And with Congress confronting a looming year-end crisis over the federal budget, expiring tax breaks and the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a vote for a woman candidate could also be a vote to end the logjam in Washington.
According to one analysis by National Journal of partisanship in members’ voting records, more than a third of the senators the magazine called “centrist” in 2010 were women, even as women senators made up less than one-fifth of the Senate. In fact, nine of the 17 women in the Senate in 2010 were rated “centrist,” including Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Obama integrates climate change into national security planning GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase Overnight Energy: Lawmakers kick off energy bill talks MORE (R-Alaska), Olympia Snowe (R-Me.), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSwing-state Republicans play up efforts for gun control laws Reid knocks GOP on gun 'terror loophole' after attacks GOP pressures Kerry on Russia's use of Iranian airbase MORE (R-Me.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillFacebook steps up fight against fake news The Trail 2016: Off the sick bed McCaskill: Trump and Dr. Oz a 'marriage made in heaven' MORE (D-Mo.), Kay HaganKay HaganPhoto finish predicted for Trump, Clinton in North Carolina Are Senate Republicans facing an election wipeout? Clinton's lead in NC elevates Senate race MORE (D-N.C.), Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuLouisiana needs Caroline Fayard as its new senator La. Senate contender books seven-figure ad buy Crowded field muddies polling in Louisiana Senate race MORE (D-La.), Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinWH tried to stop Intel Dems' statement on Russian hacking: report This week: Shutdown deadline looms over Congress Week ahead: Election hacks, Yahoo breach in the spotlight MORE (D-Calif.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOvernight Defense: US attempted hostage rescue in Afghanistan | Defense hawks brace for spending fight | Trump slams 'lies' about Iraq war stance Senators want military separation policy to address trauma-related behavior Senate Dems reignite fight for hearing on SCOTUS nominee MORE (D-Minn.)
Moreover, women senators tended to be more bipartisan than their male counterparts from the same state, even when they were the same party.
In Minnesota, for example, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar took more bipartisan votes than her fellow Democrat, Sen. Al FrankenAl FrankenOvernight Cybersecurity: FBI probes possible hack of Dems' phones | Trump's '400-pound hacker' | Pressure builds on Yahoo | Poll trolls run wild Dems slam Yahoo CEO over delay in acknowledging hack Senators challenge status quo on Saudi arms sales MORE. Likewise, in Texas, retiring Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson was rated closer to the center than her colleague, Republican Sen. John CornynJohn CornynObama defeat is Schumer victory Dems gain upper hand on budget McConnell: Senate could drop flood money from spending bill MORE (who in fact tied for first as the Senate’s most conservative senator in 2010).
Many studies have found personality differences between men and women.
In particular, women tend to score higher on “agreeableness” (whether someone prefers to be cooperative versus antagonistic) than men do on the currently favored tool of personality researchers—the “Big Five” model developed by the National Institutes of Health. On average, professor and personality researcher Colin DeYoung of the University of Minnesota says, “women are more likely to be motivated toward cooperation than men.”
Researchers say this is because men tend to think of themselves as individuals unconnected from other people, while a woman’s sense of self is more likely to include her family and community. In addition, women tend to score higher on traits related to agreeableness, such as compassion, warmth, empathy and politeness, which one study defined as “the tendency to show respect to others and refrain from taking advantage of them.”
Female candidates such as Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief who is running for Congress in Florida’s 8th District, put it more bluntly. “Women … are not threatened by working with others to get things done,” she said by email.
Two factors hinder women from becoming Washington’s secret weapon against gridlock this fall.
First, despite the record numbers of women candidates filing to run, gains by women in Congress will likely fall far short of 1992—the so-called “Year of the Woman” when women gained 20 seats in Congress. The percentage of women in Congress—17 percent—is still so low that 78 countries (including places like Afghanistan) have better female representation than the United States, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Gains by women would have to be dramatic over at least the next several election cycles for women to have a large enough caucus to force a change in tone in Congress.
Second, the disagreeability of the political process might deter women from running for office in the first place. According to a January 2012 study by scholars Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox, women are much more likely than men to be turned off by such aspects of modern campaigning as the constant quest for donations, the loss of privacy and time away from family. As a consequence, they find, women are 16 percentage points less likely than men to have even thought about running for office.
Nevertheless, if enough women make it to Congress this November, they may indeed prove to be the better bridge builders and compromise brokers Washington desperately needs.
Kim is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.