Women on the Ballot: Still Underrepresented But Looking to Gain

Women are still underrepresented in major political office after steady but slow gains: they account for just 28% of members of Congress and 18% of governors, the highest representation so far in history. How female candidates fare in the Nov. 8 election will depend in part on how well incumbents perform.

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Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist and scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, spoke about this with Bloomberg Government’s Emily Wilkins and Greg Giroux on the “Downballot Counts” podcast.

(Photo provided by Dittmar)
Kelly Dittmar of the Center for American Women and Politics spoke about female candidates on the latest episode of Downballot Counts.

“The story about how women incumbents fare is important” in part because it’s “determining where we land in terms of women’s representation,” Dittmar said. Some women first elected to the House in 2018, a good year for Democratic women, or in 2020, when Republican women did well, have difficult re-election bids. Several others retired, sought other office, or were defeated in the primary.

The 583 Democratic and Republican women who sought House seats in 2022 is “exactly the same” as the record number from 2020, Dittmar said, though the number of women who won their nominations fell to 259 from the record of 298 set in 2020. Democratic women continue to lead Republican women, though the GOP has reduced the gap from 2018.

“It’s still high historically, but we haven’t seen that level of increase that we saw in the last cycles,” she said. And while the number of women House nominees decreased, “I wouldn’t raise a red flag about a decline, but just to say that we aren’t seeking a pace of increase for women.”

In contests for governor, Dittmar said there’s a “fairly good” chance for states to top the record of nine women governors first set in 2004 and matched today. Massachusetts Democrat Maura Healey and Arkansas Republican Sarah Huckabee Sanders are strongly favored to succeed male governors in their states. A woman will also succeed a man as Arizona governor, though it’s not clear if it will be Republican Kari Lake or Democrat Katie Hobbs.

“Governor is a huge point of progress for women this cycle,” Dittmar said. “When we’re talking about being in stasis for women candidates, that’s not true at the gubernatorial level.”

Producer: David Schulz

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
The Arizona governor’s race features two women: Democrat Katie Hobbs (left) and Republican Kari Lake (right).

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To contact the reporters on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com; Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com