2012 Election Brings Success for Women

The 2012 election resulted in a number of political successes for women, both in the U.S. Congress and the Iowa legislature, according to an analysis by staff at the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics.

Nationally, women now hold a record 98 seats in the 113th Congress – 20 women (16 Democrats, 4 Republicans) serve in the U.S. Senate and 78 women (58 Democrats, 20 Republicans) serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

These record-breaking totals follow all-time highs in the number of women running for Congress. In 2012, 36 women ran for the U.S. Senate, with 18 winning their primaries. The previous record was set in 2010 with 36 women running and 14 women winning their primaries. The 299 women who ran for seats in the U.S. House breaks the previous record set in 2010 when 262 women ran. Of the 299 women who ran in 2012, 166 won their primaries – which breaks the previous record of 141 primary wins by women set in 2004.

Women in Iowa also made a number of political gains in the 2012 election. A total of 35 women now serve in Iowa’s 85th General Assembly – 10 women (6 Democrats, 4 Republicans) serve in the Iowa Senate and 25 women (19 Democrats, 6 Republicans) serve in the Iowa House. This total ties the record number of women serving in the state legislature, set first in 2009, and brings the percentage of women serving to 23.3%.

Of the 226 candidates who ran for Iowa state legislative seats, 55 (or 24%) were women. This is the second highest number of women candidates competing for seats in Iowa’s state legislature. The record is 59, set in 2002, which—like 2012—was a redistricting year.

“Interestingly, women’s electoral success rates outpaced those of men running for Iowa’s state legislature,” said Valerie Hennings, scholar-in-residence at the Catt Center. “Sixty percent of the 55 women candidates won their races while 55% of the 171 men candidates won.”

The 2012 election results also underscore the importance of incumbency, which is an electoral advantage candidates enjoy regardless of gender. “As incumbents, women running for Iowa’s state legislature won 96% of their races, while as challengers they won 8%,” Hennings noted. “When competing for open seats, women candidates won 47% of their races.”

This trend mirrors patterns seen in election rates at the national level this year and in the past, Hennings added. “In 2012, 90% of women incumbents were re-elected to Congress, 56% of women candidates won open seats, and 6% of women challengers won their races.”

“When it comes to the political status of women in Iowa, the 2012 election results highlight two important points,” said Dianne Bystrom, director of the Catt Center. “First, we see that women can and do win when they run for office in Iowa. Second, women must be strategic when launching their candidacies. When entering the political arena for the first time, a candidate’s best chances of success are not as a challenger against an incumbent, but as a candidate vying for an open seat.”

To learn more about the status of women in state politics, please visit the Women in Iowa Politics database, which can be accessed through the research tab on the Catt Center website.