Over at Forbes.com, the always insightful Karlyn Bowman analyses new survey data about women in politics. As Bowman points out, the smaller number of women in politics doesn’t support the alarmist rhetoric (a threat to democracy! a threat to political legitimacy!) that often surrounds the topic:
One impression I took away from the survey was that a political career is not very attractive to either men or women. Although the professional men were almost twice as likely as women to display interest in any federal position, only a quarter of men and 13 percent of women had considered it. Lawless and Fox say that researchers agree that there is a “complete absence of overt gender bias” in fundraising and vote totals. Today, women have myriad choices and interests, and they can make contributions in many ways. While they may cheer the success of Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Nancy Pelosi , it’s not clear how many of them would make the choices they have made. Nor do I believe that only women can represent women’s views or experiences. Women aren’t a monolith politically.
There are 16 women in the Senate today, a number that could rise to 17 next month. One hundred and thirty-three women are running for House seats, not a banner year. Women have been making slow progress because our political system favors incumbents. As Newman said in her study, “winning elections has nothing to do with the sex of the candidate, and everything to do with incumbency.” Most incumbents are men, and incumbents enjoy a huge advantage. When these seats open up, women will win them just as often as men. Until that happens, women’s overall representation will be low.