What If...?

Let’s stipulate that neither party even approaches gender parity among its elected officials; except for the very rare local council, it’s nearly impossible to find places where women are represented at levels that match their numbers in the population.

But one of the key reasons that the number of women in elective office remains surprisingly low is the paucity of Republican women. The imbalance in the proportion of elected women from the two major parties is a fixture of American politics; Democrats have long had a substantially greater percentage of women among lawmakers at the federal and state levels than Republicans. What would the numbers of women officeholders look like if the proportion of women in the GOP matched Democrats’ level of women’s representation?

In the U.S. Senate, there are currently 20 women, 14 Democrats and 6 Republicans. The Democratic women constitute 30 percent of the Democratic delegation: 14 women/46 senators (including the two independents who caucus with the Democrats). If the Republican side, with 54 senators, were 30 percent women, there would be 16 GOP women, giving us a total of 30 women in the Senate, an increase of 10 from today.

The same process yields a US House with 81 Republican women and a total of 143 women (rather than the current 84). Applying the formula to state legislatures, we would see 2,493 women instead of the current 1,808.

Some might note that these numbers don’t mean much on their own. But whatever distinctive qualities women bring to elective office, we’d have a lot more of them if Republican delegations looked more like their Democratic counterparts.

  D women as a
% of all D’s
R women as a
% of all R’s
If R’s had the same %
of women as D’s
The total # of women would be (as compared to the current #):
U.S. Senate 30% (14/46)

11% (6/54)

30% of 54=16    30 (20)
U.S. House 33% (62/188)   9% (22/246)

33% of 246=81

  143 (84)
State Legislatures 34% (1084/3164) 17% (705/4117) 34% of 4117=1411 2495 (1808)


Kathy Kleeman has been at the Center since 1980. She writes or edits many of the Center's proposals and publications and has led CAWP’s work with Girl Scouts. Kleeman earned her A.B. from Harvard/Radcliffe and her Ed.M. from Harvard's Graduate School of Education.