An all-time high of 84 percent of Americans believe women are just as suited emotionally for politics as men, according to a new survey that comes as the largest-ever field of women are running for president and with a record number serving in Congress.
The growing acceptance of women in politics and in the workforce is highlighted by the General Social Survey, a widely respected trend survey that has been measuring views of gender and society since the 1970s.
A quarter of Americans think it’s better for men to work and for women to stay at home, the lowest level since the question was first asked in 1985. Roughly as many — 28 percent — say preschool children suffer with a working mother; 53 percent said the same in 1985.
An analysis by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and General Social Survey staff finds these attitudes extend broadly across demographic groups, including gender and partisanship, though there are still some small gaps.
Nearly a century after the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, the growing public role of women in the U.S. has produced major changes in politics, culture and policy. The #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct helped propel a record number of women onto the campaign trail in 2018. Now, the House is anchored by the most women ever to serve at once, with Nancy Pelosi the only woman to have held the post of speaker.
The share of Americans who say women are as suited for politics as men is up 6 percentage points since 2016, when Hillary Clinton became the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination, and 14 points since 2008, when she lost a grueling primary battle to Barack Obama. In 1974, just 49 percent said so.
Men and women alike consider women equally suited for politics, as do majorities across party lines. Democrats are somewhat more likely than Republicans to say so, 89 percent to 80 percent, though the share in both parties has grown in recent years.
A record six women — all Democrats — are running for president in 2020. The crowded campaign trail means women are talking about a variety of issues and taking an array of positions, offering voters a chance to size them up on more than just their gender. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is highlighting her experience as a prosecutor. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is emphasizing economic issues, including consumer protection.
The trend toward more women in politics is energizing policy discussions in the polarized country, with national attention on issues surrounding #MeToo and discrimination in the workplace, along with paid family leave and child care.
The survey found 9 percent of women saying they have been discriminated against at work because of their gender. Among college-educated women, that figure stands at 13 percent.
While Americans largely support women entering the workforce, a minority — 36 percent — support preferential hiring for women. There has been a consistent partisan gap in views on this over time, but it has grown during the last two years. The share of Democrats who support preferential hiring for women is up to 46 percent, from 35 percent in 2016. A quarter of Republicans are in favor of affirmative action for women in the workforce.
Within the GOP, a gender gap persists on attitudes toward women in the workforce. Republican men are more likely than Republican women to say it is better for women to stay at home while men work, 37 percent to 22 percent. Similarly, while 18 percent of Republican women think preschool children suffer if their mother works, 39 percent of Republican men say this.
Health care, the top-of-mind issue for voters in the 2018 midterm elections, has again proven to be a political battleground ahead of the 2020 presidential election. The president this week, apparently recognizing the issue’s importance for voters, directed Republicans to “try again” to dismantle President Barack Obama’s signature health care law while the administration fights it in court. With no Democratic candidate emerging soon in the nomination fight, Pelosi has struggled to keep her rank and file focused on the issues rather than investigations of Trump.
On the contentious issue of abortion, attitudes have grown even more partisan. Overall, Americans are divided on whether a woman should be able to have an abortion “if she wants one for any reason.” Forty-nine percent are in favor, which has been inching up over the last decade. Other polling finds majority support for legalized abortion in “all or most cases.”
The share of Democrats saying a woman should be allowed to have an abortion for any reason is at its highest level, 64 percent. About a third of Republicans (35 percent) say the same.
The General Social Survey has been conducted since 1972 by NORC at the University of Chicago, primarily using in-person interviewing.
Sample sizes for each year’s survey vary from about 1,500 to about 3,000 adults, with margins of error falling between plus or minus 2.2 percentage points and plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
The most recent survey was conducted April 12 through Nov. 10, 2018, and includes interviews with 2,348 American adults. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.