This week, CAWP was lucky to have extern Alexandra Banash join us from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. Working with a fellow Aquinas Saint, CAWP Scholar Kelly Dittmar, Alexandra learned about CAWP’s work and helped conduct CAWP research. As the week came to an end, Kelly and Alexandra had a short conversation about some of the topics that came up throughout the week, and shared their cross-generational insights below.
KD: Why are you interested in the topic of women in politics? What made you interested in coming to CAWP this summer?
AB:I have been interested in politics itself from a very young age. We could say I have then also been interested in women in politics from a young age because of the active participation of women that I have been surrounded by my entire life. I delved into the subject of women and politics as an undergrad at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. As a junior I enrolled in an entry-level women’s studies course. I don’t think from that point on there was a time that I became detached from love of the topic. With that being said, I was interested in coming to CAWP this summer when the chair of the women’s studies department encouraged me to apply for a pilot program. In doing so I had no idea that I was coming to CAWP. Not knowing much about CAWP and not knowing I was coming to CAWP was a curse and a blessing because after my time here I don’t want to leave.
AB: Even if we had equal numbers of men and women on the ballot, do you think that their will ever be a 50/50 distribution between men and women in office?
KD:One of the biggest, and initial, hurdles to political parity is the dearth of female candidates. We know that women women run, women win as much as men in comparable races. In other words, there does not appear to be any blatant bias at the ballot box. However, women make up far less than 50% of candidates for office at all levels, lessening their chances of being on the ballot or being elected to office. There is a great deal of research into whywomen don’t run, as well as efforts by women’s political organizations to encourage, recruit, and support women candidates (CAWP’s Ready to Run is a great example!). I’m confident that if the number of women candidates rose significantly, we would see a quicker move to political parity. But that alone won’t resolve some of the underlying institutional barriers to women’s political power. That will take more significant cultural changes, like redefining and revisioning what it means to be an elected official so that masculinity and men are not assumed the norm and femininity and women assumed as “other.” Rethinking and revising our stereotypical expectations of gender, candidacy, and officeholders is the harder resolution on the road to 50/50, and is one that will both create greater opportunities for women to run and be influenced by women running and serving. I can’t venture to guess whenwe will reach gender parity in office since we’ve seen such a plateau (and some declines) in recent decades, but I do hope we get there – even if that means I am out of a job someday.
KD:This week, you helped analyze data related to Black women’s political representation and engaged in conversations about gender dynamics in the 2016 presidential race. You also learned a bit more about what we do at CAWP. What have you found most interesting or surprising, and why?
AB: Looking at the data overall I am shocked by the numbers that analyze the amount of women in statewide elected executive offices by state. Just 25% of statewide elected executive officials are women and only two of those are Black women. The disparity between the numbers of Black women in office and Black women in the population in some states is almost unfathomable. Looking at state legislative representation, I am alarmed by the fact that only 3.4 percent of all state legislators nationwide are Black women in 2015. I do not expect to see a large increase in 2016, which is very unfortunate. When will this change?
AB: What do you think is the best tool for successful support as a woman when deciding to run for office whether it is on the local, state, or federal level?
KD:We know from research that women make the decision to run differently than men, and support and encouragement is even more essential for them than for men. However, it’s too simple to say that we need to just “ask women to run.” In addition to asking, or encouraging women, to consider a bid for office, we need to provide them the incentive, infrastructure, and roadmap to run successfully. Having the support of political leaders – whether elected officials, formerly elected officials, or party leaders – is often most influential to women’s calculus. If that support is not there, especially from parties (which, according to research, can act as gatekeepers to women’s political power), it’s important for women to be able to look to an alternative support infrastructure. That might include women’s political organizations, personal support networks, or community groups that will back a woman candidate from the time she makes the decision to run until Election Day. Running for office is not easy at any level and women are smart – they need to know that: (1) they can win; (2) there are people behind them; and (3) there are groups or individuals that will help them navigate political terrain successfully.
KD:Recent research on young people’s political ambition finds a gender gap in young men and women’s interest in running for office (with women less likely to want to run). It also finds that women’s confidence in their leadership skills actually declinesin college. Based on your knowledge and experiences, what do you think might be happening? What do you think we can do about it?
