Thursday, December 9, 2010

Another Way to Look at the 2010 Election Outcomes

Most of the pundit attention about the last election has focused on the changes in the partisan distribution in Congress and the state legislatures.  This, of course, makes sense.  Party identification is the single-most important variable in American politics.  If you want me to predict how a legislator votes and you can only give me one piece of information about that person, it would be party ID.

Most important variable doesn't mean the only important one, however.  A large literature in both American and comparative politics shows that male a female legislators act differently.  Women introduce different kinds of legislation, vote differently, and even relate to their constituents differently. Further, when there are more women in office, women voters tend to feel more efficacious towards government.

With this in mind, I called the folks at the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics to see if they had updated their data on the number of female legislators to reflect last month's election returns.  Although they hadn't gotten it all on their web site, they had collected it and were nice enough to share it with me and I graphed the results below.

As you can see, female representation dipped a bit in 2011, both in NC and nationally.  Although I don't know for sure, I assume this is because female legislators are more likely to be Democrats and this was, as everyone including my basset hounds knows, a bad year for Democrats.

Two parts of this trend worry me.  (1) We weren't exactly knocking the top out before.  We were hovering around 25% representation for a group that makes up half the population.  Now we're decreasing.  That's not good.  (2) As I discussed above, men and women  act differently when in office.  A dip in the number of women in office suggests that we might see a small dip in bills of interest to women.  (3) State legislatures are like the AA ball of national politics.  Some people stay in AA forever, but almost everyone in the majors played in AA at some point.  State legislatures help train people for national politics, but if we don't have as many women in the farm system, very soon we won't have as many in the majors.


  1. Can you expand on why it is "not good" to have a percentage of women in the NCGA that does not equal their percentage of representation in the general population? I know a lot of women and I can't think of any of them who have an interest in running for office at any level.

    Does that necessarily have to be "not good" or are percentages all that matter?

  2. Great question. Thanks for posting it. I think it matters because the research suggests that women act differently when they're in office. They pass different policies, promote different policies and relate to their constituents differently than their male counterparts. I'd call this "substantive" representation. In addition, women in the population feel more efficacious towards government when they see women in office (I'll call this "symbolic representation."

    I think it's very interesting but not surprising that you don't know many women who want to run for office (neither do I). See this book for a lot more on this subject:

    I think women add something to the process, but it's certainly not that any woman will do (I don't think many people--men or women--would make that point). Obviously the quality and qualifications of the candidate matter a great deal. I think 25% is low. Too low in my opinion, but I agree that the percentages are only one indicator (and a very imperfect one) of representation.

    Thanks again for the comment. Please keep 'em coming.