Progressive Politics Needs More Woman Politicians

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Kevin Drum has some interesting thoughts on how some seemingly non-gendered elements of political institution design may drastically impact the number of women inclined to run for office. In particular, it looks like systems where people run as part of a list of candidates may attract more women into the field than do systems (like the ones that predominate in the USA) where candidates run as lone wolfs.

This whole question of the relative paucity of woman candidates (research shows that women who do run do about as well as men) is something that I think progressives need to care more about. And not — or not just — for the obvious reasons. To be a bit reductive about it, assume there’s such a thing as “political talent” that some people have. It’s not the most important determinant of electoral outcomes, but it does matter at the margins and also impacts your ability to get things done while in office. There’s also such a thing as ideology. And as it happens, most of the people with progressive ideology are women. This is particularly true among people with college degrees. This means that if you’re fishing for extreme outliers in terms of political talent, and your pools only include men, that the conservative pool is going to have a much larger number of fish in it and you’ll have a much easier time catching some good ones. Conversely, if progressives manage to get more women running for city council and county commissioner and state assembly and district attorney, we’ll find that a much deeper bench of talent exists to run for mayor, attorney-general, U.S. House of Representatives, etc. Then at the next level, that’s where your governors, senators, cabinet secretaries, etc come from.

In the long run, this matters a lot. Candidate quality has a small but consistent impact on election outcomes. Absent an adequate pool of talent, progressives end up either backing candidates who aren’t so great or who aren’t so progressive. To improve the pool, you have to go to where the progressive people are—that’s women.