Cracking the Marble Ceiling: The Partisan Gender Gap in Congress

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Political Science


Since women began to run for political office in the United States there has been a persistent gap between the number of male legislators and female legislators. Within this gender gap there exists a partisan gap with more Democratic women in office than Republican women. In 2008, Dr. Laurel Elder produced an instrumental work that sought to explain the increasing partisan gap between the numbers of Democratic and Republican women in Congress. Elder’s piece evaluates three main causes of this phenomenon: the congressional pipeline, regional realignment, and the partisan gap that exists within minority women legislators. Since Elder’s initial findings were published there has been no further research to explain if partisan gap has persisted in the subsequent election cycles since 2007. What factors contribute to the partisan gap amongst female members of Congress? Do the three factors from Dr. Elder’s research still explain the partisan gap since the 2007 elections? This work utilizes Dr. Elder’s methodology to analyze the 2008-2012 elections. It explores if the congressional pipeline, regional realignment, and the partisan gap in minority women legislators contributes to the partisan gap between female members of Congress. This thesis analyzes data including the composition of state and federal legislatures by gender, race, and partisan affiliation as well as electoral outcomes from state and federal elections, with focus on the timeframe of 2008-2012. I find that Dr. Elder’s previously proposed factors continue to contribute to the partisan gender gap in Congress. These findings suggest that this partisan gap between female legislators will continue to increase unless the Republican Party strengthens its recruitment measures.