Today is Election Day in Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia.[i] Either one or both chambers of each state’s legislature is on the ballot in this off-year election, giving us a chance to identify gender trends before the bulk of states hold state and federal elections in 2020.
1. Are more women on the ballot in 2019?
The charts below show recent trends in the number of women state legislative nominees in each state by chamber and party. What they reveal is that the number of women who made it through their party primaries is higher in 2019 than in the previous election in every case. While the increase in women nominees for the Virginia Senate was notably higher (+64%) than recent cycles, gains in women’s nominations across other chambers are more modest. Perhaps most notably, while the number of women nominees for the Virginia House of Delegates increased by 68% from 2015 to 2017, the increase from 2017 to 2019 is just 19%.
2. Do women represent a greater share of the candidate pool in 2019?
The table below tells a positive story; women are a greater proportion of all state house and senate nominees this year than in each previous cycle. Gains in raw numbers of women nominees are less notable if they are matched by increases among men. In order to evaluate the representativeness (at least vis-à-vis gender) the candidate pools in state legislative contests, we must consider women nominees’ share of all major-party lines on this year’s general election ballots.
3. Will Republican women see gains in 2019?
Women made historic gains in election 2018, but those gains were limited to Democratic women. Likewise, Democrats were responsible for the historic gains for women in Virginia’s House of Delegates in 2017. Partisan differences persist in 2019, with Republican women representing a smaller proportion of all major-party nominees than Democratic women in each state holding legislative elections tomorrow. Most notably, Republican women are less than 30% of Republican nominees in all chambers, while Democratic women are more than 30% of nominees in all but one chamber holding elections tomorrow. In Virginia’s House of Delegates election, women outnumber men among Democratic nominees.
While Republican women still represent a smaller share of their party’s nominees this year, they make up a larger share of their party’s nominees than they did in the previous cycle in each chamber’s contests. Moreover, as the charts above indicate, Republican women’s nominations increased in nearly every chamber this year compared to the previous cycle.
4. Are women poised to make gains in state legislative representation in 2019?
One way to assess women’s chances of gaining seats in 2019 is by looking at the type of races in which they are nominees. As the charts below show, women are nominees for more open seats (no incumbent running) in 2019 than in the previous cycle in Virginia and Mississippi house elections. They are a greater number of challengers to incumbents this year than in the previous cycle in contests for the Virginia Senate, New Jersey Assembly, and Mississippi House. While challengers typically fare worse than incumbents and candidates running for open seats, the success of women challengers in Virginia in 2017 (30% win rate) and Congress in 2018 should caution predictions of their demise this year.
Stay tuned to CAWP for our post-election analysis of this year’s contests on Election Watch, where we will provide the definitive answer about women’s gains (or not) in state legislative seats.
5. How far are we from reaching gender parity in these state legislatures?
On Election Day 2019, women hold 28.9% of all state legislative seats nationwide. Women’s state legislative representation currently ranges from 13.8% (Mississippi) to 30.8% (New Jersey) in the states holding elections this year. While we may see gains as a result of the 2019 election, gender parity will almost certainly remain elusive in these state legislatures. It would take women nominees winning in nearly every district in which they are running to achieve gender parity in Virginia’s state legislature, while gender parity is impossible as a result of this cycle in both New Jersey’s and Mississippi’s legislatures.
Does any of this foreshadow what we’ll see in 2020? If so, these data should urge both optimism and caution. In 2019, women are better represented on state legislative ballots than previous cycles, but the increases in women’s candidacies are smaller than we saw going into the 2017 cycle. Moreover, partisan disparities persist and, even with an increase in women candidates, gender parity in state legislatures is an unlikely result of this year’s elections. Similar trends are worth watching for in election 2020.
[i] Kentucky is also holding statewide elections today and Louisiana will hold state legislative and statewide elections on November 16, 2019.
With one year to go until Election Day 2020, the Center for American Women and Politics has asked experts in gender and politics – scholars and practitioners alike – to provide their outlooks for the gender and intersectional dynamics to watch in the next year. See their contributions below and stay tuned to CAWP’s Election Watch throughout the campaign for additional, and more detailed, analyses of these dynamics. Finally, don’t miss CAWP’s latest report, Unfinished Business: Women Running in 2018 and Beyond, for important context of what happened in 2018 and what we’re watching in the year ahead.
To what degree will there be pressure to ensure that the ticket is diverse in some meaningful way?
Kathleen Dolan, Distinguished Professor of Political Science
University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
The selection of a vice presidential candidate is always an interesting aspect of a presidential election campaign, but the forces surrounding the 2020 Democratic nomination may make this one particularly interesting – and possibly historic. The Democratic Party tends to value diversity as a guiding principle and, as a result, has attracted the most diverse pool of candidates for the nomination that we have ever seen. Women, people of color, and members of the LGBT community can see themselves reflected in many of the candidates and can hear these candidates speak to issues important to their communities.
