New Hampshire is a national leader when it comes to the representation of women in politics. Three women have held the state governorship and New Hampshire was the first and only state to send an all-female delegation to Congress in 2012. Additionally, New Hampshire was the first state in the nation to have a majority female state legislative chamber (in the state Senate in 2009 - 2010); as of October 2016, the New Hampshire General Court is almost 30% female.
In order to evaluate the representation of women in elected office and to identify practices and structures associated with better representation of women, Representation 2020 created the Gender Parity Index (GPI). The GPI evaluates recent and current representation of women in each state’s congressional delegation, state executive offices, state legislature and local government to generate a score out of 100. A score of 50 represents perfect gender parity.
New Hampshire shone in the Representation2020’s pre-election update of the GPI. The Granite State led the nation with a score of 55.5, far ahead of second-place finisher, Washington, which scored 45.6. However, New Hampshire’s score will fall after the 2016 elections.
New Hampshire looks likely to send an either an all-female or two-thirds female delegation to Congress in 2016, depending on whether Carol Shea Porter wins her race in the state’s fourth district. Current Democratic governor Maggie Hassan is locked in a tight race with Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte for the U.S. Senate. Ann McLane Kuster seems likely to retain her 2nd district seat, and Shea-Porter looks likely to win back her old seat (in early counting). This, combined with New Hampshire’s history of electing women to the governorship, will help ensure that New Hampshire will remain near gender parity in 2017. Its score will take a slight hit because two men, Colin Van Ostern (D) and Chris Sununu (R) are currently competing for the governorship vacated by Hassan.
New Hampshire might even be overtaken by Washington, whose three female incumbents in Congress (Democrat Suzan DelBene and Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers) are all likely to retain their seats. Additionally, Democrat Pramila Jayapal is currently challenging Republican Brady Walkinshaw for Jim McDermott’s seat in the state’s seventh district. If she wins, Washington will catch up to New Hampshire in gender parity.
No matter who comes out on top after the 2016 elections, one thing remains abundantly clear: we still have a long way to go to see gender parity happen in our lifetimes. The U.S. currently lags far behind other nations in representation of women, coming in at a dismal 96th place for the number of women elected in its national legislature. Structural reforms are badly needed to catalyze the election of women to office.
First, political institutions (such as political parties, political action committees and individual donors) must actively recruit and support woman candidates. Second, we must as a nation adopt electoral reforms that have shown to increase women’s representation in the past. Finally, we should consider internal measures that would make juggling the duties of public office and family life easier for women such as on-site child care, paid leave, and virtual or proxy legislative sessions.
If the U.S. adopted a political system that welcomed women’s participation, we would begin to see more states rival New Hampshire in gender parity rankings.