Parents With Daughters Are More Likely To Support Hillary Clinton, But Why Can't We Empathize With Women Who Aren't Related To Us?

While we'd all like to think of ourselves as rational political decision-makers uninfluenced by our personal lives, a recent analysis of several YouGov/Economist surveys byThe Washington Post shows that our families can have a large impact on our voting. Specifically, more parents with daughters support Hillary Clinton than parents with just sons. Why might that be?

The data show that those with daughters are a full 14 percent more likely to support Clinton in the primaries than those with only sons; furthermore, the effect of having a daughter on a parent's support for Clinton is between eight and 20 percentage points. Mothers and fathers alike exhibited this tendency, regardless of their race or how many children they had.

One theory about this pattern is that it stems from the "daughter effect" — the tendency for people with daughters to show greater support for women's rights. This support likely results from a more direct connection to people affected by gender-related issues, and it shows up all over the place.

For instance, the decisions of judges with daughters have a more feminist slant, according to a study published in the American Journal of Political Science. "Empathy may indeed be a component in how judges decide cases," the authors write, as it may be a factor in voting. Another study in American Economic Review similarly found that legislators with more daughters vote more liberally on women's issues. Yet another study, published in Administrative Science Quarterly, found that CEOs with daughters offer more equitable pay.

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While these studies could be interpreted as encouraging testaments to the power of daughters, they're also a little troubling. Why can't we empathize with women who aren't related to us? It's common for feminist arguments to be made using rhetoric about daughters or other women close to the listener, like, "She could be your daughter!" or "How can you not respect women when one raised you?"

A 2013 petition called out this language in Barack Obama, who said, "We know our economy is stronger when our wives, mothers, and daughters can live their lives free from discrimination in the workplace and free from the fear of domestic violence." The petition reads, "Defining women by their relationships to other people is reductive, misogynist, and alienating to women who do not define ourselves exclusively by our relationships to others."

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And yet it works. We've seen over and over again that when people can think of women as "our daughters," they care more about them. But while the "wives, mothers, and daughters" rhetoric might be powerful, the need for it indicates a lack of empathy for all women that both men and women are taught early on through objectification of and violence toward women in the media and everyday life. This is similar to the way we learn to empathize less with people of marginalized races. One study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that white people had a stronger emotional reaction to a white person in pain than a person of color.

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If daughters help parents develop concern for women's rights, they're a bit late to the game, but it's better than nothing. But since "have more daughters" isn't really a viable solution to gender-based discrimination, we'd be better off pushing back against the messages that teach us selective empathy. Listening to and believing the struggles of members of marginalized groups is a good place to start, where they're our daughters or not.

Images: Giphy (3)