If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency this fall, it will be a watershed moment for women in politics. However female candidates are making very uneven progress in our region when it comes to winning office. Pennsylvania ranks 40th in the nation for electing women, Delaware ranks 28th, and New Jersey ranks 11th.
Looking at the facts behind the numbers, Delaware has never sent a woman to Congress, Pennsylvania has no women currently in Congress, and New Jersey went a decade without a woman in Washington until Bonnie Watson-Coleman arrived in 2015.
Kelly Dittmar, scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers says those numbers reflect whether there is a pipeline to office for women. Party leaders can help new candidates or be a roadblock.
“Parties are highly influential, particularly in our states, in determining who gets on the ballot and who is supported from the moment they get on the ballot to election day,” Dittmar said.
Political party heads recruit potential candidates and advise their campaigns. Donors also have a major influence in funding campaigns that support their policies.
The Rutgers center hosts annual “Ready to Run” trainings to coach women vying for office. There are also groups such as Lupé and Higher Heights which focus on helping elect black and Latina women. Women of color are elected to office even less often than for women as a whole.
Dittmar says helping feed that pipeline makes a difference. Ten years ago, New Jersey used to rank in the 40s, but has climbed up to 11th in the nation.
She says the bottom line is, the number of women in office will increase when the number running increases.
“To get us much closer to gender parity at all levels of office, we’re going to need to see more women running. We know when women run, they win at the same rates as men in comparable races.”