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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Needed: Training, Support for Women in Key States

Emily’s List is featuring a chart ranking the state legislatures according to the percentage of legislators who are women. The chart’s data comes from the Rutgers University Center for American Women in Politics, and the gap between the highest and lowest-ranking states is surprisingly large, with Maryland at the top (34.6 percent) and South Carolina at the bottom with 8.8 percent, which may not bode well for Senator Clinton in that state’s upcoming primary.
As you might guess, the ten bottom-ranking states are disproportionately southern, although a few southern states rank better, including Florida (ranking 22nd) and North Carolina (24th). Georgia is sort of mid-range at 32nd, ahead of Rhode Island (36th) and New Jersey (41st). The big surprise in the bottom 5 is Pennsylvania, ranking 46th among the 50 states, with women holding just 12.6 percent of the seats in the state legislature. Clearly the problem is more complicated than backward southern attitudes towards women’s political empowerment.
Impossible to say from this data whether not enough women are running for the legislatures, or men and even women are just not supporting women candidates when they do run, or perhaps some combination. While no state has achieved parity, the large disparities suggest that something can be done to improve womens’ political empowerment in the lower-ranking states.
Women were 56 percent of voters and 63 percent of swing voters in the U.S. presidential election in 2004, according to Emily’s List, and all polls are showing Democrats with a significant edge among women voters — a 7 percent gender gap favored Kerry in ’04. All of which makes me wonder if a more substantial investment in recruitment, training and campaign support for Democratic women, particularly in the low-ranking states, might be money very well-spent.

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