Political Parties and PACs Key to Recruiting More Women for Congress

New report shows women aren't running because no one is asking them to.

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The Democratic women of the House. Despite record number of women lawmakers this term, females make up just 18 percent of Congress.

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Since the 1980s, more women have registered to vote than men. In the 2012 election, 7.8 million more women cast ballots than men. Women are more engaged in politics than their male counterparts in a lot of ways. But when it comes to actually making the laws, women are sitting on the sidelines, making up just 18 percent of Congress.

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A new report indicates women are not avoiding the political spotlight because they are uninterested in elections or less qualified. They are choosing not to run for office because women experience greater barriers to entry than men, the report concludes.

"We have tried for 200 and 300 years to fix women. We say 'if we just get them to run right or dress right'..blah blah blah," Marie Wilson, the founder and former president of the White House Project, an organization that helps women attain public office, said Monday night during a discussion about women and politics at New York University. "I think we are dealing with structural issues."

FairVote, an advocacy group that campaigns to expand voting rights, released its first draft of the 2013 "State of Women's Representation" report Monday. The report reveals that there are only five states with women governors, that women make up just a quarter of state legislatures and only 12 women are mayors in the country's 100 largest cities. The numbers are clear, but the reason so few women enter politics is much more complicated.

The report shows that one of the greatest factors keeping women out of politics is that despite reaching higher levels of education than men, women are less likely to consider themselves qualified. Making matters worse, political pundits and party leaders don't reach out and encourage women to jump into a race as often as they encourage men. Research shows that women are 10 percent less likely to be asked to run, but when someone shows an interest in their political future, they respond as positively to it as men.

Women are less likely than men to decide to run for political office on their own. In a survey of state legislators, 43 percent of men surveyed said running was entirely their own idea. Only 26 percent of women said they had followed through on their ambitions without encouragement.

"If [political actors] were to focus their efforts on recruiting a larger number of politically-viable women candidates,there could be a dramatic increase in the number of women candidacies, and therefore the number of women serving in elected office," the report says.

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Fundraising is another major obstacle that keeps many women from entering the political sphere.

Jessica McIntosh, the communications director for Emily's List, a PAC that supports pro-choice and Democratic women for office, says that the increasing expense of running a campaign disproportionately deters women from getting involved.

"Without money, one cannot be considered a viable candidate," she says.

Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, argues that women's tendency to care more about others than themselves, can hamper their desire to fundraise.

"It is not that women cannot raise money, women can raise money. The problem is that they don't want to," Lake says. "If they are going to raise money, they are going to raise money for the safe house in their neighborhood."

FairVote, however, suggests that the rise of PACs have helped to curb the barriers to entry for women interested in politics. They cite groups like Emily's list and the conservative Susan B. Anthony List, as ways women have found the increasing financial support they needed early on to get their campaigns off the ground.

"The growth of these groups is particularly important because women as a group are disadvantaged by incumbency," the study says. "Incumbents have an intrinsic advantage over challengers due to factors like greater name-recognition, better fundraising, and constituent services. As most incumbents are male, women as a group start out with a competitive disadvantage."



Updated 08/20/13 at 4:13 p.m.