Without Leverage: Women in American Electoral Politics, 1920-1970.
By Anna L. Harvey. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. xi,
253. $59.95, cloth; $18.95, paper.
Votes Without Leverage Anna Harvey examines what she terms a long-standing
puzzle in women's electoral politics: why the increasing importance of
women's votes throughout the 1920s did not imply increasing success for
the lobbying efforts of women's organizations during the same time period.
Harvey answers that question by arguing that prior to 1920, female disenfranchisement
created incentives for leaders of women’s organizations to invest in the
pursuit of suffrage as the first step toward achieving other policy benefits.
However, once suffrage was won, the time required by women leaders to adapt
their organizations to pursue that broader legislative agenda through conventional
electoral politics gave a comparative advantage to major party organizations
that were already primed to initiate their own electoral mobilization of
makes the case that initially there was a brief period after 1920 when
the power of women’s organizations to influence the national policy agenda
was remarkable. However, by 1924 that influence had diminished dramatically.
In 1925 and 1926 appropriations for the Women's and Children's Bureau were
reduced, and there was only one bill supported by the National League of
Women Voters that passed (compulsory school attendance for the District
of Columbia). In 1927, the Sheppard-Towner Act was continued for two more
years, but then in 1929 it expired, which was in effect a repeal of the
bill. With the election of Herbert Hoover the influence of women's organizations
was even less. One result was that the political power of women’s organizations
as vote-seeking and policy-oriented organizations would not again be significant
as a catalyst for mobilizing women's electoral behavior until the 1960s.
explain the pattern of the ebb and flow of the political power of women's
organizations, Harvey concentrates her analysis on how institutions evolve
in response to individual incentive strategies and choices and how institutions
affect the performances of political and economic systems. She uses the
market as an analogy for elections. Thus, she views elections as similar
to economic markets in which candidates offer policy positions for sale
and voters buy shares of a candidate's wares with their votes. Given any
set of electoral laws and any distribution of voter preferences, election
outcomes should be efficient. The “victorious candidate wins because he
promises to make more voters better off than do any of the losing candidates”
(p. xi). Harvey’s question, therefore, entails the problem of inefficiency.
By inefficiently she means that market institutions invest in information,
organizations, and skills which do not necessarily produce incentives for
voters to buy the wares of those organizations or market institutions.
She says that in the case of electoral markets, efficiency is heavily dependent
upon the existence of intermediate organizations that can coordinate individually
insignificant votes into powerful voting blocs. Only then will voters exert
any leverage over candidates in the sense that the individual purchase
of the candidates' wares then will be associated with a building bloc or
group, which will in turn be the incentive for the elected candidate to
support the policy the voters desire.
with the assumption that many eligible voters vote because they receive
cues during the election campaign from others whose opinions matter to
them, she argues that in order for a group to obtain a policy benefit,
there must be an organization that pursues an electoral strategy in return
for policy concessions, but that this is a necessary but not sufficient
condition for obtaining a policy benefit for the group. In addition, because
of their previous electoral exclusion, early enfranchised groups are more
likely to be mobilized by parties, not by independent group organizations.
Thus, a key characteristic of woman suffrage explaining the inability of
women's organizations to mobilize votes was the differential treatment
of women by electoral laws prior to 1920 that created incentives for reform-seeking
women leaders first to invest in organizations to attain suffrage as a
necessary but not sufficient step toward achieving other policy benefits
for women (.p. 2).
not only seeks to establish the validity and power of her rational choice,
market- model of electoral politics, but also to demolish competing explanations.
In particular, she goes to great lengths to counter claims that it was
the ideological climate of the time period that best accounts for the phenomena
under study. Her analysis, however, is more convincing for the positive
case she makes for the role of political parties and women's organizations
than it is for the way she attempts to discredit alternative interpretations.
For example, when discussing the ideological climate in the progressive
era, she deals with the “sameness” argument that is, the assumption that
men and women are the same in their political preferences and policy orientations
(p. 69), but not with the “difference” argument that men and women's perspectives
and strength are dissimilar to each other. The problem with her assumption,
however, is that far from being the dominant ideological precept many consider
the “sameness” perspective to be the minority view in the Progressive era.
Women’s achievement of a national guarantee of the right to vote is coterminous
with the Lochner era, the notorious period when the Supreme Court upheld
protective labor legislation for women but routinely struck down similar
legislation for men precisely on the grounds that men and women were “different.”
Similarly, as Theda Skocpol’s work demonstrates in Protecting Soldiers
and Mothers, prior to the Nineteenth Amendment’s ratification, women’s
organizations were successful in the Progressive period in securing passage
of mothers’ pensions legislation across most states precisely on the grounds
of women's distinctly “different” voteless position from men and the distinctively
“different” moral power of women's voices. In addition, most analysts of
woman suffrage point to the potency of arguments about women's “difference”
from men - women's maternal identities - as accounting for the eventual
success of the suffrage campaign, not abstract rights-based arguments about
women’s “sameness” with men.
book, therefore, by weighting the “sameness” argument, fails to delineate
the arguments over both “sameness and difference” that characterize the
time period under study. For although the vast majority of elites and citizens
embraced “difference,” there were a few, such as Alice Paul, who advocated
“sameness” to the extent of introducing the Equal Rights Amendment into
Congress in 1923. However, Alice Paul, the ERA, and protective labor legislation
are not in the index of Harvey's book nor are these topics adequately discussed
in other contexts, thereby reflecting an incomplete if not inaccurate portrayal
of the ideological climate Harvey seeks to repudiate.
book as a whole, however, exhibits considerable strengths. Methodologically
it is a tour de force and promises to accomplish the important task of
bringing woman suffrage to the attention of a wider audience in political
science and economics. Those interested in rational choice analyses of
significant historical epochs, electoral politics, and transformational
policy issues will find Harvey's book all but indispensable, a masterful
reagent of the aftermath of women's entry into the nation as voting citizens.
In addition, Harvey's book is an admirable and welcomed addition to the
growing literature pointing to the way structure rather than individual
attributes much less biological differences between men and women accounts
for patterns of success and failure when women as a group strive for political
inclusion. At a time when the entry of women into presidential politics
as full-fledged candidates seems upon us, Harvey's book provides valuable
continuity, showing women’s acquisition of formal political power as voters
as a precondition for what will become women's growing importance as candidates
vying for formal political power as office-holders. Thus, for those interested
in political modeling and the topic of women’s political empowerment, Harvey’s
book will prove instructive for its methodological approach and for its
powerful integration of history and politics with an analysis of women's
L. MCDONAGH, Northeastern University