Women In Politics Essay, Research Paper
Discrimination against Women in Politics:
Myth or Reality?
The United States of America prides itself on its democratic tradition. Yet does democracy not mean that citizens from all races and classes and both sexes should be represented? Since women were granted suffrage in 1920, they have made great progress. Even so, women continue to be underrepresented in government considering their proportion of the population. There are some barriers that have traditionally stood in the way of women running for elective office, but most of them have been overcome. Much of the population still views these barriers as keeping women from obtaining elective office, and many people believe that women are discriminated against at the polls, being voted for much less than men. But this is not true. American citizens who still hold that outdated opinion need to be informed of the truth.
Statistics show that women do not actually have a harder time running for office than men. To examine this premise, let us first look at some recent gains made by women in politics and some of the traditional barriers that have been overcome. Then we will consider an important study which supports the idea that women are not discriminated against. Altogether, we will see that women are not being discriminated against. They do not have a harder time winning elections, and they are making great progress.
When looking for recent progress of women in American politics, the elections of 1992 stand out. That year has been called The Year of the Woman by many people. A record number of women candidates competed and won in congressional races. One hundred six women won major party nominations for the House of Representatives and 47 won their general election races. In races for seats in the Senate, 11 women ran and 6 won (Darcy, Welch, and Clark, 1994)..
To understand why women do not have worse chances than men when running for office, it is important to understand some of the traditional barriers that have been inhibiting in the past. For example, in the past, women candidates faced discrimination by party elites. They had little motivation to recruit women to run for office, and those who did want to run were encouraged to run for unimportant positions. Their candidacies were not well supported or well funded. As a result, women had difficulty in fund-raising and in establishing credibility in the eyes of the media and the voters (Gertzog, 1995). Another barrier that used to exist was the attitude of voters toward women in general. In the past, substantial percentages of citizens felt that the women s place was in the home, not in elective positions. A third barrier that used to exist has been termed the social eligibility pool concerns of the citizens. Many voters have certain expectations about the backgrounds of quality candidates. This could include military service, educational accomplishments, and previous elected experiences. While men usually entered politics through legal or other professional careers, women usually entered politics through community volunteerism or women s groups (Darcy, Welch, and Clark, 1994).
Today, the three barriers mentioned above have shrunk considerably. Regarding campaign finance, women have almost achieved equality with men in the amount of money raised and spent. In 1988, for the first time ever, female nominees in the US House of Representatives races raised and spent more money on average than male nominees. The years since then have shown women still raising and spending almost or equal the amount of men (Burrell, 1994). The attitudes of the population have also changed considerably through the years. More and more women have been leaving the home to enter the work force. Whether one views this as good or bad, it cannot be denied that this trend is contributing to a more accepting view of women in the work force, in general. The third barrier, the backgrounds of women, is also being overcome. More and more women are entering legal careers and other professional careers that contribute to a background that voters view to be credible (Darcy, Welch, and Clark, 1994).
Despite these great gains, women still hold fewer elected positions than men do. This year (1999), only sixty-five women are serving in the US Congress. Only nine of these hold positions in the senate. Women are not equally represented in state legislatures either. This year, they hold only 22.3% of the seats of state legislatures (CAWP). At face value, these numbers indicate that women have may still be discriminated against by voters at the polls. As stated before, this is not the case. There is another explanation for the smaller number of women holding elective office. The explanation has to do with the low incumbency rate of women who run for office. In other words, most women run as challengers or candidates for open-seats, instead of running for re-election.
Women do not hold fewer offices because they are discriminated against, but because they are not incumbents. Most studies that have compared the success rates of men and women who ran in an election examined only the percentage of each sex that ran and the percentage of each sex that won. This approach is deceiving. Women win at much lower rates than men do, but this does not mean that they are disadvantaged at the polls. A look at data collected more carefully will reveal that men win more often because most incumbents are men. Studies should contrast men and women in the same circumstances, incumbents with incumbents, challengers with challengers, and open-seats with open-seats (Newman, 1994).
In 1992, the National Women s Political Caucus (NWPC) devised a study to determine the success rate of female candidates through a study comparing them to males in the same situations. The database included every major party candidate who ran in a general election, with information on the office, year, party, sex, and whether he or she was an incumbent, challenger, or candidate for an open seat. It included all candidates from 1972 to 1992 running for the posts of US House, US Senate, and governors. In total, 50,563 candidates were studied (Newman, 1994.)
The findings were surprising. Jody Newman, then executive director of NWPC, said, When women run, women win as often as men. In the US House, incumbent women won 96 percent of their races compared to 95% of incumbent men. Women and men running for open-seats won 48% and 51% of the time, respectively. As challengers, women won only 4% of the time, but men only won 6% of the time. These victory rates are very similar. The number of women who ran for US Senate and governor are too small to provide conclusive data. Even so, there is no evidence that suggests that women would be any less likely to win these offices than men would, either (Newman, 1994).
Obviously, incumbents of either sex are much more likely to win elections than challengers or people running for open-seats. Therefore, women are not discriminated against at the polls, as many people believe. The reason women are still underrepresented is because there are still very few women incumbents. Women are making slow but steady progress. There are many efforts by organizations and other people to recruit women to become candidates. People who want more women to hold public offices should not give up hope. Like men who succeed in politics, women must also work for their success. The study by the NWPC shows that women win when they run about as often as men do. If more women run for office, more women will eventually be elected to office.
Burrell, Barbara C. 1994. A Woman s Place is in the House: Campaigning for Congress in the
Feminist Era. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
CAWP. (Center For the American Woman and Politics) Retrieved September 23, 1999.
Darcy, Robert, Susan Welch, and Janet Clark. 1994. Women, Elections, and Representation. 2d
ed. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Gertzog, Irwin N. 1995. Congressional Women. 2d ed. Westport, CT.: Praeger.
Newman, Jody. 1994. Perception and Reality: A Study Comparing the Success of Men and
Women Candidates. Washington, D.C.: National Women s Political Caucus.