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Politics & Government

PA Women Vote for Wolf, But Are Absent From Congressional Delegation

Liz Reid
90.5 WESA

“Something I heard at Corbett HQ on election night was ‘Well, no one’s ever going to cut education funding again,’” recalled Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Melissa Daniels at a post-election analysis forum at Chatham University Wednesday afternoon.

The forum, dubbed “The Day After,” was hosted by Chatham’s Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics and moderated by Executive Director Dana Brown.

A diverse crowd of a couple dozen women and a few men met to discuss issues ranging from the GOP wave in U.S. Congress to split ticket Pennsylvania voters to the gender gap among independent voters.

That gap might have made all the difference for Governor-elect Tom Wolf, according to Chatham Assistant Professor of Political Science Jennie Sweet-Cushman.

“(The gender gap) is really profound among younger women, minority women, and then you saw in this election, which is not always true, independent women,” Sweet-Cushman said. “That was probably a really important demographic for Corbett to win.”

Sweet-Cushman said early estimates show a 5 percentage point difference between the way women and men voted in the gubernatorial election, and a 25 point difference among independent female and male voters, with women favoring Tom Wolf in both cases.

But Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Kate Giammarese said many of those votes might not have been for Wolf, per se, but against Corbett.

“The governor battled low approval ratings his entire term, and a lot of analysts … trace that to the cuts that were made in his first budget, particularly the education cuts,” Giammarese said.

Education has long been considered an issue most important to women, but Wednesday’s panelists said in this case, disillusionment with Corbett’s approach to education spending seemed to be a driving factor for both male and female voters.

However, it appears that many voters split their tickets, as the GOP extended its majority in both the Pennsylvania Senate and House of Representatives.

Melissa Daniels said there will have to be some give and take between the Legislature and the governor-elect if any of them are to make progress on their key initiatives.

“Tom Wolf, if he wants to get his proposals through, he’s probably going to have to give the Republicans in the House and Senate some of what they want too,” Daniels said. “Otherwise, what incentive will they have to get behind his plans?”

Another topic of conversation at the forum was the absence of female lawmakers from Pennsylvania’s upcoming congressional delegation. Pennsylvania’s lone female congressional legislator, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-13) decided not to seek re-election as she focused on her unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination for governor, and her seat will be filled by current Democratic state Rep. Brandon Boyle come January.

Sweet-Cushman said Pennsylvania’s stasis, and even regression, when it comes to women in politics can be attributed in part to the fact that fewer women than men run for political office in the first place.

“There’s a pipeline problem, because you have so few women in the state legislature that are looking to move up the ranks and maybe launch a Congressional campaign,” Sweet-Cushman said. “You just don’t have as many potential candidates.”

The PCWP runs an annual, bi-partisan training program for women interested in running for office called “Ready to Run,” but Dana Brown said that academic research on how to engage female candidates and voters alike is still in its infancy. Another issue, said Brown, has to do with the nature of the races in which female candidates were running.

“Women in this election cycle, when they chose to run, in many cases they were running against entrenched incumbents,” Brown said. “Whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s very difficult to unseat an incumbent.”