Hartwick prof sees small gains for women in Congress

Jan. 3—When the 118th Congress was convened Tuesday, Jan. 3, a little more than 27% of the members were women.

"If this is the pace of change, it will take 118 more years to have an equal number of men and women representatives in Congress," Laurel Elder, professor and chair of political science at Hartwick College said.

Elder said she was "eager to see the 2022 election because there was some talk about Republican women making gains."

However, that did not happen. "There were very little gains. It went from 147 to 149 women in Congress, a net gain of two," she said.

She said there are 25 women in the Senate and 124 women in the House of Representatives. There are 16 Democrat women and nine Republican women in the Senate. In the House, there are 91 Democrat women and 33 Republican women, she said.

She said while 41% of the Democrats in Congress are women, only 15% of the Republicans are women. She said both parties have millions of women as members, whose "voices are underrepresented in the 118th Congress."

She said it's important to have female representation on the different committees.

"I think women have different issues than men," she said. "Access to affordable day care and inflation affect women differently than men. Women are more likely to live in poverty and be the single head of household. Debate on these issues would be better if there were more women serving in Congress."

Elder released a book titled, "The Partisan Gap: Why Democratic Women Get Elected But Republican Women Don't" in 2021.

One Republican woman who wants to see more women elected to Congress is Rep. Elise Stefanik, NY-21, who started her own political action committee, Elevate PAC, to get more Republican women elected. Elder said the PAC had an impact in the 2020 election, but "there's only so much one person can do."

She said the Republican party as a whole should encourage more women to run for office.

Elder said with the small majorities in both houses of Congress, it will take bipartisanship to accomplish anything during the next two years. She said the previous Congress also had small majorities, but was able to accomplish several things through Republican support including gun control, health care for veterans and the infrastructure bill.

She said as the first woman house speaker, Nancy Pelosi worked to get a lot of legislation passed, and "Kevin McCarthy or whoever is elected has big shoes to fill."

She said there have been mixed results in research to see whether women in Congress get together to accomplish legislation. Some suggest women are more successful in getting things done in a bipartisan way, she said. However, new research says that's not the case because of the polarization of the political parties.

She said the Republican women in Congress are "pretty conservative," while the Democrat women are "quite liberal" and may not agree on some issues.

Vicky Klukkert, staff writer, can be reached at vklukkert@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221.