Given that the last two Democratic nominees were a Black man and a White woman, I wonder to what degree there will be pressure to ensure that the ticket is diverse in some meaningful way. If the primary process results in one of the White men being the nominee, will there be pressure on that candidate to choose a woman or a person of color (or both!) as the vice-presidential candidate? Would the nomination of a White woman lead to the selection of a person of color for the #2 spot? Would a primary victory by a woman ironically lead to a call for the vice-presidential candidate to be a man? Given the diversity of the pool of candidates this year, the Democrats may have the chance to field a historic ticket.
I’ll be watching non-college-educated White women.
Christine Matthews, President
In 2016, non-college-educated White women gave Donald Trump a nearly thirty-point margin over Hillary Clinton. But it appears the president has not worn well with them.
In a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, 53% of non-college-educated white women said they disapproved of the job Donald Trump is doing; just 42% approved. While the president can count on support from white non-college-educated men who remain ardent supporters, the math does not work for him without the women.
However, it’s not all good news for Democrats. Their support from non-college-educated women may depend on who they nominate. If it’s an old white man, then they are in luck. White non-college-educated-women prefer former Vice President Joe Biden by twelve points (54%-42%) and Senator Bernie Sanders by five (50%-45%) over Trump. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris tie with Trump and Mayor Pete Buttigieg is down by a few points. This isn’t set in stone, obviously, but this early polling does send a signal about what non-college white women are looking for. They are the ones I will be watching.
Retention and growth.
Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women and Politics
I’m watching to see if the 35 first term incumbent Congresswomen running for reelection, many of whom won in districts they flipped from Red to Blue, will retain their seats. I’m also attentive to the Republican women who are running for the House this cycle. In 2018, 41 seats changed party hands from Republican to Democrat, making those seats particularly vulnerable to a GOP challenge in 2020. Will Republican women be recruited and run for these targets of opportunity? Will they make it through their primary? Will they have the financial backing they need to be successful? Can Republican women make up some of the ground they lost in 2018, both in Congress and in state legislatures?
An eye towards intersectional candidates.
Ivy Cargile, Assistant Professor of Political Science
California State University – Bakersfield
Candidates’ identities matter. The question for 2020, however, is in what ways will the intersecting identities of women candidates of color matter? Women of color candidates made history across levels of office in 2018, and there is little doubt that their intersectional identities helped to propel them. For the last two years, the American electorate has witnessed a government with elected officials who are more representative of them. The power of descriptive representation for communities who are underrepresented can be mobilizing. Will we see similar effects in 2020? And will the 2018 midterm elections motivate large numbers of women of color to decide to run for political office?
A quick glimpse of candidates such as Catalina Lauf (a Latina Republican seeking to challenge Lauren Underwood in the Illinois 14th Congressional District) or Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez (a Latina seeking to challenge Republican Senator from Texas John Cornyn) signals this might be true. Beyond the numbers, however, how will voters react to women of color candidates? Will we have a repeat of the aftermath of the 1992 elections where the country elected historic numbers of women but gains slowed thereafter? As we get closer to 2020, it is vital to remain keenly aware of how the identities of women candidates of color will influence their campaigns and electoral outcomes.
Our research team is analyzing the traits used to describe the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates in online, print, and television media.
Erin C. Cassese, Associate Professor of Political Science
University of Delaware
Meredith Conroy, Associate Professor of Political Science
California State University – San Bernardino
Researchers have been tracking cable and online news coverage of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates to see who is garnering the most attention. Since announcing his candidacy, former Vice President Joe Biden has led the pack with marked consistency. But the amount of media coverage candidates are receiving can only tell us so much. Past research shows that there are qualitative differences in coverage, which can shape public perceptions of the candidates, particularly along gender lines. Given the record number of women in the presidential primary, it seems critically important to understand whether media coverage of the women running is more negative and whether primary race coverage more generally reinforces stereotypic associations between gender and power. And with more people paying attention to the field than ever before, media coverage is arguably more consequential to a candidate’s credibility, standing in the polls, fundraising, and ultimately, to their success.
To get a handle on whether male and female candidates receive qualitatively different media coverage, our research team is analyzing the traits used to describe the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates in online, print, and television media as the primary contest unfolds. We’re focused on five dimensions of coverage: warmth, competence, compassion, honesty, and leadership. One of our goals in this project is to determine whether there are gender differences in the traits used to describe the candidates and whether these differences reflect biased media coverage of their campaigns. Our focus on warmth and competence in particular give us new insights into whether current female candidates continue to face a double bind –the need to embody a particular mix of both masculine and feminine traits in order to appear palatable to American voters. The double bind was a challenge for Hillary Clinton’s candidacies in 2008 and 2016, and we will evaluate how it manifests in 2020.
