Iowa’s political landscape: Women remain underrepresented in local political offices

CATEGORIES: January 2024, Voices

In Iowa’s local elections, gender imbalance remains a notable issue. Data gathered by the Catt Center about Iowa’s county and city elections in November 2023 reveals that men hold more than 80% of elective county board seats statewide, and only two out of 99 county sheriffs were female.

Hannah Molayal, an undergraduate research intern at the Catt Center who collected and analyzed the 2023 data, commented, “We found that 50 of the 99 elected county boards were entirely filled by men, and only one was filled entirely by women.”

Mayoral elections in Iowa also depict a significant gap in female leadership, with over 80% of candidates being men. This gap raises questions about challenges women may face when seeking mayoral positions, including societal expectations, fundraising hurdles, and local factors contributing to a lack of female mayoral candidates.

Similarly, the center’s updated data also reveals fewer women ran as challengers in city races compared to incumbents, suggesting the need to address specific barriers that hinder women from entering local politics. This might include exploring the lack of access to political networks, stereotypes about leadership, and limited resources for female candidates.

“Women’s underrepresentation means that the interests, experiences and perspectives of more than half the population is missing in our public conversation,” said Karen Kedrowski, Catt Center director. “Hannah’s work highlights the importance of identifying and ameliorating barriers to women’s full participation in government at all levels.”

Carrie Ann Johnson, research and outreach coordinator at the Catt Center, emphasizes that to understand the impact of gender diversity on local governance, it’s essential to look beyond the statistics.

“Encouraging multiple perspectives in local governments can increase the innovation necessary to create policies and initiatives that address the different challenges faced by a variety of citizens,” Johnson said. “Communities thrive when everyone feels empowered to shape policies and legislation at the local level. It is vital to continue to increase women’s representation in local governments.”

2023 municipal election results
2023 county election results