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Seattle Times Article on Decline of Diversity in Washington State Legislature

Published on November 25, 2012, by in General.

This Seattle Times article says the Washington state legislature is one of only a few state legislatures in which the number of women and racial minorities declined in the 2012 election. The article quotes an official of the state League of Women Voters as saying one reason for the decline is that women are less likely to run for office when campaigns are so personally unpleasant and when so much campaign rhetoric is hostile.

Washington state started using the top-two system starting in 2008. Some supporters of top-two argue that top-two systems bring about more moderation and less polarization, but political scientists who have studied the Washington state legislature dispute those generalizations.

Nations that use proportional representation have the highest percentage of females in national legislatures. Proportional representation systems generally give political parties great influence over who gets nominated, and in most proportional representation systems, parties leaders make determined efforts to increase female representation.

5 Responses

  1. Arthur C. Barker

    Those are insightful comments in the last paragraph. I wonder also if the two systems (representative versus parlimenetary) don’t appeal to a general difference in gender psychologies — confrontaional versus cooperative. A one on one representative contest seems like the political equivalent to a gladitorial bout with the winner taking all. A parliamentary election based upon proportional representation often results in coalition governments where compromise and accomodation are important traits in governing and because of shifting alliances through time even the primary governing party needs to be at least polite to the other parties in the house since they may well be in the ruling coalition at some point.

  2. Be Rational

    It is now clear that “top two” leads to a decline in diversity in legislative bodies. This is to be expected since “top two” is designed to secure control of the government by a one-party, state controlled election system under the thumb of the current good-old-boy ruling cabal.

  3. Demo Rep

    NO party hack leader control will happen with –

    P.R. = Total Votes / Total Seats = EQUAL votes required for each seat winner.

    Males, females, left, right, etc. will get their proportion of all seats.

    See P.R. in Israel, Netherlands, etc.

  4. El Chupacabra

    @2 Bingo!

  5. Jim Riley

    Richard Winger’s conclusions in his second paragraph are not supported by the actual data.

    The last peak in female members was after the 1998 elections when there were 60 female legislators.

    Since then

    2000: 57 -3 (blanket)
    2002: 54 -3 (blanket)
    2004: 49 -5 (pick-a-party)
    2006: 48 -1 (pick-a-party)
    2008: 48 0 (Top 2)
    2010: 46 -2 (Top 2)
    2012: 45 -1 (Top 2)

    Blanket: -6 in two elections (-3 per election)
    Pick-A-Party: -6 in two elections (-3 per election)
    Top 2: -3 in three elections (-1 per election)

    The blanket primary and Washington’s system of electing three legislators, two representatives by position and one senator, from each district may be conducive to electing females.

    Some voters deliberately attempt to have bipartisan representation. Others may attempt to choose members of their legislative delegation based on other factors such as gender. Some voters may be willing to have a woman among their legislative delegation, but if they only had a single representative, would be more inclined to choose a male.

    It was quite common to target one or the other house positions. An incumbent who was seen as being stronger might not have any challengers, while there would be several candidates for an open seat, or an incumbent who is perceived as being weaker.

    Under the blanket primary, a voter might look at the race for the nomination of the other party, and vote for a candidate they liked. An independent voter could choose the race where their vote made a difference. There could be a differential bias for women candidates, especially when there is relatively little information about the candidates. The same might happen in the general election. You could vote for a female candidate of the “other” party for one position, and the incumbent of your party for the other.

    Under the pick-a-party primary it is of course impossible to help out a candidate of the other party during the primary, and many voters would choose their party based on the gubernatorial or senate race. Under Top 2 it is possible to choose candidates on a race by race basis, though there is some risk of hurting your party by supporting a candidate of the opposite party.

    In Washington, the senate seat is more of a lateral move. The electorate is identical. It is quite common in Washington for a senator to retire, and one of the representatives run to replace them. To challenge an incumbent of your party is rare. It doesn’t help your party, and there is a risk of losing the house seat. A house member challenging a senator of the opposite party is somewhat more common – but it might involve risking almost sure re-election with at best a 50-50 proposition.

    The number of female representatives hit its peak of 41 (of 98) in the 1992 election, and has been declining since then. It will be 28 next session, so the 32% decline is quite substantial. But most of the decline occurred under the blanket primary.

    The number of female senators continued to increase, reaching a peak of 23 as late as 2004, and has since has begun to decline. While senators are 33% of the legislature, female senators were 43% of all legislators.

    This increase in female senators masked the decline in female representatives, as a male senator retired, and was replaced by a female representative, who was in turn replaced by a male.

    Overall, the decline in female legislators appears to be a recruitment problem. After the surge in the 1970s and 1980s the number of female legislators hit a plateau. Incumbents are rarely defeated, so once a woman is elected in a district, they have blocked entry for another woman, and legislator is not a position most people are willing to relocate for.

    A feature of the blanket primary was that many districts had representatives of opposite parties. This had been declining over time, under the pressure of increased social and political polarization between Seattle and the rest of the State, particularly the eastern part of the state. If a party has a 60% majority in a district it is difficult to maintain a mixed delegation. The candidate of the minority party has a difficulty getting elected. They may have high personal support, but once they retire, there is no one who can replace them.

    The pick-a-party primary put particular pressure on these districts since nominations were being made by more ideological voters. And if you pick your party based on the gubernatorial or senatorial race, you may pay less attention to the legislative races. If you can switch on each race, you may pay more attention.

    As a result of the 2012 election, there will be 9 mixed-party house delegations, an increase from 6. The simple fact that they represent the same district may moderate their views, at least with issues with particular impact on their district.

    Of the 9 mixed-party delegations, 7 (77%) are male-female delegations, compared to 17 (43%) of the 40 same-party delegations.

    Top 2 produces more mixed-party delegations which tend to be more mixed gender.

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