Think You Know Which State Elects Women Most Often? You Might Be Surprised
Wyoming is hardly known for anything beyond buffalo and Yellowstone National Park. The state only just legalized lotteries this past summer—yet a higher proportion of women U.S. House members have come from Wyoming than from anywhere else.
A study of more than 5,000 congressional elections, conducted by University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics, found that the number of female representatives has more than tripled in the last 25 years. Placing all 50 states on a grade scale of highest to lowest percentage of U.S. House seats won by women, Wyoming tops the chart, while the Southern states fare the worst.
Six states were given top marks—Wyoming, South Dakota, Hawaii, Connecticut, Nevada, and California—but Smart Politics adds that if “this report card were not graded on a curve, only one other state would get an ‘A’ rating over the last quarter-century: South Dakota.”
Wyoming placed first by a landslide—sending women to the House 76.9 percent of the time since 1989. It's an amazing feat for a little-regarded state up against much larger or more liberal states.
Although the South has generally lower percentages of female election winners, states from all regions of the country populate the chart's bottom 10; six of them have never sent a woman to the House: Alaska, Delaware, Iowa, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Vermont. The study did not find a single female candidate entering the bid to represent any of these states on Capitol Hill in the 97 years since the first woman was elected to the House in 1916. The study only looked at House races; Alaska's current senator, for example, is a woman.
The Equality State—Wyoming earned the nickname when it became the first government in U.S. territory to grant women the right to vote in 1869—has nominated a female House member to its at-large seat in each of its last 10 elections. It is the only state that has brought women into the chamber at an equal or higher rate based on its gender population (48.9 percent female residents as of 2012).
The runner-up for top elector of female House members, South Dakota, trails far behind with a 46.2 percent rating, but is given an A, thanks to the mercy of a curved grading system. This puts Wyoming's 76.9 percent at the top of the scale, appropriating letter grades for all those following—rather than distributing failing marks to most all 50 states.
Congress is at an all-time high for women membership and has more than three times as many female seats as it did 25 years ago. Only six of the 79 women currently serving in the House are expected to leave the chamber when the next Congress convenes in November. Four are running for other political offices, and two are retiring.
Overall, the Western region of the nation shows a higher rate of elected female representatives than the rest of the country—California holding nearly a quarter of all seats won by women during the 25-year study. Of course, the Smart Politics analysis can't take into account important variables—such as merit, incumbency, or campaign funds—to further explore things that can effect an outcome.
“It may be a case of success breeding success,” said James King, a political science professor at the University of Wyoming. “In some places to have a woman candidate is considered a novelty. Not here.”