The GOP's Sex Problem

By Lawless, Jennifer | Harvard International Review, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

The GOP's Sex Problem


Lawless, Jennifer, Harvard International Review


As Kira Sanbonmatsu notes in her piece, "Life's a Party," (Harvard International Review, Spring 2010), women are severely underrepresented in US politics. In the US Congress, 84 percent of the members of the House of Representatives and 83 percent of Senators are men. The numbers are not much better at the state level, in which more than three-quarters of state legislators are men. Men occupy the governor's mansion in 44 states. They run City Hall in 89 of the country's 100 largest cities.

But Democrats and Republicans do not shoulder an equal burden for these lopsided ratios. Seventy-seven percent of the women in the US Congress are Democrats, as are 69 percent of female state legislators across the country. Moreover, whereas Democrats have experienced steady increases in the number of women in most elective offices, Republicans have not. In fact, more Republican women served in state assemblies--which are key launching pads to higher office--in 1989 than do today. Sarah Palin's status as a potential presidential candidate in 2012 may lend a female face to the Republican Party. But when we look beyond Sarah Palin, the reality is not only that the GOP has increasingly become a party of men, but also that prospects for women's representation are quite bleak.

Over the course of the last eight years, Richard L. Fox and I interviewed and surveyed thousands of "potential candidates"--women and men who hold the qualifications to run for office but who have not yet taken the plunge. The results from our most recent survey indicate that Republican women are much less likely than Democratic women to have ever been recruited to run for office by party leaders and activists. Considering that recruitment is one of the most important factors that propel people to run for office, these findings bode poorly for increasing the number of female Republican candidates and officeholders. …

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