AB:The decrease in confidence for women in college might be tied to the limited scope of who is in power today. The rigid two-party system constrains the expansion of opportunity for groups that are marginalized from power. Today, women are a group marginalized from power, which is correlated with the rigid gender binary in society where men have control power relations. The large gap of women to men in our legislative body affects the experiences in our everyday lives. How can we as women become so confident if we don’t have other women behind us? As Shirley Chisholm would say, “My success was exclusively due to the support of women,” adding, “No one will save us but us.”
AB:Transitioning from a small liberal arts school to a large university, can you compare and contrast the power of the students from a political stand point and how does it influence the decisions of the hierarchy of the administration of the school(s)?
KD:Even more than contrasting the power of students at small or large higher education institutions, I think it is important to emphasize the political power students have, but often do not use. Whether it be with their university administration or their member of Congress, students can mobilize to have a great deal of influence. As consumers (at a college or university) and constituents, students are affected directly by the decisions made by leaders in both realms. Like any population, students often struggle to find the time or incentive (or even information needed) to navigate the bureaucracy of government or higher education. I think the key for students across the board is to see themselves as their own best advocates and not count on others to represent their interests. Just like women need a seat at the table, students’ voices need to be heard in the most important policy debates of the day – all of which affect their presents and futures.
KD:There is a chance that we might elect a woman president in 2016. Do you think it will happen? Do you think it matters to have a woman in the White House? Why/why not?
AB:Yes, there is a chance, but I do not believe it will happen. Of course, I would be so ecstatic to even see a woman be the leading candidate on the Republican or Democratic ticket, but we need to see if the level of support is there and we need to see if people get out and vote. Voting is the key; if we can somehow reach out to the people that would most heavily influence and be influenced by a women being in office, I think the vote could change drastically. On that note, I do think it matters to have women in office. In looking at recent data, we have seen a common progression in the ups and downs of the economy, but there has not been any change in who is regulating the economy per se. I also think it is important to note that having women in office would also change the dynamic of the household, shifting roles and making it more of a common solution for women to be in public and private sphere.
KD: Of all of the CAWP staff you have met this week, who is your favorite and why?
AB: Of all of the CAWP staff I have met this week, I would have to say Florence Eagleton (1870-1956; pictured to the right with Alexandra) would have to be my favorite [NOTE: Eagleton is the namesake of the Eagleton institute, not a former or current member of the CAWP staff.] She once said in donating the building that houses CAWP and Eagleton that the purposes should be for, “the development of and education for responsible leadership in civic and governmental affairs and the solution of their political problems.” We have a lot of problems. Somehow we have to fix them.
Over the past two weeks, I traveled through two Nordic countries – Sweden and Denmark – for work and vacation. As I explored both country’s capital cities, the gendered political realities were made clear and distinct from the United States. I’ve pulled together this photo diary of my trip with some facts and observations that might be of interest to those who pay particular attention to women’s political representation at home and abroad.
The Swedish parliament, or Riksdag, nears gender parity in political representation; 43.6% of its members are women. It ranks 5th in the world for women’s parliamentary representation.
While on the tour of parliament, our tour guide noted this fact in passing as if it were to be expected (while the Americans like me noted how far we are from that reality). In fact, she continued to say that they have work to do on representativeness of the body, noting that their LGBT membership (4%) and representation of immigrant communities are still below the national level.
Anna Mahoney (Tulane University), Mary Nugent (Rutgers University), our Swedish Parliament Tour Guide, and me
The Swedish parliament honors their female leaders in the building, including a “women’s room” with an exhibit celebrating women’s political leadership and urging the next generation of women to follow in their footsteps. The caption below the mirror reads: “This could be you.”
The Danish parliament, or Folketinget, boasts fewer women than Sweden, but still ranks 16th in the world for women’s parliamentary representation – 56 spots above the US; 38% of its members were women going into the parliamentary elections held last week.
Denmark held its parliamentary elections last week while I was visiting, and the number of women’s campaign signs appeared to outnumber men’s signs. While not an indicator of candidate totals (only 36% of all799 candidates were women), the visible presence of women in all aspects of the election was striking.
Women are at the helm in 3 of 10 of Denmark’s major parties, demonstrating their political power is not only in numbers, but also in status.
