Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Women Winning and Not Winning

Women Winning and Not Winning: Silver Raises More Questions

With last year's losses by Democrat Becky Greenwald and Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Iowa stayed in the club with only Mississippi: we're the only two states that have never elected a woman to Congress or as governor.

That's always subject to change, of course. Democratic eminence grise Jerry Hoffman was on Iowa Press the other week touting, of all people, conservaDem Geri Huser for the Grassley race a couple weeks ago, which would at least open up her legislative seat.

But in the meantime, Iowa still has its reputation as woman-unfriendly political turf, something some of Hillary Clinton's acolytes may still mention sotto voce (the Secretary of State herself is being a solid team player so far).

So what exactly constitutes woman-friendly turf? Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight spots what he calls "the Palin paradox." Districts that are disproportionately male are disproportionately likely to elect female candidates. Most male, still frontier state Alaska (106 men to 100 women) has Palin and Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Silver notes that of the 25 most male "districts" (with whole states counted twice to account for two senators), nine (36%) are represented by women. But of the 25 most female districts, only four (16%) are. "After controlling for the district's partisan affiliation, male-dominated districts were more than twice as likely to elect a Congresswoman as were female-dominated districts."

Nate doesn't have the answers, just the stats and some theories:
If this really is being driven by the sex ratios, however, and it's being driven in this extremely counter intuitive way, it's one of the more fascinating things that I've come across. Perhaps in male-dominated areas, women are more likely to violate traditional sex roles including something like running for political office, which has traditionally been a male-dominated occupation -- the Sarah Palin frontierswoman caricature works well here. It would be interesting to know whether there more women actually running for office in male-dominated areas, or rather, whether they are winning more often when they do run.

The thing that leaps out at me is that the most female districts are overwhelmingly (ALL of the top ten) African-American, urban, and Democratic (save for fluke Joseph Cao in New Orleans). The most male districts are a bit more Hispanic, though there's black seats here too (Eddie Bernice Johnson in Dallas for one), and some genuinely Republican seats pop up.

It's an interesting echo of the hard-fought identity politics of last year's primaries. Still, we're talking relatively small margins in America; the most male district, in the poor parts of California's central valley, is 115.2 men to 100 women, and the most female territory, inner city Philly, is 82.3 men to 100 women. Nothing like China and India, where (shudder) selective abortion, variations in health care quality, and other cultural barriers have led to "100 million missing women" and a generation of "extra" men.

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