The number of women running for Congress this year is higher than ever before, according to research.
Analysis of female candidates in the upcoming election shows 295 so far have filed for seats in the House of Representatives, with another due to file in August. The previous record of 262 was set in 2010.
Women are also on track to break the record for the number of who have won their nomination battles, according to the non-partisan 2012 Project and the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP).
One hundred and thirteen women have already won their primaries, at a time when over half of the states have had primaries. The previous record, in 2004, was 141.
There remains a large disparity in the political make-up of those running, however. Democrats have filed in much greater numbers – 185 compared to 110 Republican women – and have also won their nominations at a higher rate, 85 Democrats to 28 Republicans.
Debbie Walsh, director of CAWP, described the results as “encouraging”. If the pattern continued, Walsh said, she could envisage a post-election America where women made up 20% of the House, compared to 17% now.
“There is a scenario where we could reach 20%, but it depends on how the Democratic party overall does,” said Walsh.
The analysis showed a “partisan story of lopsided politics,” she said. “If it is a good year for Democrats, it is likely to be a good year for women. Obviously we would be happy with 50% but we’re not going to go from 17 to 50 in a single election cycle.”
The US ranks 78th, behind 95 other countries, in terms of women’s representation, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
The 2012 Project was set up to encourage more women to run for office because research shows that, unlike men, women have to be asked to run.
Walsh said that Democratic women have been more successful at winning primaries and getting elected. They now make up 31% of their party’s legislators, compared to just 17% for the Republican party.
Bonne Grabenhofer, the executive vice-president of the National Organisation of Women, said redistricting and the retirement of a number of female incumbents had created more opportunities for women, who always do better against non-incumbents.
Asked what would bump up the number of women candidates significantly, she said: “Money. Always money. It takes more encouragement for women to run. They need to feel more qualified. It is incumbent on all of us who are interested in politics to encourage women to run.”
Tammy Bruce, a political commentator and talk radio host who worked on the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign before joining the Tea Party, said women in general and Republican women in particular are put off running for office because of the treatment they receive in the media.
She cited research on media behaviour in the 2010 midterms that revealed women candidates received 68% less coverage than men on issues, and three times more coverage of their appearance than their male counterparts.
“Women look at that and think: ‘Do I want to go through that?’” said Bruce. She pointed to two high-profile women, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, who, she says, were pilloried in the press for issues other than their politics.
“If the liberal media are going to eviscerate two women pursuing the highest office in the land, that’s going to send a message to other women. If we are going to have an increase in women running, we have to get women who do not have a background in politics, we are asking them to move out of their comfort zone of what they traditionally do.”
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