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Stepping Up and Standing Out

A New Survey Shows Increased Political Participation Among Women

New Research: Stepping Up and Standing Out: Women's Political Participation in 2020

Women of all ages and political affiliations — particularly millennials and women of color—have become more politically engaged since 2016, a trend that is likely to continue in 2020, according to a new online survey released today by Gender on the Ballot, a partnership between the Women & Politics Institute at American University’s School of Public Affairs and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation. Conducted by Benenson Strategy Group in December 2019, the survey of men and women nationwide aimed to learn more about the key factors that motivate women voters to step up and stand out in the political process.

“Women have always been the backbone of our major political and social movements—from the abolitionist and suffrage movements, to the civil rights movement, and recently propelling a record number of women to office in 2018. They’ve knocked on doors, made phone calls, and stuffed envelopes,” said Barbara Lee, President and Founder of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation. “This research affirms the shift we’ve all noticed: women are now front and center.”

“As we celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage this year, it is important to recognize that women not only show up at the polls in record numbers to exercise their right to vote but they are active participants in the political process – volunteering for campaigns, financially supporting candidates and making a difference in our democracy,” said Betsy Fischer Martin, the Executive Director of the Women & Politics Institute. “We now have further insight into what motivates them and how they plan to make their voices heard in 2020.”

Only 16% of all surveyed women voters said they have become less politically involved in the last few years, with more than half (55%) saying their involvement has stayed the same, and almost one third (29%) reporting increased involvement.

The survey shows that Democratic women have been especially motivated to actively participate in the political process, with 35% saying that they have gotten more involved in politics in the last few years, compared to 27% of Republican women and 23% of women who consider themselves Independent. Increased participation is notable among two key voting blocs: 41% of millennial women (18-34 years old) and 36% of women of color say that they have gotten more involved recently.

Looking ahead to the 2020 election, the trend of increased involvement is likely to continue, with 31% of women saying they will become more involved and only 9% saying they will be less engaged. Among Democratic women, 39% say they will be more involved this year along with 40% of millennial woman and 40% of women of color.

Women of color are also poised to step up and stand out in a variety of ways in 2020. In fact, on every key measurement of political involvement, women of color report being more politically engaged than white women.  They volunteer their time, donate to candidates, attend marches, sign petitions, and encourage their friends to get involved at higher rates.

The results of the survey also reveal that although women are participating in a range of political activities, they are particularly focused on persuading others to get more engaged. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they have encouraged friends or family members to vote or become involved in a campaign or issue—compared to just 35% of men. Millennial women are leading the charge and taking to the streets, the survey showed — nearly one-fourth of them reported that they have attended a march, rally, or protest since 2016. 

The survey also looked at some of the barriers to women’s political participation and revealed that finding time to participate in political activities continues to be a major obstacle. The survey asked voters to choose their top reason for not getting involved among a list of several potential barriers. According to the survey, 22% of women said they were too busy working or taking care of their families as the top reason they didn’t get involved compared to 12% of men who identified work or family obligations as their main barrier.  

Confidence in their own political knowledge was also a barrier unique to women. Despite comparable news consumption, women were three times more likely than men to choose “I don’t know enough about political issues to get involved” as their top reason for not getting involved in politics.

The survey was conducted nationwide among 800 likely 2020 presidential voters (including 600 women and 200 men) during December 5-12, 2019. The sample was weighted to ensure it is proportionately representative of likely 2020 general election voters nationwide. The margin of error is ± 3.39% at the 95% confidence level. It is higher among subgroups.