I want to see if national power brokers, gatekeepers, and institutions reevaluate their assessments of the viability of women of color as they look to 2020.
Founder, Higher Heights
Visiting Practitioner, Center for American Women and Politics
Of the 36 newly elected women in the 116th Congress, 25 of those women flipped seats from red to blue. Given the performance of women candidates and particularly the performance of women of color, I want to see if national power brokers, gatekeepers, and institutions reevaluate their assessments of viability as they look at 2020 down ballot candidates. It has been shown that a Black woman candidate is a great return on an investment, but of the five new Black women elected to Congress in 2018, those same gatekeepers, power brokers, and institutions sat on the sidelines until it was inevitable that those women would be the nominee when in many races where white women ran, they endorsed very early in the primary process when, all things being equal, the Black women should have received the same support.
I am also curious as to whether we will see the same robust field of Black women candidates at the Congressional level in 2020 as we did in 2019. Are Black women still feeling that the stakes are too high for them to sit on the sidelines or are they disheartened by the unsuccessful bids of women like Stacey Abrams whose candidacies were sabotaged by voter suppression and gerrymandering?
I’ll be watching how women candidates are raising and spending money in 2020… and how race and gender are working together to shape the campaign finance landscape.
Kira Sanbonmatsu, Senior Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics
One thing I’ll be watching in 2020 is campaign finance. Money is only one factor in campaigns. But it’s an important area to watch for the women running in 2020. Women candidates are successful fundraisers. However, many questions remain about whether fundraising is a level playing field for women candidates and especially women of color candidates. How are women faring as they pursue all levels of office including the presidency? Women donors are more involved in elections than ever before but they’re still outpaced by men’s giving. American women, including women of color, earn less than men and have fewer assets.
I’ll be watching how women candidates are raising and spending money in 2020, how they fare in comparison with men, whether women are able to close the gender gap as contributors, and how race and gender are working together to shape the campaign finance landscape. One resource I’ll be following is the comprehensive, 50-state information gathered by the National Institute on Money in Politics.
I’m paying close attention to the off-year 2019 state legislative elections for the Virginia General Assembly and their implications for 2020.
Rosalyn Cooperman, Associate Professor of Political Science
University of Mary Washington
I am paying close attention to the off-year 2019 state legislative elections for the Virginia General Assembly and their implications for 2020. In 2017, CAWP ranked Virginia 38th in the nation for women's representation in state legislatures. Following the elections that saw an unprecedented number of women Democrats elected to the Virginia General Assembly, the state jumped to 22nd for women's representation and the Virginia House of Delegates nearly flipped from red to blue. Following the 2018 midterm congressional elections, Virginia sent three newly elected women Democrats to Congress – Representatives Elaine Luria (VA-2), Abigail Spanberger (VA-7), and Jennifer Wexton (VA-10), all of whom defeated Republican incumbents – and flipped the state's congressional delegation from majority Republican to majority Democrat.
With an eye to 2020 congressional and presidential elections, I will be watching to see how Democratic and Republican women candidates fare in the November 2019 state legislative races. Several women legislators face competitive re-election bids. A number of progressive groups, including EMILY's List and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, have pledged funds to support women Democratic candidates and flip majority party control of the Virginia General Assembly. The results from 2019 may again foreshadow voter behavior in the Commonwealth in 2020 and also signal how Representatives Luria, Spanberger, and Wexton will fare in their first re-election bids.
I’m watching the field of Senate and House races, particularly in states where Latinas/os/xs hold a critical mass (30% or more).
Anna Sampaio, Professor of Ethnic Studies and Political Science and Chair of Ethnic Studies Department
Santa Clara University
Given their standing as the largest racial/ethnic minority population in the U.S. and their growing impact on key statewide races as well as the national electorate, my political lens this election is squarely fixed on Latina/o/x candidates and voters.
On the national stage, Julian Castro has struggled as a presidential contender, but has stood out from the crowded Democratic field by articulating a complex intersectional analysis of immigration reform and reproductive rights – challenging perceptions that these are exclusively raced or gendered issues. As the Democratic field narrows, I’m watching to see how Castro’s work on these key issues translates into the DNC platform and whether he retains his footing on the national stage as a vice presidential selection (particularly for Elizabeth Warren). I’m also watching the field of Senate and House races, particularly in states where Latinas/os/xs hold a critical mass (30% or more) and where there are high profile Latinas with political experience, who ran in previous races, or have held statewide office. Colorado stands out in this mix as activist Lorena Garcia is running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate seat, and Crisanta Duran, who was the first Latina state House speaker in the country, will challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Diana DeGette.
