In my various adventures in the wild world of politics, I have noticed something. There are actually a lot of women interested in politics. They’re making calls. They’re attending meetings. They’re walking neighborhoods.
But will they run for office?
Both party committees have programs to ID and support candidates running for open seats and candidates running against incumbents from the other party. Women make up eight of 102 NRCC candidates and three of 13 DCCC candidates.
The lack of women in politics is not reserved for federal office; the issue extends into our state legislatures and our county council chambers. As of the 2008 election, South Carolina has no women serving in the state Senate.
Yes, South Carolina ranks dead last in something else…women in the state legislature. For the current session, 17 out of 170 total members are women. Nine Democrats and eight Republicans, all in the House.
In South Carolina’s history, we have had five women (all Democrats) represent us in Congress. One was elected in a general election; the other four won special elections following the deaths in office of their husbands. We have also only had three women serve in statewide constitutional offices–two Superintendents of Education (1 Democrat, 1 Republican) and one Lieutenant Governor (a Democrat).
Here are some more numbers from the Center for American Women and Politics, as of the 2008 election cycle:
*Total women in U.S. Senate: 17 (13 Democrats, 4 Republicans)
*Total (voting) women in U.S. House: 74 (57 Democrats, 17 Republicans)
*Total women in Governor seats: 8 (5 Democrats, 3 Republicans)
*Total women in Lt. Governor seats: 9 (7 Democrats, 2 Republicans)
There is definitely a noticeable difference between men and women when it comes to holding elective office. The numbers are even more striking in South Carolina.
So why don’t more women run for office?
A good article from Brown University offers some perspective. They found that women were just as likely to win elections as men. But the main obstacle is recruitment:
We linked women’s lower levels of political ambition to their lower levels of encouragement and recruitment to launch a candidacy, their more demanding household obligations, and their self-perceptions that they are not qualified to run or likely to win.
Besides the usual reasons people cite for the number of female Democrats vs. female Republicans in office, I think recruitment is a factor as well. I have no experience in Democratic circles, but I’ll bet they recruit women at a much higher rate than Republicans. There are, in fact, many female Republicans. Don’t believe me? Just attend a Republican women’s luncheon.
So where do we go wrong in recruitment? I know young mothers might not find elective office appealing, but at some point that woman (or any woman) might be a good candidate. And it probably is indeed the case that men are more likely to run on their own accord rather than being asked to run. How about we Republicans kick it up a notch? Let’s identify women who can take their political activism to the next level. If one of the barriers is simply asking a woman to consider running, why don’t we go for it?
And for those keeping track at home, running for office in the future is still something on my mind. All it took was a few people asking me to think about it.