Most obviously, Denmark entered last Thursday’s election with a female prime minister – Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the nation’s first female prime minister and head of the Social Democrats. While Thorning-Schmidt’s party fared well in the election, her bloc lost the majority and she resigned her seat as prime minister. However, as she noted on Election Night, “I was Denmark’s first female prime minister, but I won’t be the last.” Side note: Politicians are very accessible in a country of just 5.6 million. On Election Day, I ran into the prime minister at a hot dog stand in Norreport, Copenhagen.
And then I saw some MPs celebrating outside parliament as the returns came in.
Denmark is also home to the television series Borgen, about the fictional first female prime minister of the country. I highly recommend the series to anyone who loves politics, and I’d argue that it is one of the best portrayals of a woman at the peak of political power. The series is now available on Netflix.
While taking the Borgentour, I learned that many believe the series influenced parliamentary debates and may have even primed the country for electing its first female prime minister (which it did after the second season aired). Recent murmurings of an US version of Borgenmay cue questions about whether life will imitate art or art may imitate life in the case of a female head of state in our country.
- Latinas are running for lieutenant governor this year in FL, IL, NV, and TX. Since no Latina has ever served as lieutenant governor in any state, a win by any of the four would make history. To date, only 9 Latinas have ever held statewide elected executive offices.
- Five Black women, all Democrats, are running for statewide elected executive offices in Georgia, each with the potential to make history as the first Black woman to hold a statewide elected executive post in that state.[iv] To date, only 10 Black women have ever held statewide elected executive offices in any state.
- If elected in New Mexico, lieutenant governor candidate Debra Haaland (D) would be the first Native American woman elected lieutenant governor and the second Native American woman elected to a statewide elected executive office nationwide.
- If elected in Massachusetts, Maura Healey (D) would be the first openly LGBT attorney general in the nation.
- These statewide elected executive office candidates would be the first women in their states to hold the positions they are seeking:
- Liz Johnson (D), GA insurance commissioner
- Robbin Shipp (D), GA labor commissioner
- Valerie Wilson (D), GA state school superintendent
- Janet Stewart (D), NE attorney general
- Holli High Woodings (D), ID secretary of state
- Ginny Deerin (D), SC secretary of state
Today we are focusing on the outlook for women running in U.S. Senate races this year. Neither Senate nor House races feature record numbers of women candidates or nominees this cycle, but we may see a net increase in the number of women serving in the U.S. Senate in January 2015. Much depends on how some of the most competitive Senate races of this cycle break next Tuesday. Candidates and Nominees Thirty-one (15D, 16R) women filed to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014. The record number of women filing for the Senate is 36, set in 2010 (19D, 17R) and reached again in 2012 (20D, 16R). This year, 14 (9D, 5R) women have won their primaries, and incumbent Senator Mary Landrieu (D) will be on the November 4th ballot in Louisiana’s same-day primary. The record for women Senate nominees was set in 2012, with 18 women (12D, 6R) making it through their party primaries. There are two woman–versus-woman Senate races this year: in Maine (Susan Collins [R] v. Shenna Bellows [D]) and West Virginia (Shelley Moore Capito [R] v. Natalie Tennant [D]). It’s important to look at the types of contests in which women are running to determine their likelihood of winning. In 2014, 7 (4D, 3R) women are nominees for open U.S. Senate seats, compared to the 8 (4D, 4R) women running for open seats in 2012. As the charts below show, women have fallen short of making history as candidates, nominees, or open seat nominees in either major political party this year. This is the first election since 1992 in which more Republican women than Democratic women filed for U.S. Senate seats, but more Democratic women made it through their primaries to become Senate nominees. Women in the 114th Congress Twenty (16D, 4R) women currently serve in the U.S. Senate. There are no incumbent women senators stepping down this year, and four (3D, 1R) incumbent women are up for re-election. Sixteen (13D, 3R) incumbent women senators are holdovers who will remain in office through the 114th Congress. Based on the most recent ratings, two more women are very likely to win their Senate races next Tuesday: incumbent Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representative Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who is running for an open seat against another female candidate, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D-WV). Six (5D, 1R) more women candidates for the U.S. Senate are in contests rated as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report, including incumbents Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Kay Hagen (D-NC), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). Two