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Rutgers experts discuss record number of women elected to U.S. Congress

The 118th U.S. Congress saw a record number of women elected to public office. – Photo by @MurphyforFL / Twitter

During the 2022 midterm elections, female politicians won a historic 149 seats in the U.S. Congress, according to a release from the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP).

The highest number of seats held by women in Congress at any one time was 147. Despite the increase in seats, women still constitute only 27.9 percent of the legislature, according to the release.

Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the CAWP, said this consistent disparity should serve as a reminder to society that there is still progress to be made for women to be equally represented.

"It's always one of these things where we have to celebrate the game and celebrate that we're making forward progress, but also use that data to remind us of how far we have left to go," she said. "Something to celebrate and pay attention to is the different class of women that are coming in."

Dittmar said the new Congress is composed of many women coming from different racial, ethnic and experiential backgrounds. She said that more consideration should be given to the viewpoints they will bring into the chamber.

In terms of racial and ethnic diversity, the CAWP reported that a new record has been set for the highest number of seats held in Congress by Latina and Black women. Latina women earned 19 seats, while Black women earned 27 seats.

Dittmar said that progress for Latina and Black women is especially seen in states like Pennsylvania, which elected its first Black female representative. Oregon, Colorado and Illinois elected their first Latina representatives.

Despite these developments, Nikol Alexander-Floyd, a professor in the Department of Political Science, said that this progress is inequitable. While women of color have more presence in the House of Representatives, there is not a single Black woman senator, she said.

Regarding political parties, there will be a total of 107 women from the Democratic Party and 42 women from the Republican Party serving in both chambers, according to the CAWP’s release.

Dittmar said that one reason for this difference in party representation is that the American female population generally identifies as a Democrat and votes along party lines. Alignment with the Democratic party stems from the general policies and forms of government aid they support.

Alexander-Floyd said that Republicans tend to prioritize delegating authority to men at home, in religious spaces and in public office.

Dittmar said that Republican leaders and voters often prioritize having optimal candidates without making deliberate efforts to consider their identities. Meanwhile, the Democratic party and interest groups like Emily’s List work to nominate and support female candidates. 

Both Dittmar and Alexander-Floyd said they anticipate different policy and agenda outcomes resulting from newly elected voices and changes in leadership.

"We sometimes focus too much on 'that policy will pass,'" Dittmar said. “More importantly, what will happen is that you will have these (female) voices and perspectives in the debates and in the process that yields these outcomes."

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