HomeLearning CenterNumber of Congresswomen Choosing Not to Run Again Hits a Record High

Number of Congresswomen Choosing Not to Run Again Hits a Record High

Originally published by Kelly Dittmer for Forbes

The 2024 congressional elections begin in earnest next week when five states will hold their primary elections. But more sitting congresswomen than ever have decided not to add their names to the ballot for re-election. While women’s congressional departures in 2024 are not – at least for now – disproportionate to men’s, their persistent underrepresentation in Congress makes preserving existing numbers especially important.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, a record 14 (11 Democrat, 3 Republican) congresswomen have already announced that they are not running for re-election to their current seats in the U.S. House or Senate in the 2024 cycle. This overall count includes both women who are retiring and those who are running for other offices.

Distinguishing between reasons for departure, only women’s retirements are at an historic high. As of February 20, nine women – including six Democrats and three Republicans – have announced their retirements from Congress with no intention for running for other public offices. They include seven members of the House: Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Kay Granger (R-TX), Debbie Lesko (R-AZ), Kathy Manning (D-NC), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), as well as two women senators, LaPhonza Butler (D-CA) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

While retirements guarantee net losses in women’s congressional representation unless new women are elected to fill the gap, some departing women may only be moving chambers. Four current women in the House are running for the Senate, including two women – Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) and Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) – who are currently favored in their contests. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA) and Katie Porter (D-CA) are competing for the same U.S. Senate seat in California, ensuring that at least one of these women incumbents will not be in Congress in 2025. U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) will also be out of Congress in 2025, when she will be campaigning instead for governor of Virginia.

A high number of departures among congresswomen begs questions of both cause and effect. Is there something about the current political context that is motivating women to leave public office? New findings on the harassment and abuse faced by political leaders, as well as the continual gridlock in Congress, suggest there are myriad factors that could fuel attrition. And distinctly negative experiences among women could make their retention even less likely than men’s. But the congressional data for 2024 does not yet indicate a uniquely gendered difference in either the cause or commonality of congressional departures.

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