When you pick up a new Minnesota Daily next semester, 100 women will be members of the United States’ 114th Congress. This isn’t the only notable fact about the new Congress — it will also be overwhelmingly Republican.
The answer to why the GOP gained so much power lies in two somewhat contradictory facts. Because of the GOP’s restrictive stance on reproductive rights, it traditionally hasn’t received much support from women. Many consider the GOP to be made up only of rich white men. But the rise of this political party at both the federal and the state level actually demonstrates an important truth — if you want to gain power, diversity matters.
Achieving diversity in American politics isn’t an easy task. Women will make up 19 percent of federal legislators in 2015, a historic high. But those statistics don’t seem quite as victorious when you consider that women make up 50.8 percent of the U.S. population. A lack of qualified candidates doesn’t cause this imbalance in representation. Women consistently face structural barriers toward political offices that men never will.
Australian news anchor Karl Stefanovic recently demonstrated these perceived gender-expectation inequities by wearing the exact same suit on television for an entire year. Although Stefanovic is not an American or a politician, the implications of his suit experiment still apply to American politicians. Political candidates are on TV almost as frequently as news anchors during campaign season.
Can you imagine a female politician wearing the same outfit for the election cycle without anyone noticing? Not a chance.
Clothing choices might not seem like a big deal, much less an ominous “structural barrier.” But these little details that only women have to worry about build up. Eventually, they become an overbearing weight that could make a person exhausted just by thinking about running for office. Deliberate strategies to include women must be realized before we see equal representation in state and federal legislatures. The strategic recruitment of diverse candidates not only helped Republicans gain power, but it set a precedent for a more inclusive government.
Voters want equal representation. People who voted for Jill Upson — the first black Republican elected to the West Virginia House — or Victoria Seaman — the first Latina Republican in the Nevada Assembly — were voting for more than just the Republican ticket. They were casting just as strong a vote for diversity.
The majority of minorities and women still belong to the Democratic Party, but it’s encouraging to see the Republican Party also embrace diversity. Having 100 women in Congress isn’t enough. Both parties need to develop conscious and deliberate strategies for including women in the political process. It won’t happen on its own.
Including women helps one of the largest groups of the human population gain a voice and wins votes. As the 2014 elections demonstrated, more equal representation isn’t just wishful thinking — it’s a sound political strategy.