- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Despite Hillary Clinton’s historic campaign for the presidency, women still lag far behind men in holding elective offices at the federal and state levels.

Across the nation and in Washington, women account for only about 25 percent of office holders. In Congress, 19 percent of the seats are held by women, a slight increase from 17 percent in 2008.

“At the state legislative level, we have been pretty much at a flat line of stagnation, and the growth at the congressional level has been very, very slow,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. “There’s no elective office right now where women make up more than one-quarter of the officials.”

The most female governors ever serving at one time was nine; there are currently six.

Some women are hopeful that Mrs. Clinton’s groundbreaking candidacy as the first female major-party nominee for president will encourage more women to run for office.

“I absolutely think it will absolutely encourage more,” said Wendy Pierce of Alexandria, Virginia, after emerging from her polling place Tuesday. “I’m just really excited about the possibility of the first woman president.”

An administrator at a law firm, Ms. Pierce said the significance of voting for a woman for president sank in on Election Day, after a long and sharply negative campaign.

“In this election, everything has been lost with the negativity of the campaign, that this is a historic thing about to happen,” she said. “When I sit back and I think, I felt, ‘This is really neat.’ It was a no-doubter.”

Molly Knobler, an attorney in Alexandria, said she also believes Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy will spur more women to seek office, but she worries that the viciousness of the 2016 campaign between Mrs. Clinton and Republican Donald Trump also could discourage others.

“The vitriol in this campaign has been so I don’t know why anyone would want to do it,” she said.

Exactly 100 years after Republican Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman elected to Congress, there are a total of 104 women serving on Capitol Hill — 20 senators and 84 House members. Seventy-six of the female lawmakers are Democrats, 28 are Republicans.

In state legislatures, there are a total of 1,805 women officeholders, including 1,079 Democrats and 707 Republicans. That number is more than five times higher than it was in 1971, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

Still, the U.S. has lagged far behind other countries in the percentage of women holding office at the national level. A report in 2011 ranked the U.S. 91st worldwide, at 19.4 percent, while many countries in Europe and in Africa have national legislatures with 35 percent or 40 percent women, or higher.

Ms. Walsh said Mrs. Clinton could be expected to take on an active role in trying to boost participation of women in government.

“Given her history of being a supporter of more women being engaged in the political process, I would expect to see her out there talking about why more women need to run,” she said. “It won’t just be the silent message of ‘I’m doing this, you should think about doing it as well.’ I think it will be an overt, determined statement about why it matters to have more women in office in every level of government across this country. There’s a very good chance she will use the bully pulpit of the presidency to be someone who cheers women on and encourages them to run for office.”

She also said just the example of Mrs. Clinton becoming the first woman in the Oval Office would have an impact on the next generation.

“It cannot be underestimated, the value of kids, girls and boys, sitting in classrooms and seeing the poster of presidents, and there will be a black man and a women on that poster now,” Ms. Walsh said. “That sends a message to kids about who can lead in this country. As Marian Wright Edelman says, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’ More and more kids can see now somebody who looks like them up there. It becomes a possible thing for them to aspire to, and I think that’s really significant.”

A majority of Americans believe that women are subjected to sexist double standards when they run for office, according to a Pew Research Center survey released this week.

The poll found that half of Clinton supporters, including 57 percent of women, think she is being held to a higher standard than past presidential candidates because she is a woman. Only 11 percent of Trump supporters felt the same way though.

The survey also found differences in how male and female supporters of Mrs. Clinton view some of her personal traits. Only 26 percent of her female supporters said she is hard to like, while 41 percent of her male supporters said this phrase describes her.

And while 87 percent of women who support Mrs. Clinton find her inspiring, a smaller majority of her male supporters, 64 percent, said the same.


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