either.

12 comments:

G of the Forest said...

How do you see the national politics playing into this? Is this a referendum on Obama, as some have claimed? The tea partiers are quite energized and seem to be strongly supporting Brown. Is he, in your view, truly moderate or will he vote a party line once in the Senate?

Eve's Apple said...

In summer 2007, way back when we all (ok, I) expected Hillary to get the nomination, I saw a t-shirt that said "Bros before Hoes," complete with cariacatures of Obama and Clinton. I was mighty offended at the time, but as the election wore on, I came to see the t-shirt as cotton wisdom. Massachusetts politics is an old boys network through and through. (This is not to say that Coakley doesn't have problems of her own, just to place those problems in context.)

M. Rondin de Fromage said...

Thanks for the great question and comment!

GotF, Brown said today that his election was not a referendum on Obama. Not sure why he's taking that tack... perhaps their polling shows Obama still popular in Massachusetts? I haven't checked but I'd be curious to hear what the anti-Obamans think about that statement.

I don't see how he can do anything but vote a party line while in the Senate, unless.... hmm I just had an idea that I think I'll write a blog post about.

EA, I expected Hillary to beat Obama too, until he caught fire in Iowa in Nov 2007. Americans still have a serious difficulty dealing with women in leadership.... another issue I will explore in a future post.

Bokeh said...

Bokeh wonders if you have a theory as to why the XX factor didn't play a deciding role in the primary.

I keep thinking the election might be an example of the Iron Law of Institutions, with the voters giving Coakley the axe because they didn't feel like she was paying attention/deference/heed to them. They exercised their power, even though for many of the folks who voted Brown in, the election results will make it less likely that they will get the kinds of things that they want from a candidate/government.

desmoinesdem said...

The primary was compressed, and Coakley was the only candidate who had been elected to statewide office. She was also the only woman running against three men. Very different dynamic.

She did run an awful campaign, but if she had been a man, maybe she could have kept it closer. Massachusetts isn't a very friendly environment for women candidates--nothing like NH.

desmoinesdem said...

Speaking of gender, the Blog Gender Analyzer correctly guessed that you are a man:

http://genderanalyzer.com/

The same gender analyzer incorrectly tags my blog (Bleeding Heartland) as being written by a man every time.

Bokeh said...

What fun this genderanalyzer.com is.

It seems to think that the female-written posts on Cheeze Blog are more likely to have been written by a man than the male-written posts.

How does Jane Swift fit into all this?

M. Rondin de Fromage said...

Hey desmoinesdem, I know you! But I didn't know about your blog! Onto the blogroll it goes.

I think your theory as to why the XX factor didn't seem to hurt her in the primary makes sense to me. Also the primary took place six weeks ago, and had pitifully low turnout-- only the liberal base turned out. It was the surge of "Unenrolled" (Bay-State-ese for independent) suburbanites who swamped Coakley in the general.

And shouldn't it be "...correctly guessed that *you represent* as a man?" :)

A friend pointed out today that CT, NH, and ME have all elected statewide women, but MA and RI haven't, which prompted me to wonder if it's not a gender thing so much as a Catholic thing?

M. Rondin de Fromage said...

Oh, and Bokeh, thanks also are due to you for chiming in.

You might enjoy Bryan Caplan's book "The Myth of the Rational Voter." But then again you might not. I haven't read it myself but the thesis can be guessed from the title.

I'm not generally a fan of "What's-the-Matter-with-Kansas"-type analyses. (Actually I am annoyed by that particular book for a number of reasons, chief among them the title...I propose the following heuristic for assessing books: Any book that recycles the title of an earlier work carries with it a high likelihood that the evidence marshaled within has been fixed to match the title.)

Better, I think, to assume as a starting point that a voter always knows exactly what he is doing. If a voter is closer to Candidate A in terms of policy but votes for Candidate B anyway (because he is more likable, say), it is because the voter has judged Candidate A incapable of delivering the desired policy. This renders policy moot as a yardstick in the voter's mind, making way for things like "likability," "leadership," "cares about people like me," and so on to take center stage.

M. Rondin de Fromage said...

And on Jane Swift: She ascended to the throne after Argeo Paul Celluci resigned to become ambassador to Canada (it was in 2000 or 2001 I think...sometime before 9/11). She was pilloried from one end of the state to the other during her short stint as guv, for, among other things, her weight, her stay-at-home husband, and her practice of having staffers watch her children during work hours.

desmoinesdem said...

The gender analyzer seems to think any blog about politics is written by a man, especially if it includes lots of hyperlinks. I played around with it once, and pretty much every political blog by a woman was tagged as being written by a man:

http://mydd.com/2008/11/23/writing-about-politics-does-not-make-me-a-man

G of the Forest said...

It's disappointing that there aren't any exit polls.

I like the idea of the irrational voter, the muddled middle, that serves as the political battleground during election campaigns as an explanation. If you begin with "general dissatisfaction" and go to "incumbent party" and pile on "weak candidate/bad campaigner" then you could have something as unlikely as a "Republican senator from Massachusetts" come into being.

It's interesting that Obama decided to whip out his populist Plan B today by finally taking on the Wall Street banks. Maybe that's the lesson he is taking from all of this.

Gender I believe is still a factor but women didn't seem to vote for Coakley by a wide margin, either. It's probably more of a background factor.

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