Government and Politics

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a political party. Perhaps this contrast reflects how unusual it is for people to be directly involved in national political decision making in the modem world. Nevertheless, it is possible to speculate that if tens of millions of Americans did not stay home on Election Day— and instead became more active in the nation’s political life—the outcome of the political process might be somewhat different.

Women and Politics In 1984, American women achieved an unprecedented political breakthrough when Representative Geraldine Ferraro of New York became the Democratic nominee for vice president of the United States. Never before had a woman received the nomination of a major party for such high office. Nevertheless, women continue to be dramatically underrepresented in the halls of government.

In 1988, there were only 23 women (out of 435 members) in the House of Representatives and only 2 women (out of 100 members) in the Senate. This is not because women have failed to participate actively in political life. Eligible women vote at a slightly higher rate than men.

The League of Women Voters, founded in 1920, is a nonpartisan organization which performs valuable functions in educating the electorate of both sexes. Perhaps the most visible role of women in American politics is as unpaid workers for male candidates: ringing doorbells, telephoning registered voters, and carrying petitions. In addition, wives of elected male politicians commonly play significant supportive roles and are increasingly speaking out in their own right on important and controversial issues of public policy.

The sexism of American society has been the most serious barrier to women interested in holding public office. Female candidates have had to overcome the prejudices of both men and women regarding women’s fitness for leadership. Not until 1955 did a majority of Americans state that they would vote for a qualified woman for president.

Yet, as a 1984 national survey revealed, Americans say they will support a woman running for office .

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