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Western Women: Regional Gender Disparities in Congressional Representation

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Women have been elected to the U.S. House from western states at 2.5 times the rate as the rest of the country over the last century, with the region electing nearly 1/3 of all female-held seats with just 1/7 of all House seats

nancypelosi10.jpgOne of the headlines after Election Day was that women reached 20 seats in the U.S. Senate for the first time in history.

But women also were elected to the House of Representatives at the highest ever rate, claiming 78 seats across the 50 states, or 17.9 percent.

Democratic women elected to the House in 2012 outnumber their GOP counterparts by nearly a three to one margin (58 to 20).

But, as has been the case for decades, there continues to be a regional disparity for those women elected to the nation's lower legislative chamber.

A Smart Politics review of U.S. House election results finds that seats apportioned to western states have been 2.5 times as likely to be represented by a woman than any other region since the first woman was elected to the chamber in 1916, with western states holding nine of the top 13 slots led by Hawaii (38.9 percent), Nevada (22.2 percent), and Wyoming (20.4 percent).

Since the first woman was elected to the U.S. House in 1916 (Republican Jeannette Rankin of Montana), women have been elected to 1,149 of 21,318 House seats, or 5.4 percent.

The nation's 13 Western states (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming) have elected women to the House at the highest rate by a large margin during this span - 11.1 percent, or 359 out of 3,220 seats.

That is more than double the national average as well double the rate of any other region of the country.

In fact, women have been elected to the House from Western states at a 152 percent higher rate during the last century than the rest of the nation (4.4 percent).

Northeastern states have elected women at a 5.2 percent rate since 1916 (274 of 5,237 seats), with the Midwest coming in at 4.4 percent (266 of 6,042 seats) and the South at just 3.7 percent (250 of 6,819 seats).

Percentage of U.S. House Seats Won by Women by Region, 1916-2012

Region
US House seats
Seats won by women
% Won
West
3,220
359
11.1
Northeast
5,237
274
5.2
Midwest
6,042
266
4.4
South
6,819
250
3.7
Note: Total number of seats calculated by adding the number of seats allocated to each state in the region each election cycle. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

Despite accounting for just 15.1 percent of the seats in Congress during this 96-year span, Western states have tallied 31.2 percent of all seats won by women.

In other words, these 13 states have accounted for approximately 1/7th of all seats in the House over the last 96 years, but are responsible for electing nearly 1/3 of all female-held seats.

The Northeast region has held 24.6 percent of the seats in Congress over the last century and accounts for 23.8 percent of the seats won by women.

The South, meanwhile, has held 32.0 percent of the seats and can claim only 21.8 percent of such victories.

Percentage of U.S. House Seats Won by Women by Region and Seats Apportioned, 1916-2012

Region
% US House seats
% Seats Won by Women
West
15.1
31.2
Northeast
24.6
23.8
Midwest
28.3
23.2
South
32.0
21.8
Table compiled by Smart Politics.

The regional gender gap is closing a bit, but only slightly, and the West is still the most female-friendly region in the country.

In the 2012 cycle, the nation's 13 western states accounted for 38.5 percent of seats won by women (30 of 78), although they were apportioned only 23.4 percent of the seats in the House (102).

By contrast, the Southern region was apportioned 36.8 percent of House seats (160) but claimed only 21.8 percent of the seats won by women last November (17).

The Midwestern region also elected 21.8 percent of the victorious women of the 2012 cycle, but hold just 21.8 percent of the seats in the U.S. House (95).

The Northeast region holds 17.9 percent of all seats (78) and elected 17.9 percent of all female U.S. Representatives this cycle (14).

This continued strong western footprint is not simply due to (Democratic heavy) California.

While 34.0 percent of California's seats were won by women in 2012 (18 of 53), women also carried 24.5 percent of the House seats in the other 12 western states (12 of 49).

That is a 70.1 percent higher clip than the rate women were elected to the 333 seats in the other three regions of the country (14.4 percent, 48 seats).

Overall, nine of the Top 13 states with the highest rate of electing female representatives since 1916 are located in the western region of the country.

Hawaii - which elected Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa in November - by far sets the pace at 38.9 percent, with women elected to 21 of the 54 seats the state has been awarded since statehood.

Nevada (22.2 percent) and Wyoming (20.4) percent rank second and third respectively and are the only other states to eclipse the 20 percent mark.

