Why Are Female Lawmakers So Blue?

Wandering around the NCSL website the other day, I stumbled on some interesting figures on the gender makeup of legislatures. Women comprise about 23 percent of ...
by | August 24, 2006

Femalelegislators_2 Wandering around the NCSL website the other day, I stumbled on some interesting figures on the gender makeup of legislatures. Women comprise about 23 percent of legislators nationwide; no big surprise there -- that number has barely budged in the last five years. The legislative bodies with the highest female numbers -- Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, Nevada, Vermont, and Washington -- are right around 33 percent. And that's been true for quite a while as well. It's almost as if there's a ceiling at 2-1 male vs. female. States get to that point but almost never go beyond it.

But here's what was really interesting to me. While Democrats and Republicans are very close to even in total legislative strength nationwide, the cohort of women legislators is 64 percent Democratic.

You might consider that predictable, given the existence of a "gender gap" in presidential voting, but the fact is that not too many years ago, Republicans were doing quite well at recruiting female legislative candidates, especially in states such as Maryland, Colorado and Washington, heavily suburban states where women moved from local and school board politics in the suburbs to campaigns at the state level.

Now that seems not to be happening. In Colorado, in 2001, 32 percent of the Republican members were women. Now that's down to 13 percent. The Colorado Senate has only two female Republican members now; the House has four.

I'm not sure what the explanation is for this, but my guess is that the change relates to to conservative social issue politics.

It's undoubtedly true that the anti-abortion movement, the creationist crusade and other allied causes attract their share of militantly conservative women who become activists in politics. What's less conspicuous, I think, is that in a state like Colorado or Washington, the social right is driving away the affluent, moderate suburban women who were crucial in creating GOP majorities just a few years ago. 

Alan Ehrenhalt
Alan Ehrenhalt  |  Contributing Editor
aehrenhalt@governing.com  | 

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. You can enter an anonymous Display Name or connect to a social profile.

More from View