On Nov. 4, 2021, Meredith College, in conjunction with Dr. David McLennan, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Meredith Poll, published the 2021 Status of Women in North Carolina Politics report. This is the third report in this series published by Meredith College.
When asked for some background on his activism, Dr. McLennan said, “I had always had a passion for gender equity and helping specific women get elected to political office was one way in which I could try to address one of the major areas of inequality in our country.” After the 2002 election, Dr. McLennan and a colleague decided to create the North Carolina Center for Women in Public Service. He said, “Although that organization ceased operations in 2014, I continue this type of work with another organization co-founded by Meredith College called the Voices of Change Institute.” This organization recruits and equips women of color to seek political office. He said, “We completed our first program this year and are looking forward to our next institute next year.”
Dr. McLennan arrived at Meredith College in 2014, but he has been tracking numbers of women in office since the early 2000s. He said, “Meredith College gave me the opportunity to formally publish my findings through the Status of Women in North Carolina Politics reports. These reports help raise awareness of the issue of gender inequity in North Carolina politics and they build on Meredith College’s commitment to promoting women leaders.” These reports have been published in 2015, 2018 and 2021. The three-year timespan between each report accounts for election cycles and enough time to publish and analyze these findings.
In an effort to empower more women to run for office, Dr. McLennan said that “[he] hopes that the reports spur [women’s organizations] to work harder to help get more women into the political pipeline.” Dr. McLennan also empowers female leaders by hiring Meredith students to be his research assistants for the project. He said that “producing the report is very time-consuming and...collecting the data on these officeholders and the processes, like elections, that produce these officeholders is a tedious, but rewarding activity.” The research assistants and Marketing Department at Meredith College help these reports come together.
One major part of this year’s report is the underrepresentation of women in politics. Dr. McLennan says the data shows that three main factors contribute to this underrepresentation. The first is that fewer women run for office than do men, the second is that some areas of the state—primarily rural areas—do not have a history of women in political office and the third is increasing hostile sexism among some voters across all political parties.
The main conclusion drawn from the report is that women’s status in politics in North Carolina is a “mixed bag.” According to Dr. McLennan, this means that “there were some gains across North Carolina in terms of women’s representation since 2018, [and] conversely, there was really no increase in the overall number of women running for office.” He also said that the number of women of color in appointed and elected offices still “lags behind.” The report also found that “many women candidates…out-raised their male counterparts.” Dr. McLennan said that’s a good sign and “goes a long way to dispelling the myth that women cannot raise money.”
Dr. McLennan said that he wants the reports to make a difference in North Carolina. “There is evidence that journalists and advocates pay attention to the results and make some effort to remedy the problem,” he said. “As we head into another important election year, I am hopeful that more women will be running for office than last year.”
The full report can be found on Meredith’s website.
By Freya Dahlgren, Staff Writer