women, Michelle Nunn (D-GA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), are running competitively for open seats, and Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-KY) is challenging incumbent Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s contentious Senate contest. Thus women are major party nominees in many of the races that will determine the partisan balance of power in the U.S. Senate, including six of the ten toss-up contests identified by Cook. Only two women of color, Connie Johnson (D-OK) and Joyce Dickerson (D-SC), are major party Senate nominees this year, and both are unlikely to win their races, leaving Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) as the only woman of color in the U.S. Senate in the 114th Congress. In 2012, a record 5 (4D, 1R) new women were elected to the U.S. Senate. We are unlikely to exceed that number of new women winning this year. What to Watch on Election Day In addition to tracking the numbers of women winning U.S. Senate seats on Election Day and closely monitoring the most competitive races with women running (see table above), we will be watching these races where women have the potential to make history:
- Georgia: Democrat Michelle Nunn, if elected, will be the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Georgia. Rebecca Latimer Felton was appointed to the U.S. Senate from Georgia in 1922, but only served for one day. Nunn, daughter of former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn (D), would also become the second daughter of a former U.S. Senator to serve in the upper chamber of Congress. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was appointed to the Senate by her father, Frank Murkowski, in 2002 to fill his vacant seat. She has since been re-elected twice to her Senate seat.
- Iowa: Republican Joni Ernst, if elected, will be the first woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate from Iowa. Iowa is one of four states (DE, IA, MS, VT) that has never sent a woman to Congress. Ernst would also be the first female military veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate.
- Kentucky: Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, if elected, will be the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from Kentucky, as well as the first Democratic woman elected to the U.S. Congress from that state. Grimes would also become the youngest woman to ever serve in the U.S. Senate, elected at 35 and turning 36 before January 2015. Former Senator Blanche Lambert Lincoln (D-AR), the youngest woman to serve in the U.S. Senate to date, was elected and sworn in at age 38.
- West Virginia: Republican Shelley Moore Capito is leading Democrat Natalie Tennant in a race to become the first woman Senator from West Virginia. If elected, Capito – currently a member of the U.S. House - will be the 11th woman ever to serve in both the U.S. House and Senate.
On a less positive note, no more than one incumbent woman Senator has ever lost her re-election in any previous election year. However, three female incumbents are in races considered toss-ups this year. For the latest numbers and information about women running for office in 2014, visit CAWP’s Election Watch 2014 and check out our next post on women running for governor this year. You can also follow the conversation on Facebook and Twitter by using the hashtag #WomenRun2014.
It’s important to look at the types of contests in which women are running to determine their likelihood of winning. In 2014, 18 (11D, 7R) women are nominees for open U.S. House seats, compared to the record high of 39 (26D, 13R) women running for open seats in 1992. As the charts below show, women have fallen short of making history as candidates, nominees, or open seat nominees in either major political party this year. However, while the number of female nominees dropped between 2012 and 2014 for Democratic women House candidates, there was a slight increase, from 48 to 50 nominees, among Republican women candidates, with the Louisiana race still pending.Women in the 114th Congress
- AZ-2: Republican Martha McSally, if elected, will be the first Republican woman ever elected to Congress from Arizona.
- IA-3: Democrat Staci Appel, if elected, will be the first woman ever elected to the U.S. House from Iowa. Iowa is one of four states (DE, IA, MS, VT) that has never sent a woman to Congress.
- NJ-12: Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman, if elected, will be the first Black woman elected to Congress from New Jersey. She will also be the first woman in New Jersey’s congressional delegation since 2003.
- NY-21: Republican Elise Stefanik, if elected, will be the youngest woman ever sworn in to Congress at age 30. The youngest women to be sworn in to date were 31 years old.
- UT-4: Republican Mia Love, if elected, will be the first Black Republican woman to be elected to Congress. She will also be the first Black woman, and only the fourth woman, to ever serve in Utah’s congressional delegation.
- VA-10: Republican Barbara Comstock, if elected, will be the first woman in Virginia’s congressional delegation since 2009.
- Women put families and careers first, entering politics would be a "third job;"
- Women believe they are not qualified;
- Women are not recruited to be candidates by their political parties.