Women make up the majority of registered voters in North Carolina but are woefully underrepresented in political office, according to a new report from Meredith College.
The report, called “The Status of Women in North Carolina Politics,” was released Monday, along with poll results showing Hillary Clinton might find resistance among the state’s voters in a presidential race.
The study gives a detailed accounting of women in elected office in the state.
Among the findings:
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▪ Women account for 54 percent of registered voters but hold less than one-quarter of all appointed and elected offices.
▪ In 44 North Carolina counties, there are no female county commissioners.
▪ Women occupy less than 20 percent of elected positions with taxing and spending authority.
▪ Men are 60 percent more likely to consider themselves “very qualified” to run for office.
The results also show that women have actually lost ground in their representation since the 2010 midterm election. The percentage of women on the North Carolina ballot has declined since then – a trend that has played out in other states as well.
“Sometimes we think when we have a woman senator or a woman governor, we think the problem has been solved,” said David McLennan, the report’s author and visiting professor of political science at Meredith. He referred to the high-profile examples in North Carolina of former Gov. Bev Perdue and former Sens. Kay Hagan and Elizabeth Dole.
There are several factors at work, McLennan said. Women who do enter politics are likely to do so later in life, after childbearing years. As such, they are less likely to move into leadership positions within elected bodies or political parties.
Also, women are less likely to be encouraged to run for office by party leaders and political activists, McLennan said. And in rural areas, there are fewer female role models on the political scene.
Despite favorable patterns of voters electing women, McLennan said, female candidates are more likely to perceive the environment as biased against them.
“In some ways, there are lingering stereotypes, and this is something that keeps women from taking that first step,” he said.
But when they do take that step, they are more likely to be successful than men, the report said.
In 2014, 25 percent of the candidates in North Carolina elections were women – and 63 percent of them won their races.
They’re also better at fundraising, the report found. In the 28 most competitive political races in North Carolina in 2014, for example, women raised nearly 30 percent more money than men.
The key to encouraging more women to run for office may be just raising awareness, McLennan said.
“I really do think it starts at the high school and college level, when we have to be explicit about what women can bring to the table,” he said.
Research has shown that female candidates may raise different issues than men in the public policy arena. They may also be more inclined to collaboration and compromise, whereas male candidates are more likely to be hierarchical in their approach.
The report included short biographies of women in politics, including Susan Johnson, sheriff of Currituck County. She is the only current female sheriff in the state, and in the report, she described her approach to the job.
“My perspective as a woman in situations differs from my male counterparts because I lean more toward the idea of working toward the root of the problem than just affecting an arrest and solving the current incident,” she said in the report.
Also on Monday, the Meredith College Poll found that Hillary Clinton may encounter difficulties in North Carolina if she is the Democratic nominee for president in 2016.
Of North Carolina voters surveyed, 51 percent said they were somewhat unlikely or very unlikely to vote for her, compared with 41 percent who said they were somewhat likely or very likely to vote for her.
In general, 61 percent of those surveyed said men and women make equally good political leaders.
The survey of 347 registered voters was conducted Feb. 2-9 and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5.3 percentage points.