Like her or not, Hillary Clinton may be a cure for political apathy

September 23, 2014

Former U.S. Secretary of State Clinton speaks during the Clinton Global Citizens awards ceremony for the 2014 CGI in New York

Like her or not, Hillary Clinton may be a cure for political apathy

America is often described as an increasingly divided nation, and when it comes to Hillary Rodham Clinton, that couldn’t be truer. A recent poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News found her negative rating to be just two points less than her positive rating, at 41 and 43 percent respectively.

The point, though, is that people care about Clinton — and that’s usually the case whenever there’s a woman on the ballot, according to a new study.

Researchers at Arizona State University reported a demonstrable link between women senators and women’s political engagement. When women voters are represented by senators of their gender, they are more likely to vote, donate to a candidate, belong to a political organization, or get other people “to vote for a particular candidate.”

This is all good news as, if you take voter turnout as a measure, Americans are awfully apathetic about politics. The US ranks 120th out of 169 countries when it comes to voter turnout. Just 54% of eligible voters showed up at the polls on election day in 2012, and in the 2010 midterm elections, turnout was a dismal 37%.

The apathy problem is exacerbated by the fact that women, who represent half of the population, are less informed about and invested in politics than men. “Even at the start of the 21st century,” write Kim Fridkin and Patrick Kenney, the authors of the report, “women know far less about their senators than men.” Other studies show that women tend to be less informed about national and international politics than men are.

It is easy to see why that is. Just 18.5 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives are filled by women (that’s 99 out of 535), and only 24 percent of state legislators are women. There are currently 3 women state Governors in the US, and over 20 states have never elected a woman to the Governor’s mansion. Iowa and Mississippi have never sent a single woman to Washington as part of a congressional delegation – ever. In the 225 year history of the United States Supreme Court, precisely 4 women have served as justices. And, of course, women are 0 in 44 in the executive branch. The numbers are grim, and they appear to have stalled.

While the scale of American political apathy, especially among women, is high, a Clinton win could go a long way to closing the gender gap in political engagement.

There is a downside, however.

Women’s participation in politics is often followed by a political and cultural backlash. We got a taste of that during Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential run in 2008. The sexist tone of the commentary about Clinton that year has been catalogued many times: detractors and supporters alike discussed her hair, her wrinkles, her laugh, her clothing, her emotions, her husband. Anything, it felt like, but her policies and capacity to lead.

So, to what extent are gains made by female politicians negated by bias in the coverage about them? That remains to be seen. And, who knows, perhaps a nasty backlash is just what it takes to galvanize the politically aloof to be more involved. That certainly has been the case in previous cases of high-profile sexism at home and abroad.

And, speaking of unintended consequences of a Hillary campaign, one might be that it could actually increase political apathy– among men.

A 2014 study published in American Politics Research, found that “When the candidate from their own party is female, men are less likely to express an interest in participating in the election and more likely to say they are not sure who they would vote for in the election.”

Faced with naysayers, Clinton will be ready for a fierce battle. So too will her supporters and detractors alike. And, when it comes to shaking off apathy, sometimes a good fight is just what is needed.

PHOTO: Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the Clinton Global Citizens awards ceremony for the Clinton Global Initiative 2014 (CGI) in New York, September 21, 2014. 
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said there were 535 members in the House of Representative. There are 435.
14 comments

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What a shocker: sexism prevails in the American society. BTW, discrimination of women isn’t limited to politics. Women make up only 4.6% of Fortune1000 CEOs. 33% of small businesses owned by women compared to 67% by men (probably has something to do with women having access only to 12% of venture capital). Nonetheless, nearly 2/3 of minimum wage workers are women. And women get paid less than men. The systematic sexism is keeping women down and uninterested in business and politics. These are depressing stats considering that more than half of the US population are women.

Posted by djred678 | Report as abusive

She needs to just go away. This woman is not a cure for anything; she’s part of the problem.

Posted by InTune | Report as abusive

She looks like she is in her element in this picture. I’d vote for her if she ran for President.

Posted by CommentGirl | Report as abusive

surely you jest…..

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

I really liked her laughing about Qaddafi being killed , by that she definitely put fear in the diplomatic choir around the world. That’s a kind of a leader we really need , her phone calls will be answered by shaky voices around the world.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Clinton a cure for political apathy? Really? Clinton IS political apathy! She’s been in Washington since the days of Nixon. If she was a male and republican she’d be the poster child for all that is wrong with Washington and American politics in general to the lefty mind. Rich, white, decades in politics…why aside from being female she’s the very epitome of the liberal boogie man. Why exactly does she get such a free ride by the press again?
Hillary Clinton exists as a manifest example of the hypocrisy and irony of the liberal minded. She represents everything they abhor, and yet they will vote for her without exception.

Posted by stambo2001 | Report as abusive

Funny to see scared RWNJs come out against her in fear. Maybe GOP should’ve changed their racist, sexist, and homophobic ideology.

Posted by djred678 | Report as abusive

More Men Vs Women from this divisive author.

Tell me , when has the policies of the candidates ever polluted the clean record of presidential elections? It was not just Hillary who had the press focus on meaningless aspects of their person.

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

More of the same is not a cure for apathy.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

Illegitimate child of Rupert Murdoch.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

She is the perfect Washington establishment figure guarunteed to continue old tired policies which have led us to the inextricable mess we are in today. Belligerent abroad, wheeling and dealing with corrupt power at home, consummate liar and spinner. Nausea rules Ok

Posted by Interdog | Report as abusive

Those complaining that Hillary represents the problem are partly right. However, if the Democrats running Hillary will keep a Republican out of the White House, then at least we’ve minimized the problem. The trick is to keep Democrats in control until the American people wake up and force our government to end corruption and institute serious campaign finance reforms. Most Democrats support campaign finance reforms. Few, if any, Republicans do.

Posted by carnivalchaos | Report as abusive

Hilly is a Puppet and Bill is her Jeff Duhman

Posted by sillywilly | Report as abusive

You’re aiming at the wrong sentiment. Apathy is what the voters have.

Our problem is the Narcissism of our elected officials and their inability to solve, or even see, the problems of our citizenry. All they see is themselves and how to get re-elected – how to suck up to the money.

Our other problem is with our news organizations and their narcissism – they suffer from an over indulgence of righteous opinion. Remember the day when news was news – just simply reported?

In the end – our society could suffer the same fate as Narcissus.

Posted by michaelryan | Report as abusive