Female Dragon

Is it possible to "gendermander"?

Congressional Banner

Since 1916, when the first woman was elected to the U.S. Congress, fewer than 10 percent of all its members have been women. Why is this number extraordinarily small?

One possible culprit: gerrymandering.

There are demographic characteristics that make U.S. House districts more or less likely to elect a Democrat or Republican.  In other words, the vast majority of U.S. House districts are “friendly” towards a particular party, and in many cases, extremely so. Can this same logic be used to predict the success of female candidates?  Are there districts that are “women-friendly” and more or less likely to elect a woman based on their demographics? 

It turns out that female candidates of both parties tend to do better in districts that are upscale, urban, racially and ethnically diverse and have higher proportions of people with college degrees. Women represent districts that are distinct from their male counterparts.  Consequently, the process of redistricting and gerrymandering may have the unintended consequence of affecting the success of female candidates. 


We have created a Women-Friendly Index, which calculates the probability of electing a woman in each of the 435 U.S. House districts during a given ten-year redistricting cycle. 

View 1956-2010 probabilities (download Excel file)

View 2012-20 probabilities (download Excel file)

Our data begin in 1956, so there are probabilities for each district for 1956-60, 1962-70, 1972-80, 1982-90, 1992-2000 and 2002-10, and 2012-20. 

The probabilities are created using a logit analysis on 12 demographic variables commonly used to predict partisan outcomes in House elections available from the U.S. Census and  other sources: Republican share of the presidential vote, district size in square miles, whether the district is in the South, median income, and the percentage of urban residents, black residents, Hispanic residents, foreign-born residents, blue-collar workers, residents with college degrees, married women and school age children. For more detailed information about these measures and their sources, see chapter 7 in our book. 

If you do download or use our data, please let us know. We would love to hear about your research or story. Contact us at cwpo@bw.edu.

Our Research

Book cover: Women and Congressional Elections: A Century of Change

For almost two decades, Barbara Palmer and Dennis Simon have explored how the "rules of the game" have affected the integration of women into Congress. Their latest book, Women and Congressional Elections: A Century of Change (Lynne Rienner Press, 2012), combines data on nearly 40,000 candidates with colorful stories from the campaign trail from the past 100 years to explore why it is taking so long for women to break the political glass ceiling.

Professor Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is professor of political science and the creator and executive director of the Center for Women and Politics of Ohio at Baldwin Wallace University. Palmer is also the director of the BW legal studies program and teaches a wide variety of courses in American politics, including Women, Politics & Media; Congress, the Presidency, and Elections; Civil Rights & Liberties; and Constitutional Law. She is the recipient of the Baldwin Wallace Student Senate Faculty Excellence Award and the Gigax Faculty Scholarship Award. She can be reached at bpalmer@bw.edu.

Professor Dennis Simon

Dennis Simon 

Dennis Simon was Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Political Science Department at Southern Methodist University. He was a founding member of the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies and was director of programs in American politics. Simon designed a number of innovative courses including The Politics of Change; The Life, Times and Legend of President John F. Kennedy; and The Politics and Legacies of the Civil Rights Movement, serving as the faculty leader of SMU’s annual Civil Rights Pilgrimage. In February 2017, Dennis passed away after a long battle with cancer. 

Recent Conference Papers:

“The Election of Women to the US House of Representatives: Is Demography Destiny?” Presented at the 2016 Southern Political Science Annual Meeting

“Gendermandering: The Impact of Redistricting on the Success of Women Candidates” Presented at the 2013 Southern Political Science Annual Meeting