Women Own The Democratic Party

November 2006 is shaping up to be a very good month for women in politics on both sides of the Atlantic. In what The Christian Science Monitor dubbed another French revolution, Socialist Ségolène Royal trounced her male competitors last week in France's presidential primary. For the first time, a woman has a realistic chance of becoming that country's head of state. Add that to the unprecedented number of female candidates and winners in the U.S. elections, topped off by the first female speaker of the house, and the trend is clear: Women are now flexing political muscle like never before.

What is the lesson going forward from November here at home? Women won, but not just the candidates or the new speaker. Female voters triumphed, too. This year women's votes determined the outcome in virtually all the seats that turned over. The gender gap is back after the Democrats squandered it in 2004 when men voted for Bush in greater numbers than women went for Kerry. More importantly, women's concerns will not only lead the way in the post-election debates about direction in the new Congress, but will continue to decide who gets elected in the first place.

That's the message out of two major polls just released. Ms. Magazine commissioned an election eve survey to evaluate any possible gender gap in post-election priorities, and Lifetime TV teamed with Redbook Magazine to poll women and men on how they actually voted. Though questions were different, the message was the same: Women are tired of not being able to trust their leaders, they want change and that change should include more females in leadership positions. Lifetime/Redbook found that women are perceived as three times more trustworthy than men, and four in 10 voters overall thought men were more likely to be the subject of a scandal. Ms. looked at the gender breakdown on this one, considering no female faces have been seen peeking out from behind pedophile curtains, nor smiling with Abramoff or being led away in handcuffs for taking bribes. Not surprisingly, women say electing more women would have an impact on the culture of corruption in Washington -- a 9 point gender gap with men on the subject.

Buried in the Ms. results is a loud warning bell for Republicans. While all voters rated Iraq number 1 in importance, there were differences between the genders on this question. Republican women are more intense about ending the war than any other group, with 73 percent of them rating it as a very high priority. They're ahead of even their Democratic sisters on this one.

The Ms. poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners, measured what might be called the "intensity factor" on the issues. Gender gaps were most evident on the domestic agenda, including child care and education. But the widest divergence with the men came on the minimum wage -- a 17 percent gap between female support for an increase and male support for it. This isn't surprising given that most minimum wage workers are adult women. But politicians should take note: Women also fueled the passage of all six minimum wage initiatives. Jobs and the economy were the second highest concern for independent female voters -- that's the group both parties need to swing things their way in 2008.

On the question of female leadership, Lifetime's poll shows advances for women are no fluke, and are part of a dramatic new acceptance of and support for women's political leadership -- on the part of men as well as women. Roughly one third of voters said they were more likely to vote in an election with a female candidate, more likely to believe a female candidate and more likely to pay attention to her political ads.

Changes here and abroad add up to increasing political viability for women as political leaders -- all the way to the top of the ticket. If Ségolène Royal is elected, a woman will preside over the world's sixth largest economy, and head a country with a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. That will go a long way toward making female leadership at the highest levels "normal."

In the two years since Lifetime's last poll the percentage of adults who think a woman will be elected U.S. president in 2008 has nearly doubled. With the high probability that the Democrats will choose Hillary Clinton as the standard bearer, and the clout of females at the polls, the U.S. could be on the cusp of a female political revolution of its own.

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