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A Party for Women

Before the headlines lit up with Trump’s “locker room” conversations about women and allegations of sexual harassment, I considered it unlikely that a Trump presidency would be good for women.

As far as I could tell, Trump has spent much of his life in a world of business and a world of men, a largely patriarchal world that does not innately concern itself with women’s issues. I questioned whether his experiences gave him an understanding of the complexity and diversity of American women and what they wanted. I was curious about the trend of women overwhelmingly supporting Democratic presidents since 1992. Why do women tend to support the Democratic candidates?

To find out, I analyzed the 2016 Republican and Democratic Party platforms to see how each addressed women and their concerns.

By the numbers, I found that women were mentioned more frequently in the Democratic Party platform, with 53 mentions in 55 pages. The Republican platform had 34 mentions of women in 66 pages. Thus just looking at the numbers, the Democratic platform more often mentioned women—a good start for Democrats. Digging more deeply, a closer analysis revealed stark differences in how each party discussed women.

The Democratic platform integrates three dominant themes related to women. (The number of mentions in each theme follows in parenthesis) Those themes were women’s equality and civil rights (9), women’s health and reproductive rights (6), and combatting violence against women (3). Interestingly, two additional mentions specifically refer to Donald Trump’s statements regarding women. (Note that each party officially adopted its platform at party conventions this past summer.)

Regarding equality, the Democratic platform states a goal of equal pay for women, passing the Equal Rights Amendment, and eliminating discrimination against women. In regards to health and reproductive rights, five of six mentions consist of maintaining women’s reproductive rights and one to continuing “affordable preventive health care” to women. The big emphasis throughout is clearly on equality and self-determination for women.

What about the Republicans?

Four main themes emerged from the Republican platform: restricting abortions and reproductive options (10), defining marriage in terms of a union between one man and one woman (5), and a tie for opposition to certain roles and rights for women (3) and protecting or supporting women (3).

Taken holistically, the Democrats focus on expanding women’s rights and equality, whether in the work place or regarding health and reproductive rights. The third theme seeks to curtail those who would act violently toward women and to provide support for those (anyone actually) who have experienced violence. The Republican platform, on the other hand, seeks to restrict rights, whether rights of access to contraceptives, the right to marry a person of the same sex, or the right to participate in combat units (currently permitted, as announced by Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter).

Themes regarding women in Republican and Democratic Party platforms, 2016.

Platform themes Examples from text
Democratic platform
women’s equality and civil rights “We will fight to secure equal pay for women, which will benefit all women and their families, particularly women of color who are disproportionately impacted by discriminatory pay practices, and against other factors that contribute to the wage gap.” (p. 4)
women’s health and reproductive rights “We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment.” (p. 37)
combatting violence against women “We will continue to support the Violence Against Women Act to provide law enforcement with the tools it needs to combat this problem. We will support comprehensive services for survivors of violence and increase prevention efforts in our communities and on our campuses.” (p. 38)
Republican platform
restricting abortions and reproductive options “We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation.” (p. 38)
defining marriage “We condemn the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Windsor, which wrongly removed the ability of Congress to define marriage policy in federal law.” (p.11)
opposition to certain roles and rights for women “We reiterate our support for both the advancement of women in the military and their exemption from direct ground combat units and infantry battalions.” (p. 43)
protecting women “Republicans have led the way in promoting initiatives that have protected and rescued millions of the world’s most vulnerable and persecuted. Standing up for repressed religious groups, prisoners of conscience, women trafficked into sexual slavery, and those suffering from disease or starvation is not just consistent with American values. It advances important security and economic interests as well.” (p. 52-53)

In strong respects, however, aside from the candidates themselves, the two party platforms refer to and talk about women in substantially different ways. Why should we care? Research suggests that beyond providing information about the parties behind each candidate, our elected officials serve to support the platforms. For example, Congress often tends to vote in line with these platforms.

As a woman, I know that many women seek the same opportunities that men have, such as fighting in combat roles, and many women seek greater freedom regarding their healthcare and reproductive system, such as having access to contraceptives. In my life, I have met and gotten to know a great many diverse women, and I know that most women would like more opportunity and freedoms.

After examining these platforms—written and endorsed by each party—it is clear to me that Republicans are not concerned with expanding women’s opportunities and freedoms compared to Democrats.

It therefore comes as no surprise that, as a recent Washington Post article headlined, “Republican women increasingly fear party is alienating female voters.” Thus even beyond the candidates, it appears that based on the platforms of our two major parties, one is more clearly a party for women.

Lori Kumler

Lori Kumler has experienced being a feminist in her native Ohio and in several other states and countries in which she has lived over the years, including Rhode Island, Scotland, Oregon, Maryland, Brazil, and Michigan. She received an M.A.T. from Tufts University, and an M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. She recalls her feminist awareness starting in 9th grade when she completed a project for English class on women in advertising.