“She came home one day and said, ‘Mom, I don’t want you to run for president.’ I said, ‘Kate, that’s not going to happen. Why are you asking me this?’ She said, ‘You know what, Mom? Because I want to be the first woman president.’”With the dearth of women at all levels of political office, we can’t count on political moms or dads to be the sole motivators for women to run. Nor would we want to discourage the innumerable qualified women from running because they were not born into political access or privilege. However, as research shows, we need to do better in filling the pipeline of potential women candidates, and that means looking at all options and pathways to office, including being engaged with and inspired by parents who participate in politics – whether as elected officials, advocates, or engaged citizens. Research shows that familial socialization vís a vís politics can increase women’s likelihood of considering running for office later in life, so parental political engagement in any capacity can foster an environment in which more daughters are willing to run. The history of political kinship in American politics is long, and the Kennedys are likely the clearest example of an American political dynasty. In fact, a Kennedy has served in the U.S. Congress in all but two of the last 67 years. Of all of the Kennedys who have served in elected office since 1892, however, only one has been a woman. In 1995, Robert Kennedy’s daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, became lieutenant governor of Maryland and the first Kennedy woman to hold an elected office. Townsend is not the first, but is now among a growing class of women who have disrupted the patrilineal threads of political kinship. And, who knows, we may soon be talking about Chelsea, Malia, Sasha, or Kate among the newest generation of political daughters!
And for those who fear gender exclusivity of any stripe, let’s look at recent electoral history. Over 60% of general election U.S. House races in the past decade have been all-male contests, and 85% of uncontested candidates have been men.
About two-thirds of general election races for the U.S. Senate have been between two male candidates, and 80 of 106 gubernatorial races between 2004 and 2012 had no women. In contrast, about 2% of U.S. House races, 4% of U.S. Senate races, and less than 2% of gubernatorial contests in the past decade have been all-female. And of course, men-only races at each of these levels of office only increase the further back we look.
Gender exclusivity in electoral contests should not be a goal, but it has been a reality for male candidates for far too long. For women to increase their political representation, they need to be more present as candidates. And if woman vs. woman races are a surefire way to get more women into office, then maybe an increase in gender exclusivity for women candidates actually means greater gender inclusivity in today’s politics.
Welcome to footnotes, CAWP’s latest effort to bring you new, interesting, and timely information about women and politics. Since 1971, the Center for American Women and Politics has been the leading source of scholarly research and current data about American women’s political participation. We’ve learned a lot in the last 40 years and look forward to asking and answering more questions essential to increasing women’s political power in the decades to come. footnotes will give us the space and opportunity to do just that, and we’ll do it with your help. What will we write about? As the keepers of current data on women candidates, women voters, and women officeholders, CAWP has an abundance of information that can be easily missed on our website or, even more, in the footnotes of our research reports and fact sheets. This site will highlight interesting pieces and analyses of our existing data, as well as new data collected to answer questions that arise out of recent headlines, the political climate, or the latest scholarship. In addition to original data and analyses, footnotes will feature responses by CAWP scholars and staff to news and events related to women and politics. Finally, we hope that this blog will provide a forum to highlight academic research on gender and politics for scholars, practitioners, and advocates alike. How can you help? This blog will give us the opportunity to share more information with you, so we hope you will subscribe to our RSS feed and/or be sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook. But footnotes is not just a forum for CAWP staff and scholars. We’d like to hear your comments, your ideas, and your questions about women’s political participation. Let’s start a dialogue here that helps to identify and address the reasons for women’s political underrepresentation and promotes the advancement of women’s influence and leadership in public life.