Via Craig Newmark, I saw a column by John Lott summarizing his 1999 paper with Lawrence Kenny, “Did women’s suffrage change the size and scope of government?” Lott and Kenny conclude Yes, by comparing the spending and revenue patterns of state governments before and after women were allowed to vote. I haven’t looked at the analysis carefully and would need a little more convincing that it’s not just a story of coinciding time trends (they have a little bit of leverage because women were given the vote sooner in some states than others), but the story is plausible, at least from the perspective of voting patterns nowadays.
On the other hand . . .
poll data appear to show that the gender gap in voting between men and women is relatively recent–if anything, women used to vote more Republican than men did–so it’s not clear if the effect Lott seems to be finding is occurring from women actually voting for conservative candidates or from some indirect effect of legislators trying to adapt to what they perceive as the preferences of women.
Different views of what is authoritative
I hadn’t heard of Lott’s journal article but it seems to be well-known, with over 100 citations on Google scholar. I’m actually surprised Lott didn’t mention it in his Fox News column, instead only linking to his recent book. I guess that indicates the difference between an academic reader such as myself who is generally more persuaded by peer-reviewed articles (although not always!) rather than general readers who might feel that a book is more authoritative.
Beware the status-quo bias
Finally, I have a couple of comments on Lott’s column. He writes, “it seems that the policies adopted are much more important than who puts them into action, and the evidence indicates that women have long gotten their way” regarding government spending. But I don’t see how he can make this claim. Accepting his claim that women’s suffrage has increased spending, this is still compared to an all-male electorate. This isn’t the same as women “having long gotten their way.” A more reasonable conclusion is that outcomes are somewhere in between what women want and what men want. In fact, before 1980, men turned out to vote at a higher rate than women did, and so it would be more natural to assume that outcomes were closer to men’s preferences than women’s. I think Lott is making a sort of status-quo bias here and perceiving any change from all-male voting as women “getting their way.”
Finally, I think that numerical representation is a real issue. This is not a matter of discrimination, but just the simple fact that certain groups such as women are underrepresented in public office relative to their population. Currently, women are 16% of congressmembers and 24% of state legislators, so they still have a ways to go before they catch up.
P.S. Lott also writes, “without the women’s vote, Republicans would have swept every presidential race but one between 1968 and 2004.” Poll data show a pretty close race in 1996 among men (in the Gallup poll, Clinton led Dole by 1% among men); it’s possible that with an electoral vote calculation, Dole was the clear winner in that group, but my guess is that polling uncertainty is large enough that we can’t really know how the men’s vote would’ve gone in that year.
P.P.S. To summarize: this is an interesting topic. I’d like to hear from Adam Berinksy and other experts on early-20th-century public opinion: what are their thoughts on the political opinions and voting patterns of men and women back then, and how do they interpret the fact that increases in government spending coincided with women’s suffrage?