Nevadans elected Dina Titus back to D.C. for a second non-consecutive term in 2012 to one of its four seats with Wyoming voters electing Cynthia Lummis to a third term as its at-large representative.

Other top ranking western states include California at #6 (12.1 percent), Oregon at #8 (11.1 percent), Colorado at #9 (10.5 percent), Washington tied at #10 (9.6 percent), Idaho at #12 (8.2 percent), and New Mexico at #13 (7.9 percent).

California is among the fastest rising on this list with the Golden State electing women to more than one-third of its U.S. House seats in the 113th Congress (18 of 53, 34 percent).

The highest ranking non-western state is Connecticut at #4, which has elected women 14.3 percent of the time to its U.S. House seats since 1916.

Last November, Democrat Elizabeth Esty won the state's open 5th CD race while Democrat Rosa DeLauro was elected to a 12th term in the 3rd CD.

Connecticut has had at least one woman in the U.S. House for 31 consecutive years ever since Democrat Barbara Kennelly won a special election in January 1982.

Maine, which reelected Democrat Chellie Pingree to its 1st CD, comes in 5th at 12.4 percent.

Maryland is #7 at 11.4 percent and elected one woman to its eight congressional districts in 2012 (four-term Democrat Donna Edwards).

Florida - tied for #10 at 9.6 percent - elected six women to its 27 seats: Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Democrats Corrine Brown, Kathy Caston, Lois Frankel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and Frederica Wilson.

The top ranking Midwestern state is South Dakota at #14 with 6.7 percent. The Mount Rushmore State has been buoyed with six consecutive wins in special and general elections between former Democratic Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and current at-large Representative Kristi Noem.

After the 2012 cycle, six states still remain that have yet to elect a woman to the U.S. House: Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Vermont. (Democrat Heidi Heitkamp was the first North Dakota woman ever elected to the U.S. Senate).

Also appearing in the Bottom 10 are Alabama (1.2 percent rate), Pennsylvania (1.2 percent), Virginia (1.2 percent), and Oklahoma (0.9 percent).

Percentage of U.S. House Seats Won by Women by State, 1916-2012

Rank
State
Total seats
Seats won by women
% Won
1
Hawaii
54
21
38.9
2
Nevada
72
16
22.2
3
Wyoming
49
10
20.4
4
Connecticut
280
40
14.3
5
Maine
129
16
12.4
6
California
1,661
201
12.1
7
Maryland
351
40
11.4
8
Oregon
199
22
11.1
9
Colorado
239
25
10.5
10
Florida
624
60
9.6
10
Washington
345
33
9.6
12
Idaho
98
8
8.2
13
New Mexico
101
8
7.9
14
South Dakota
90
6
6.7
15
Missouri
556
36
6.5
15
New York
1,906
123
6.5
17
Ohio
1,067
67
6.3
18
West Virginia
236
14
5.9
19
New Jersey
668
38
5.7
20
Arizona
172
9
5.2
21
Massachusetts
627
31
4.9
22
Illinois
1,168
56
4.8
23
Rhode Island
106
5
4.7
23
Tennessee
449
21
4.7
23
Kansas
278
13
4.7
26
Michigan
813
35
4.3
27
Nebraska
191
8
4.2
28
North Carolina
558
23
4.1
28
New Hampshire
98
4
4.1
30
Indiana
538
20
3.7
31
Utah
115
4
3.5
32
Minnesota
423
13
3.1
33
Texas
1,180
35
3.0
34
Louisiana
380
10
2.6
35
Wisconsin
471
12
2.5
35
Georgia
530
13
2.5
37
South Carolina
303
7
2.3
37
Arkansas
260
6
2.3
37
Montana
87
2
2.3
40
Kentucky
389
7
1.8
41
Pennsylvania
1,366
17
1.2
41
Alabama
402
5
1.2
41
Virginia
491
6
1.2
44
Oklahoma
329
3
0.9
45
Iowa
362
0
0.0
45
North Dakota
85
0
0.0
45
Vermont
57
0
0.0
45
Delaware
49
0
0.0
45
Mississippi
288
0
0.0
45
Alaska
28
0
0.0
 
Total
21,318
1,149
5.4
Note: Total number of seats calculated by adding the number of seats allocated to each state in the region each election cycle. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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