USA Today wrote yesterday that in this supposed Year of the Republican Woman, the number of women in the US House of Representatives is likely to actually decline. You don't say?
Fortunately, you were all aware of that likelihood, having carefully read all my blogging on the topic. But here's something that I haven't written (and that you wouldn't guess from that USA Today article): the percentage of women among the House Democrats will probably go up.
Currently, there are 56 women among the 256 Democrats in Congress, or 21.8% -- the highest rate ever. The total number is going to drop significantly; let's say they take a net loss of 40 seats, that drops the caucus to 216. And, while it's true that several incumbent Democratic women will lose in November -- maybe a half-dozen -- none of the retiring Democrats are women, and at least three women are almost certain to win in open Dem seats. (Dems nominated women in 7 of their 19 open seats; Republicans nominated 0 in their 20.)
Bottom line, next year we'd be looking at something like 53 women in that theoretical 216-member Democratic caucus -- which would be 24.5%, a new record.
This, coming after the '06-'08 Democratic wave elections, is similar to what happened in 1992-'94. In '92, thanks to redistricting, a number of incumbent (mostly male) Democrats lost their seats, while a number of brand-new districts (particularly in the mandated majority-minority districts) elected women. Then in 1994, in the 'Gingrich Revolution', a whole slew of (mostly male) Democrats retired or lost.
Here's a quick chart of the number of Democratic women in the House, and the number of Democratic men, in those three successive Congresses:
D Women D Men %Women
102nd 19 251 7.0%
103rd 35 223 13.5%
104th 31 173 15.2%
Similarly, the number of Democratic women in the House has risen in the past two elections, from 43 to 56, and now the big Republican wave is going to sweep out a whole bunch of men, leaving most of the women.
Republicans are also repeating that same past. In their case, they swept in a huge number of men in those years, along with a few women -- 7 of the 73 GOP freshmen in 1995 -- not changing the overall percentage much at all.
Those back-to-back '92-'94 elections were when the two parties separated paths. Before that, both parties had similar (low) percentages of women in their House caucuses. In 1995, Democrats were at 15.2%, and the GOP was at 7.4%.
Because of the low rate of turnover in the House -- and the large number of newly elected members just starting their careers -- not a whole lot has been able to change since then. But quietly, for the next decade, Democrats elected women at a much higher rate than Republicans (21% of new members vs. 13%) -- and that gap widened again in the last few years.
The result is that the Democrats, as I mentioned above, are at 21.8% women, while the GOP is at 9.5%. And now we're going to have the 1994 part of the cycle, redux. Democratic men are getting cleared aside, raising the Democrats' percentage, while Republican men are getting swept in. As it looks now, Republican women will fare even worse in 2010 than the 7-for-73 1994 election, and their percentage will drop even lower. And again, those new rates will be largely locked in after all this turnover.