Expect Fewer Women in Congress Next Year


Despite the hullabaloo surrounding Sarah Palin’s “Mama Grizzlies,” the number of women actually holding office in the next Congress is likely to decline for the first time since 1978.

Why? USA Today explains that’s it’s mostly because of two factors: 1) women in Congress are disproportionately Democratic, and it’s a tough year for Democrats; 2) the economy is still faltering, and women are generally seen as weaker on economic issues. “They don’t want to take risks in a bad economy, and they perceive women as being riskier,” says Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. As a result, USA Today concludes, “Independent analysts predict that the number of women in Congress—currently 56 Democrats and 17 Republicans in the House, and 13 Democrats and four Republicans in the Senate—will decline for the first time in three decades.” One poll tracker for the Cook Political Report estimates a drop of five to 10 women in the House and that the number of women in the Senate will either drop slightly or stay the same. 

It’s easy to overlook this reality given the amount of attention that female Republican candidates have attracted. But while more Republican women are running for office than ever—leading the National Republican Congressional Committee to label 2010 “the Year of the Republican Woman”—fewer are making it past their primaries: “A record 128 Republican women filed to run for the House, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, although fewer went on to win GOP primaries than in 2004.”

So though Palin may be helping to inspire more conservative women to run than ever, that doesn’t necessarily translate to more women in office. In the end, Palin didn’t make it there, either.

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  • Suzy Khimm was a reporter in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones from March 2010 until June 2011. For more of her stories, click here. Follow her on Twitter here.