This is the 10-year anniversary of the first GPI. How is the U.S. doing in terms of gender parity in 2023 compared to then?
Each year, RepresentWomen releases the Gender Parity Index (GPI), a measurement and evaluation tool that tracks women’s representation in national, state, and local government and assigns a score and letter grade to each state according to the number of women in elected office. We have released a GPI every year since 2013. Over time, the GPI has helped us to track progress toward gender parity, make comparisons between states, and highlight the states that have made the most progress from year to year.
Overall, the U.S. has made progress towards gender parity since we launched the GPI in 2013. In the first GPI, most states were far from reaching parity (50/100). No state earned an “A” (50+), five states earned a “B” (49-33), five states earned a “C” (32-25), thirty-two states earned a “D” (24-10), and eight states received an “F” and failed (9-0). In 2023, two states (Maine and Oregon) achieved an “A” for the first time. Twenty-four states are evenly split between “B” and “C” states, and the remaining states have earned a “D” or worse. Louisiana is the only remaining state to receive a failing score and grade.
Though it is true that the U.S. has made progress since 2013, the GPI also shows that gains for women in politics are slower and more uneven than they appear. The states that have made the most progress are concentrated along the Northeast and West Coast, while most Midwestern and Southern states lag behind. Furthermore, while the Democrats are near-parity for women in state legislatures, progress for Republican women has been incremental over the last ten years.
Why is it important to examine gender representation on the state level?
Rather than focus on one level of government, the GPI includes data on women’s representation in national, state, and local government. Part of the reason we do this is because it is possible for a state to score well for women’s representation in Congress but poorly for women’s representation in the state legislature (and vice versa). Rhode Island and Maryland, for example, are in the top ten states for women’s representation in the legislature but have no women in Congress.
What findings in the 2023 Gender Parity Index did you find most interesting?
Progress toward gender parity is not static. New Hampshire was the first and only state to achieve an “A” in 2015-2018 and 2020. In 2023, it ranks tenth in the GPI and has earned a “B” grade. In addition to breaking records and electing new women to office, it is as important to retain women already in office, or progress won’t be sustained.
Looking ahead, it is possible that Maine’s parity score and “A” grade will drop after 2026 if another woman governor is not elected to replace Governor Janet Mills when she is termed out of office. It is possible – Oregon achieved parity after electing Governor Tika Kotek to replace Governor Kate Brown after she was termed out of office, but this puts a lot of pressure on keeping a woman in one office to maintain parity.
This is the first year that two states received an “A” grade. Is there anything that these states do differently that can be replicated in other places?
While in most cases, states earn points according to whether a woman holds elected office, there are exceptions. For states with fewer than three U.S. House districts and the office of governor in all fifty states, we look at who won the last three elections and award points accordingly. In the case of the U.S. House seats, this is done to counterbalance the advantage that states with larger delegations (e.g. California) have over states with small delegations. For the office of governor, this is done because some states only have one elected executive, and this gives us more of an opportunity to assess how likely it is that a woman will run successfully for that office in that state.
As a result, recent open-seat gubernatorial elections had a major impact on this year’s scores. Six of the top ten states in the 2023 GPI have women governors, including both of this year’s “A” states, Maine (1st) and Oregon (2nd), as well as Michigan (3rd), New Mexico (4th), Iowa (7th), and Massachusetts (9th). Open seats, particularly those created by term limits, create opportunities for women to run for office. This said term limits are then later responsible for unseating women in office. This creates a bit of a complicated narrative where one of the best systems creating opportunities for women to enter politics later imposes a limit on how long they hold office.
In our case studies, we took a look at some of the top-ranked states and found that other factors, such as candidate training organizations and leadership incubators, can help to ensure that there are sufficient women running for office to replace women exiting due to term limits, as happened in Oregon. In other cases, other systems strategies can help to level the playing field for women candidates, such as ranked choice voting in Maine. It’s context-dependent because not every state has the same systems in place. In our research, we have found that a combination of candidate-level and systems-level strategies can help to create opportunities for women to run for office (e.g. through term limits), level the playing field (through ranked choice voting or public matching funds), and source and support women candidates (through candidate recruitment, training, and mobilization).
Do you expect any states to improve their score after the 2024 elections? Are any states in danger of backsliding?
States can backslide at any time, even between elections, if a woman departs office suddenly. Michigan is an interesting case because it was 0.5 points away from achieving an “A” in 2023. However, seven women in Michigan’s congressional delegation are up for election in 2024. Of these women, Senator Debbie Stabenow has already declared that she will not seek re-election. For the state to maintain its high score, it will need to both replace Senator Stabenow with another woman and retain all other women officeholders. To increase the state’s parity score, the state will need to elect additional women to office.