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Women Aim for Political Parity

More Republican women ran for the U.S. House in Wisconsin this year than a decade ago, when more female candidates were Democrats. (Alexa Massarello/Stocksnap)
More Republican women ran for the U.S. House in Wisconsin this year than a decade ago, when more female candidates were Democrats. (Alexa Massarello/Stocksnap)
November 12, 2018

MADISON, Wis. — Votes are still being counted, but we already know the number of women elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last week is a record high. Nonetheless, when they take office in January, they'll represent only one-quarter of the 435 House members.

Louisiana State University professor Nichole Bauer has studied women's efforts to achieve parity in politics. She said at least 123 women will serve in the 116th Congress, boosting the share of female lawmakers from 19 percent to just over 22 percent.

But Bauer also noted more than half the women running in the primaries didn't win, which suggests continued mobilization is critical.

"Whether that will sustain in 2020 depends on how many resources the political parties are willing to put into backing female candidates at the local level, at the state level and at the House level,” Bauer said.

She says trends continue to show women only win elections if voters consider them "significantly better candidates" than the men they're running against.

Historic milestones for women in the midterms included Minnesota's first-ever Muslim congresswoman, the first two Native American congresswomen, Massachusetts' and Connecticut's first black congresswomen, and the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Many said they ran for office this year to resist the politics of President Donald Trump. And Bauer said the real standouts were women of color.

"Women did not increase their representation in Congress in 2016,” she said. “And I think that was a real moment where women realized that their voices are not going to be heard in legislative institutions unless they are in those legislative institutions."

While there were increases in the numbers of women and minorities in Congress, Bauer added the differences in party affiliation are significant. Of the 123 women headed to Congress, only about 6 percent are from the Republican party.

Roz Brown/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WI