She Votes: Women, the Workplace, and Pandemic Politics

Image: Shutterstock / Getty / Arsh Raziuddin / the Atlantic

The Covid-19 pandemic has upended the lives and careers of millions of women, highlighted inequities in health care, education and the economy, and underscored the importance of electing women to political office, 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 FoundationBenenson Strategy Group conducted the survey, She Votes, which aimed to explore the issues shaping women voters and their political opinions one year after the start of the pandemic. 

“Women faced unprecedented adversity over the course of the last year, and we now know that they are reckoning with the political and cultural systems that shape their professional and personal lives,” said Betsy Fischer Martin, Executive Director of the Women & Politics Institute. “She Votes delivers insights about what issues are top-of-mind for women and how they plan to act on their values as the country recovers.”

“This new research shows that the pandemic has caused women to be more passionate and political about critical issues than ever,” said Barbara Lee, President and Founder of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation. “In this historically challenging time, women remain unwavering in their commitments–to their families, their communities, and our country. In light of the last year, I am sure that more women than ever will be motivated to vote, to run for office, and to advocate for the causes they care about!”  

Pollster Katie Connolly, who conducted the research, noted that, “In both 2018 and 2020, women voters played a decisive role, boosting turnout and flipping seats. The concerns women have raised in this survey, and the particular consequences this tumultuous year has had for women at home and at work, will shape the electoral landscape heading into 2022. Lawmakers at every level should take heed.”

Key Findings:

For women, the 2020 election was singularly consequential. Over half of the women surveyed said it was the most important election of their lifetime, and a further 36% said it was more important than most elections. Covid-19 was the issue most cited as a deciding factor in women’s votes. The presence of Kamala Harris on a major party ticket was also meaningful for the majority of women overall, though her impact differed according to political disposition. Her presence on the ticket was highly motivating for Biden voters (68% said she was a factor in their vote), while just 39% of Trump voters said she was a factor in their choice. Over 60% of women expressed excitement about having a female vice president for the first time, including close to 1 in 3 Republican women. But a majority of women voters (55%) still believe there are too few women in elected office. There is a stark difference of opinion based on party identity, with 58% of Republican women voters believing that the current number of women in political office is “about right” compared to only 23% of Democratic women.

This survey further reveals the extent of the pandemic’s economic toll on women. More than one in three respondents say their financial situation has gotten worse since Covid-19 emerged, and a quarter of working women indicate that the pandemic has affected their careers—delaying raises, bonuses, and promotions, with mothers feeling this more acutely. Sixty percent of women, and a staggering 71% of women under the age of 40, say that the situation with the pandemic has affected their mental health. 

The pandemic’s impact has led women across the political spectrum to reflect on systemic problems and support related policy shifts. Covid-19’s disproportionate effect on low-income workers, older Americans, and people of color is concerning to most women, and especially to suburban women. She Votes found that nearly all women believe in the need for more affordable and accessible healthcare, including three quarters of Republican women. This view extends to expanding Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, which 77% of women now say they agree with, including 70% of Fox News viewers. Eight in 10 women support better paid sick and maternity leave policies.

Women are challenging models of work and employment norms in light of the pandemic, with 78% indicating that workplaces should allow more flexibility than the “outdated” 9-5 model. Among women currently working from home, three quarters say that when the pandemic is over, they would prefer to either work from home permanently or have a more flexible arrangement where they could work from home more often. Only 25% say they want to resume fulltime work outside home. When it comes to workplace safety during the pandemic, 57% of women of color and 42% of low-income women feel that their employer has prioritized profits over their wellbeing, and one in four women believe their employer put them at risk of contracting Covid-19.

Covid-19 has been difficult for mothers, and pulled them in competing emotional directions. More than half of mothers surveyed feel that taking care of their kids during this time has been isolating and stressful. One in two working moms report difficulty juggling work and virtual schooling. Amid this stress, 86% of women say they have loved having more time with their children. Two in three moms with school-age children are eager for them to return to in-person school, but the majority are wary of re-opening schools without fully accounting for the risks and won’t send them back till things feel safe.

The survey was conducted nationwide among 809 women who voted in the 2020 presidential election and who are likely to vote in the 2022 midterm election. The margin of error is ±3.5% at the 95% confidence level and is higher among subgroups.

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