Monday, August 17, 2009

Endangered Species: GOP Women in Office

Matt Yglesias and Nick Beaudrot make good points about women in Congress (minor quibble: Beaudrot has the number wrong; about 17% of Members of the House and exactly 17% of Senators are women).

What's worth noting, however, is that this is increasingly a partisan difference. Over a fifth (22%) of Democrats in Congress are women (same percentage in both Houses). That's not 50%, but it's a large and growing number. On the GOP side, only four of the forty Senators are women, and just under one tenth of the Republican Members of the House are women. This is a relatively recent phenomenon. Throughout the 1980s, women in Congress were almost evenly split between the parties. And then the number of Republican women in Congress basically stagnated (14 total in 1989-1990, 21 total now), while the number of Democratic women has exploded (17 then, 69 now).

Not just Congress. While Governors are split three each between the parties, there are 47 other statewide elected Democratic women, and eighteen Republicans. Seventy percent of women in state legislatures are women. All ten of the women in top state legislative positions are Democrats. (All these numbers taken from the invaluable Center for American Women and Politics).

So while liberals who believe in greater equality should certainly consider supporting the Women's Campaign Forum's "She Should Run" efforts -- I think it's a great idea -- the biggest barrier to women in politics these days is really the Republican choice to revert to a white, Christian, male set of office-holders (yes, Republicans have also stopped sending Jews to Congress, and it's not as if they ever sent Muslims or athiests...).


  1. I've heard Courtenay Daum make the argument that a) women tend to be more liberal than men within both parties; and b) the primary system tends to favor the most ideologically extreme candidate. Hence women have a somewhat easier time getting nominated in the Democratic Party and a harder one in the GOP. This would be more pronounced in a more polarized era, which might help explain why the trend you're noticing has occurred within the past few decades.

  2. Certainly makes sense, although I'm not convinced that 1990 is anything like a break point in polarization or nominations. It fits the Jewish story, too, though -- off the top of my head, Jewish Republicans have tended to be moderates.

  3. "Seventy percent of women in state legislatures are women."



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