ISPS Event on March 30: Why Are There So Few GOP Women in Congress?

Authored By 
Annabellle Hutchinson
Blog contributor 
Graduate Student
April 7, 2021

Why are there so many fewer Republican women in the U.S. Congress than Democratic women in the U.S. Congress? At a well-attended ISPS Democracy Series webinar held on March 30th on the topic of “Safe seats and female(under) representation in the U.S. Congress,”  a group of scholars presented new work that argues that a factor of the American political landscape - the existence of safe seats in congressional districts - is a part of the explanation. 

As Ian Shapiro, an author on the paper and Sterling Professor of Political Science, explained at the event, safe seats may have unintended consequences on the democratic representation of women in the U.S. Congress. The authors stated that because safe seats lead to ideological extremism and because research shows that women are, all else equal, stereotyped as more liberal than men, safe seats disadvantage women in the Republican party but may benefit women in the Democratic party when running for Congress in a district that is a “safe seat” for their respective party. 

Additional authors on the paper, Akhil Rajan and Alex Kustov lead a discussion on how different data sources they collected offered statistical evidence for the paper’s argument. The authors caveated their argument by stating that the presence of safe seats cannot explain the entire gap in female political representation but that safe seats is one factor of the American political landscape that drives the under-representation of Republican women in the U.S. Congress.

Two notable scholars of American politics served as discussants for the event. Frances Lee, Professor of Politics & Public Affairs at Princeton University and Jonathan Rodden, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, offered comments and constructive feedback on the project. Alan Gerber, the Charles C. & Dorothy S. Dilley Professor of Political Science, Director of ISPS, and the Dean of the FAS Social Science Division at Yale, moderated the discussion.

The project is co-authored by Akhil Rajan, Alexander Kustov, Maikol Cerda, Frances Rosenbluth, Ian Shapiro.