Women, Elections & Representation

Women, Elections & Representation

Women, Elections & Representation

Women, Elections & Representation


The first women representatives in the United States were elected in 1894 when Colorado votes sent three women to the state legislature. Now, a century later, women almost everywhere are the majority of voters but a distinct minority of elected officials. This discrepancy is a puzzle for those who thought democratic institutions would incorporate newly enfranchised women, and a problem for those working to expand democratic representation. Darcy, Welch, and Clark examine women candidates and candidacies in the United States and several other democratic nations. Their careful analysis reveals that male voters and political elites are not the barriers to women's election that common wisdom suggests. Instead, they find that a party's ability to determine candidate selection, along with election procedures that benefit incumbents, produces slow turnover of elected officials and few opportunities for new women candidates. In addition, the authors analyze nomination procedures and election systems to document both the conditions that lead political parties to nominate more women and the mechanisms that yield more victories by women candidates. Women, Elections, and Representationis an extensively revised and expanded edition of a successful text that provides a thorough and up-to-date account of research on women and politics.


As public officeholders, women are the most underrepresented major social group in America. Why is this so? This is the question this book addresses.

For decades, women's role in politics was largely ignored by political scientists. Beginning in the early 1970s, this situation changed, as at first a few and then a steady stream of articles and books about women and politics began to appear. But most of this research focused on mass political behavior or on the attitudes of women political officeholders, rather than on why there were not more women in office.

As it became clear that in performing normal political chores--voting, campaigning, and talking about politics--women and men are very similar, the question of why women are underrepresented in public office began to be asked more frequently. After looking at pieces of this puzzle in our own research for several years, we decided to try to analyze the question more comprehensively.

With new research and a synthesis of old, we explore the numerous possible reasons for the dramatic underrepresentation of women. We examine the possible roadblocks to women: voter prejudice; the role of party leaders and other political elites in screening candidates; the influence of socialization and sex-role norms; and the impact of election structures, incumbency, and turnover.

We have tried to make our investigation wide-ranging and comprehensive. We explore the impediments to women in electoral politics using data from local, state, and national levels. We use information from surveys of public officials and of the public, from election returns, and from aggregate data on cities and other units of government. All can help us understand the problem of women's representation.

The answers are not complete, but we are led to recognize some changes that will open the doors wider for women. We also come to understand some of the reasons for the slow entrance of women into political office. in doing this, we learn more about the workings of our democracy.

We would like to thank the people who collaborated with us on the research of women and politics over the years: Sarah Slavin of the State University College at Buffalo; Tim Bledsoe of the University of South Carolina; James

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