Scholar and Political Pundit Linda Killian Addresses Role of Independent Voters
October 26, 2012
Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy
On October 23, in collaboration with University College, the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy (CWPPP), Department of Women's Studies, and the Department of Political Science hosted a talk and book signing featuring journalist and political commentator Linda Killian, who is a Woodrow Wilson International Center Scholar. Killian discussed her most recent book, The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents, and offered insightful analysis of the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts as well as the Presidential race. The event was the first in a five-part series sponsored by CWPPP entitled "Leading Women: A Speaker and Film Series on Women’s Public Leadership".
The event drew many from the UMass Boston community, including students and alumnae of the Graduate Certificate Program for Women in Politics and Public Policy (PWPPP). In her opening remarks, Christa Kelleher, interim director of CWPPP, noted: “We know all too well that women are underrepresented in government bodies across this country; it may be less known that women are also underrepresented in the world of political analysis and commentary. This is a very exciting time to hear from a nationally-known woman who is valued for her political analysis. In The Swing Vote, Ms. Killian takes an in-depth look at the significant role of Independent voters and provides a context for understanding why political parties fall short for many in the United States.”
As part of his welcome address, Dean College Philip DiSalvio spoke of the important role of the center’s graduate certificate programs offered by University College. Dean DiSalvio discussed the tremendous need to ensure greater levels of representation by women in all levels of government. In noting that women make up less than 25% of the Massachusetts Legislature and only 17% of Congress, DiSalvio emphasized the value of education programs that help advance women in politics and public policymaking.
Keshia Engwenyi, a current student in the Graduate Program for Women in Politics and Public Policy, introduced Linda Killian who also authored The Freshmen: What Happened to the Republican Revolution." She noted that Killian is a political writer for The Atlantic, Politico, Newsweek/The Daily Beast, and U.S. News and World Report. A resident of Washington, D.C., Killian has ties to the Boston area as the founder and director of Boston University’s Washington Journalism Center, where she also taught journalism. Additionally, Killian has a master’s degree in public administration from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Killian first explained that despite Massachusetts’ reputation as a progressive, largely Democratic state, voters have never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate, and have sent only four women to Congress – something that is well-documented in fact sheets issued by CWPPP. Killian also pointed out that Massachusetts is ranked 23rd in the nation for electing women to state legislative office.
Addressing the underrepresentation of women in the media – particularly in terms of political commentary and analysis, Killian remarked that while the dearth of women in political office has received a great deal of attention this election season, the fact that women are largely absent from much political commentary scene is a concern. She cited a recent study showing that men made up approximately two-thirds of political experts quoted in newspaper articles, and that male pundits gave 75% of the statements on political shows such as “Hardball” and “Face the Nation.” This disparity occurred even when articles were on issues that primarily affect women, such as abortion and contraception. (For more information on the lack of women in key media roles, visit The Women’s Media Center.)
Elaborating further on the topic of women in politics and media, Killian said, “We badly need more women in elected office. That could make a big difference in the tone of our politics and it's also why the work of the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy and its graduate program is so important. ... Women voters – and particularly, women swing voters – are a powerful and much sought after voting bloc. But despite their power to influence elections, women are not proportionally represented in elected office or in top government positions. While I look forward to seeing women exercise their hard-won right to vote on November 6th, I also look forward to a day when we have more equal representation of women in politics."
Killian spoke at length about the impact of Independents or ‘swing voters’ on elections. She discussed the profiles of swing voters in New Hampshire, Colorado, Ohio, and Virginia analyzed in her book. Swing states are states where voters do not consistently or overwhelmingly elect a president from one single political party. Due to their influence in determining who will be the next President of the United States, swing states garner a great deal of attention from candidates, the media, and the overall electorate.
Currently, Independent voters make up 40% of voters across the country; in Massachusetts, which is traditionally seen as a predominately Democratic state, independent voters make up 50% of the electorate.
Killian provided an overview of four distinct categories of swing voters: 1) “NPR Republicans,” who are socially moderate and fiscally conservative, disliking both government overspending and religious rhetoric on issues such as reproductive rights; 2) “America First Democrats,” a group made up of primarily working class men who don’t agree with Republican fiscal policy, but are more conservative than Democrats on social issues and believe that Democrats don’t stand up for America when it comes to both domestic and foreign policy issues; 3) “The Facebook Generation,” consisting of voters under the age of thirty-five who are disillusioned by politics and the two-party system, and who have the highest rate of registering as Independents than any other age group; 4) “Starbucks Moms and Dads,” who are voters turned off by the extreme views on either end of the political spectrum, dislike big government, and are the biggest and most critical bloc of swing voters.
Former State Representative Susan Tracy moderated the evening’s discussion. Tracy is president of The Strategy Group and a political analyst in the Boston area. A former Congressional candidate, Tracy is an alumna of the Graduate Program for Women in Politics and Public Policy and currently serves on the center’s advisory board and the board of the Betty Taymor Scholarship Fund for the Education of Women in Politics and Government. With Tracy moderating the discussion, students from the graduate program asked Killian thoughtful questions on how race/ethnicity, age, and gender can influence voters’ political leanings, as well as what can be done to fix the broken political system.
Follow the center’s Leading Women Series on Twitter: #leadingwomencwppp. Our Twitter handle is CWPPP_UMB.
You can also learn more about Killian’s book and the rest of her work by visiting her website: www.lindajkillian.com.