Despite the rocky history of women’s representation in Iowa, it remains one of the few states with a majority of women representing it in Congress. Six years ago, Iowans elected a woman to the U.S. Senate for the first time. Three years later, the state elected two women to the U.S. House for the first time. It’s safe to say that women’s political leadership is a new phenomenon in Iowa.
Republican Joni Ernst serves as one of Iowa’s two senators. She is joined by Republicans Rep. Ashley Hinson and Rep. Marianette Miller-Meeks as well as Democrat Rep. Cindy Axne. These women sit as three of the state’s four representatives. On top of this significant representation in Congress, Iowa also has a female governor, Kim Reynolds. This female-dominated political leadership is rare in the United States. In fact, there are only six other states with a similar majority. When specifically analyzing Congressional delegations with the same number of representatives, out of the six states that hold four seats in the House, Iowa and Nevada are the only two with a majority of female leadership. It’s evident that based on percentage alone, Iowa is a leader in how many women are in both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
What is interesting about the makeup of women in Congress is their political party affiliation – three out of the four are Republicans, with Cindy Axne being the sole Democrat. In line with ideas presented in social role theory, female politicians across party lines tend to gravitate toward similar policies, such as increased funding for child care services or the general expansion of welfare-type services. They also tend to agree about what they do not support, like the legalization of marijuana or the legalization of extramarital affairs. In general, motherhood will also have a significant effect on voting behaviors, according to the social role theory. With these commonalities in mind, the analysis of these female representatives’ voting records can demonstrate policy similarities between Republicans and Democrats from Iowa.
When considering who these women represent, it would make sense for them to support wind energy or agricultural efforts. For example, HR 1374 passed the House in June 2021, calling for an amendment to the Energy Policy and Conservation Act that would provide federal financial assistance to states to help implement, review, and revise their energy security plans. All three women from Iowa passed this bill. Another bill that all women in the House voted for was HR 485, a bill that would reauthorize the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. This piece of legislation plays into the social role theory, for a large portion of the “nay” votes were from men, and women across the aisle voted in its favor.
Another significant component of these female representatives’ influence in Congress lies in their committee assignments. Although no two women serve on the same committee, both Ernst and Axne sit on agriculture-centered ones. Additionally, both Ernst and Miller-Meeks sit on similar committees concerning veterans and the armed services.
Something that sets Iowa’s female majority apart from the delegations of other states is that they are also a Republican majority. It is uncommon to see Republican women in office at this level. There are many theories as to why there has been an increase in Republican women in office recently, but the rise in women’s participation in politics generally plays a part. Two organizations can be credited with playing a role in this rise of women representatives: Elevate PAC and EMILY’s List. Elevate PAC is specifically designed to help Republican women win elections. The group sponsored both Hinson and Miller-Meeks’ campaigns. On the other side of the aisle, EMILY’s List works to support Democratic women. It is the more established of the two organizations and helped Axne take office.
The way women in Iowa campaigned has also shifted in major ways recently. Female campaigns have become more informal than in the past, with candidates doing everything from wearing jeans when visiting farms to being more transparent about carrying student loan debt. This shift made these women seem more relatable to the average Iowa voter, whether they were a Republican or a Democrat. The increase in women running for president and touring the state during the caucus cycle was also key in creating room for Iowa to have a majority female Congressional delegation.
Iowa’s rise in female representation in Congress has shown major progress in the state’s beliefs about who is capable of being a leader, even in comparison to the rest of the country. Social role theory demonstrates policy groupings that exist across party lines, although the women are still separated by party in the majority of the legislation they vote for. Their involvement in committees surrounding agriculture, armed services, and budgeting show that women belong in all positions of political leadership. Additionally, a shift in how women run for office has added to their momentum. All of these factors were influential in spurring a surge of Iowan women in Congress.