by Sam Storey, ’13
Our country needs more women to run for office.
Many of us have heard the facts before, but they bear repeating. Of the 535 members in congress, only 90, or 16.6%, are women. Of the 7,382 state legislature seats throughout the country, only 1,740, or 23.6%, are filled by women. Indeed, despite the massive press coverage that women such as Sarah Palin, Nikki Haley, and Michelle Bachmann might receive and the increasingly common portrayal of strong, politically-minded women on television, the United States still ranks an embarrassing 71st out of 186 countries in our representation of women in government.
It is important to point out from where the gender discrepancy in representation originates. Interestingly, it is not mainly the result of any sexist prejudice by the electorate or any difference in how women and men may campaign; rather, women simply aren’t running for office. Since 1994, studies have consistently shown that women and men have almost the same rate of success in winning elections. The only problem is that women aren’t running. This is a result of many factors, but possibly the most notable is that our political structure is designed to protect the status quo, and when a woman thinking of running for office sees a government full of wealthy white men, she might be discouraged from pursuing a seat.
The effects of this trend are incontrovertibly harmful for our country because women contribute to policy debates in a way that men simply cannot match. At every level of government, for example, women are more prone to run for office to promote a specific cause or issue rather than to pursue a political career. Statistically, women are also more likely to break from party lines to vote based on their moral and ethical convictions and are more willing to create policy that is bipartisan, efficacious, and agreeable. Their voice is thus necessary to contribute to a more judicious government. When women are discouraged from running for office, our entire government is negatively impacted.
We should therefore all be invested in the political success of women. Luckily, the 2012 election cycle poses an opportunity for women to increase their political representation. It is the first election in 20 years during which congressional redistricting aligns with a presidential election. In 2012, congressional districts in every state are being redesigned to match the changing demographics. This means that in many states, men who hold seats in Congress or the state legislature are vulnerable because they must now appeal to a new constituency or face a tough primary race. Indeed, many politicians typically retire during redistricting years in order to avoid the drama of adapting to a new district. Women can run and win in these open seats, and with the large voter turnout that is character of presidential elections, their success is more likely. The huge strides women made in political representation in 1992 – often deemed the ‘year of the women’ – was similarly made possible by congressional redistricting, lending credence to this perspective’s veracity.
It was with these facts in mind that The 2012 Project was created. Founded by Mary Hughes of the Palo-Alto based consulting firm Hughes & Company and centered at Rutger University’s Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), The 2012 Project is a non-partisan organization that seeks to encourage more women to run in the 2012 election cycle. The project increases awareness of open seats created by redistricting, recruits women throughout the country who are interested in running for office, and through our 12 state coalition members, directs candidates to local campaign resources. We specifically target women from diverse racial and economic backgrounds and from all different career sectors. Hopefully, our work will lead to improvements in women’s representation in the 2012 cycle and a fundamental alteration in how women view the opportunities afforded to them in our political system.
2012: Don’t get mad. Get elected.
I strongly encourage anyone interested in our work (or in running for office) to contact us at info@The2012Project.us,“like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/The2012Project, or follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/The2012Project.
Samuel is a junior from Maryland majoring in Public Policy and Feminist Studies. He is an avid cheerleader whose idols include Mariah Carey, Hillary Clinton, and Paula Deen. He’s really good at growing beards and dancing. He’s also really tall.