More Women Running for Congress Than Ever Before

    This Oct. 9, 2012, photo shows Utah Republican candidate Mia Love talking with students during the Granite PTA meet the candidates at Skyline High School in Salt Lake City.This Oct. 9, 2012, photo shows Utah Republican candidate Mia Love talking with students during the Granite PTA meet the candidates at Skyline High School in Salt Lake City.
    x
    This Oct. 9, 2012, photo shows Utah Republican candidate Mia Love talking with students during the Granite PTA meet the candidates at Skyline High School in Salt Lake City.
    This Oct. 9, 2012, photo shows Utah Republican candidate Mia Love talking with students during the Granite PTA meet the candidates at Skyline High School in Salt Lake City.
    Women may be ringing in a political new year on November 6. In the final countdown to the 2012 election, researchers say the two major political parties have more women candidates running for Congress than ever before.

    “Not since the so-called ‘Year of the Woman’ in 1992 have we seen such a leap in the number of women stepping forward to contend for congressional seats,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University.

    The CAWP notes 184 women are running for Congress in the major parties this year, up from 152 in 2010.  Eighteen women (12 Democrats, six Republicans) are running for Senate seats, while 166 women (118 Democrats, 48 Republicans) are on the ballot for the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Woman vs. Woman

    Women are even squaring off against each other for 14 of the 468 available congressional seats. Such is the case in Maryland's District 4, where Republican Faith Loudon is challenging Democratic Congresswoman Donna Edwards.

    "I do want to be a role model for my granddaughters," Loudon said in between talking to voters near a local polling station.  "I think because I am doing this, I know that there are a lot of women that are encouraged and are going to step forth in the future."

    As Maryland's only female member in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Edwards notes the campaign trail is a "really tough environment."

    "I think we're really just coming into our political space," she said while handing out political flyers to constituents at a metro stop.

    The increase in women, however, does not classify as a breakthrough just yet, according to Jennifer Lawless, the director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University.

    "Although we do have a record number of women running for both the Senate and the House, it's important to put those numbers in perspective, she said.  "These numbers don't represent marked increases over previous election cycles."

    Even with record-shattering numbers, women only constitute about 20 percent of the two major parties' total number of congressional candidates.

    Obstacles

    The problem is getting women to run in the first place.  Lawless said her research shows three basic factors are keeping women from running.  First, women in American society have made gains in the workforce but still shoulder the vast majority of household and childcare responsibilities.

    Loudon, a career homemaker, did not run for Congress until her children were supporting their own children.  Edwards ran for office amid the pressure of being a single mother.

    "I still had to send my son to college, I still had to make sure that I had dinner prepared, but I also was fully prepared to do the duties that were required of me in Congress," Edwards said.

    Another obstacle is that women are less likely to be recruited for office than men. Congresswoman Edwards said no one approached her to run for office and called it a "big mistake" that so few women are encouraged to run.

    "To be honest, I spent a lot of time trying to find somebody else who would run, and then when nobody would, I decided to do it," she said.

    Coupled with the fact that women are less likely to be recruited is the personal assessment of qualifications.  Lawless says many men and women may look the same on paper, but men are much more likely to assess themselves as qualified to run.

    Loudon, too, turned to others to run at first, even though she has been involved in political campaigns for more than 30 years.

    "I tried to get every man that I knew that had name recognition that would be a qualified candidate, and not one of them would take on the challenge," she said. 

    Breaking the cycle

    Loudon admitted to seeking out men in particular because they were the ones who had previously run for other offices.  She is not the only one who has turned to incumbents for leadership.  Past election results show voters are much more likely to choose incumbents, making it difficult to break a cycle that lacks equal female representation.

    "When we have a Congress right now that's 84 percent men, and the overwhelming majority of those men are seeking reelection, that doesn't allow much opportunity for women to make substantial gains," Lawless said.

    Analysts agree the good news is that gains are possible.  Lawless says the gender gap in Congress has nothing to do with voters because women are just as likely as their male counterparts to win elections.  This proved true in this year's primaries, where more than half of the women advanced to become their party's candidate for Congress.

    Women also have the potential to make more political gains this year because it is the first election after the redrawing of congressional districts, which happens every 10 years.  Redistricting creates more open seats, which in turn provides the best opportunity for new candidates, male and female.

    The shortage of women in Congress is not something that can change in one election cycle, but this year's increase in candidates could prove to be a big step forward for women when the election results are announced. 

     


    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Egypt.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora