Who could have guessed that the Nineteenth Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote, would come to the rescue of the American republic 100 years after its ratification? Could Benjamin Franklin have had an inkling that women would eventually gain the vote when he spoke with Mrs. Elizabeth Powel upon the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787?
As Franklin was leaving Independence Hall, Mrs. Powel asked him, “What have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” His reply was perhaps prophetic. He said, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The learned gentlemen who wrote the Constitution had failed to provide women the franchise, apparently assuming it was reserved for male property owners. For Franklin to tell a woman that it was her job to keep the republic, even though she could not vote, was rather odd. But perhaps Franklin believed the country would correct that failure at some time in the future.
That time came 133 years later on August 18, 1920, when Harry Burn, the youngest member of the Tennessee House, heeded his mother’s plea to be “a good boy” and cast the deciding vote to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment. It then became the law of the land, although it must be mentioned that Idaho women had obtained the right to vote in 1896.
Burn could not have known in 1920 how critical his vote would be to the preservation of the republic 100 years later in 2020. In an historic turnout, fueled in large part by female voters, Donald Trump will be swept from office.
First, women have voted in larger numbers than men in recent years. In the 2016 presidential election, women outvoted men by 10 million votes. The 2018 election produced slightly more than 8 million more votes by women than men.
Second, women have increasingly favored Democrat candidates as the Republican Party has continued to drift to the right. Women favored Obama over Romney by 11 percentage points in 2012 (55% to 44%) and Clinton over Trump by 13 points in 2016 (54% to 41%). In the 2018 midterm elections, they favored Democrat Congressional candidates by 19 points (59% to 40%).
Trump prevailed in the 2016 election because of the geographic distribution of the female vote under the Electoral College setup and an 11-point advantage in the male vote. However, that will likely change in the 2020 election because of a decrease in Trump support by both sexes, according to recent polling. For instance, an early June NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed Trump down 21 points among female voters (56% to 35%), with an 8-point advantage among males (50% to 42%).
There are likely a variety of issues that have caused the erosion of support for Trump by women voters but it is likely that public health concerns play a major part. An interesting article by Nick Kristof notes that female-led counties have suffered one-fifth as many coronavirus-related deaths as male-led countries, including the U.S. It is attributed to “low-key, inclusive and evidence-based leadership” by women, as opposed to “a lot of male ego and bluster” where things have gone wrong under male leaders in the U.S., Brazil, Russia and the U.K.
These female leaders reflect the approach of women voters. A Stanford health expert cited by Kristof “found that as states, one by one, granted the vote to women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, those states also invested more in sanitation and public health.” Beating back the pandemic will save lives, allow kids to safely return to school, reduce unemployment and restore the economy to health. Women understand that and, thanks to the Nineteenth Amendment, will save our republic in November.