The 116th Congress is composed of the largest number of women in the history of the United States of America; we the People elected a Congress composed of 23.7 percent female members. Yet, while any stride in the fight for gender equality is significant, it is evident that we can do more to ensure that women have access to and are adequately represented in the political arena.
In a recent survey conducted by the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP), respondents were asked which candidates they believed were more qualified to run for the United States Congress. Respondents received either the names Chris Stevens or Christina Stevens in one variation, and either Mark Rodriguez and Marian Rodriguez in another. For the purposes of this article, the BIPP has only reported responses categorizing the individual as “very qualified” or “not at all qualified.”
When examining the results by gender, the survey showed that 12 percent of men and 12 percent of women believed Chris Stevens to be very qualified to run for the United States Congress. In juxtaposition, 4 percent of men and 2 percent of women believed Chris Stevens to be not at all qualified to run for the United States Congress. In evaluating Christina Stevens, 13 percent of men and 15 percent of women believed the hypothetical candidate to be very qualified to run for the United States Congress; in contrast, 6 percent of men and 3 percent of women believed Christina to be “not at all qualified” to run for the United States Congress.
The BIPP also measured how respondents would alter their responses based on racialized cues in the name of the individual running. The survey showed that 16 percent of men and 14 percent of women believed Mark Rodriguez to be very qualified to run for the United States Congress; only 3 percent of men and 2 percent of women believed Mark Rodriguez to be not at all qualified to run for the United States Congress. Furthermore, 14 percent of men and 17 percent of women believed Marian Rodriguez to be very qualified to run for the United States Congress, while a mere 2 percent of both men and women believed Marian Rodriguez to be not at all qualified to run for the United States Congress.
From this data, two important points may be gathered. First, the gender gap is not large regardless of the gender or assumed race of the individual running. It is prudent that, when evaluating how to increase female representation in politics, one does not reduce this issue into an argument of men versus women. It is apparent, based on the facts and data, that men and women do not differ substantially relative to each other when they support or oppose a candidate. To yield to this form of argumentation is to obscure the barriers that stand in the way of women reaching their political goals.
Secondly, the survey shows that there is still drastic room for improvement. The fact that women make up less than a quarter of total membership in Congress should not be a comforting fact. We as a society should want to elect more qualified female candidates in order to ensure that all viewpoints are represented at the highest level of government. Men need to support qualified female candidates at higher rates. Women need to support qualified female candidates at higher rates. The way in which gendered socialization functions in our society has been shown empirically to decrease a woman’s odds of succeeding in or even entering politics. By increasing our support for more qualified female candidates we can start to alter the notion that women shouldn’t be in politics, in the minds of both the public and in the minds of women themselves. We can change the 23.7 percent.