Women in Politics

Why aren't more women running for public office?

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We are at a bizarre juncture in American politics where one voting bloc's influence is rising, while that same group's representation among state and federal lawmakers is on a plateau and could start to decline. Female voters are increasingly important to presidential and congressional hopefuls, because women are the majority of voters. In the most recent presidential election, 54 percent of voters were women.

Women are increasingly prominent in high-profile political posts (at least, Democratic women are), with Nancy Pelosi serving as the first female House speaker and Sen. Hillary Clinton occupying front-runner status for her party's presidential nomination.

Yet the Cook Political Report has some gloomy predictions about female officeholders in the '08 elections. Women in Congress, it says, are disproportionately vulnerable in next year's elections, with the report listing 14 women among the 75 most vulnerable House members, including "eight women who won office with less than 51 percent of the vote in 2006."

It also says two of the nine female governors aren't running for re-election next year, and a third (Christine Gregoire of Washington State) faces a possible comeback opponent in the form of one Dino Rossi, a man she beat by a mere 133 votes last time.

More troubling than all else, perhaps, is that women's representation in state elective positions has stagnated at about 25 percent during this decade after rising in prior decades. Women fill fewer than 16 percent of federal elective offices. That paltry percentage may drop if present trends continue.

What's the problem? Experts agree that not enough women are running for office. Why? Conservatives say women want time with their families and are reluctant to make the personal sacrifices needed for successful political careers. I'm not sure I agree. I think we don't really know the answer yet. But we'd better find it soon, so we can do whatever is necessary to make sure there aren't barriers that should be removed so the majority of voters are fairly represented in office.