This year has the potential to be a significant one for women in the Senate: 2012 has the highest number of incumbent women up for re-election and plenty of women working to break into the historically male-dominated body.
As we’ve seen in previous studies, the strongest predictor of whether a voter will choose one of these female candidates is whether that voter believes women govern differently than men. Americans are nearly divided on whether there is a distinction, but presenting voters with a series of messages about women’s priorities and the lack of diversity in U.S. elected offices boosted interest in female candidates in our poll.
With careful messaging, women have an opportunity to break through. Right now, women make up just 17 percent of Congress but more than half the U.S. population. We rank 71st in the world — behind Turkmenistan — for women serving in legislative positions.
Yet six in 10 likely voters say the country needs more women in office — with two-thirds of women and more than half of men agreeing. While the reasons to bolster the number of women are many, perhaps chief among them is something President Barack Obama himself has acknowledged: Women would get more done. “That is almost guaranteed,” he said.
Barbara Lee is founder and president of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.