I’m also watching the impact of Latina/o/x voters on the Democratic primaries and key Senate races in Arizona and Colorado (both considered tossup contests) as well as New Mexico. In both Arizona and Colorado, the mixture of competitive Senate races and a growing tide of disenchanted Republicans and independent voters increases the likelihood that a mobilized Latina/o/x electorate could flip these seats to Democratic control and help to shift the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. Similarly, Latina/o/x voters in California and Nevada stand to strongly impact the Democratic primaries as both states vote early this cycle with Nevada’s caucus on Feb. 22 following closely after New Hampshire, and California’s primary having moved up to March 3rd.
Gender matters for the men, too.
Kelly Dittmar, Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics
My own research investigates how gender shapes candidate behavior and campaign strategy. In my book and in analyses I have done in elections 2016 and 2018, I have emphasized (and shown) that the responsibility to redefine our ideals of political leadership – so that they are not so explicitly tied to masculinity and men – should not and does not fall on women candidates alone. Men play a central role, especially as they continue to outnumber women as candidates for office, in reinforcing or rejecting the status quo in American elections. Research focused on masculinity in presidential politics demonstrates men’s influence most overtly, but male candidates across parties and levels of office regularly make strategic and tactical decisions that maintain or reject masculinity as the standard by which fitness for political office is measured.
As we enter 2020, evaluating gender dynamics includes asking how men will navigate the gendered terrain of electoral politics this cycle. What pressure will be placed on them to speak to issues of gender equality (in policy and political representation) and/or to address their own privilege while making the case for their own candidacies? Does their gender strategy and/or behavior indicate maintenance or disruption of traditional rules of the game? And, more specifically, will Democratic presidential candidates – men and women alike – see the strategic value of contrasting President Donald Trump’s performance of masculinity in the ways they present themselves throughout the campaign?
Will there be another significant increase in the number of women who run for Congress in 2020? More importantly, what will their proportion be of the total pool?
Kathleen Dolan, Distinguished Professor of Political Science
University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
As we saw in 2018, a historically high number of women candidates ran for Congress. The number of women running for the House and the Senate were significant increases over previous high totals. The most common explanation for this increase was that women were mobilized by President Trump’s election and the resulting activism of the women’s marches. After the election, we saw an all-time high number of women winning and serving in Congress. However, the overall percentage of women in Congress rose only slightly, from 21 percent to 24 percent. This was because, ironically, the number of men who ran for Congress in 2018 surged as well. In 2016, 1432 men ran for Congress. In 2018, that number was 1700. President Trump’s election appears to have mobilized all Democrats, women and men. As a result, women’s proportion of the total candidate pool in 2018 was consistent with previous cycles.
So advocates for women’s representation in office will be watching to see if there is another significant increase in the number of women who run for Congress in 2020. But, more importantly, we will keep an eye on their proportion of the total pool, which should give us a sense of whether women can comprise a greater percentage of the members of Congress after the election.
We’ll see many more firsts – not just more women, but more openly LGBTQ candidates and particularly more transgender candidates running (and winning).
Melissa Michelson, Professor of Political Science
In 2008, voters took a giant step forward on the path to equality by electing our first Black president. What’s the next giant step forward that we’ll take in 2020?
I think we’ll see many more firsts at the sub-presidential level, building on the 2018 results – not just more women, but more openly LGBTQ candidates and particularly more transgender candidates running (and winning). A notable groundbreaker here was Danica Roem in Virginia, who won in 2017 and is currently seeking reelection to the Virginia House of Delegates. She inspired multiple transgender candidates in 2018. That Rainbow Wave election also saw the groundbreaking victories of the openly gay governor of Colorado, Jared Polis, and the openly bisexual U.S. Senator for Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema. National survey data finds a strong majority of Americans would be comfortable being represented in Congress by a member of the LGBTQ community, and even with an LGBTQ president.
In addition to another record year of LGBTQ candidates and victories, we should be watching for whether this trend of increasing diversity will also include Republican candidates. Right now, of 765 openly LGBTQ elected officials in the country (0.15% of all elected officials), only 23 are Republicans.
It remains an open question whether we will see an increase or a drop in women’s representation across the two parties.
Michele Swers, Professor in the Department of Government
One of the big stories of 2018 was the sharp increase in the number of Democratic women elected to Congress, particularly women of color, and the steep decline in the number of Republican women. With many of the Democratic women elected from districts that supported Donald Trump in 2016, will these women win re-election? Split-ticket voting is declining, and it will be harder to sell themselves as independent problem-solvers when the House is consumed by the impeachment inquiry and has few legislative accomplishments to tout.
Some of the U.S. House races to watch include candidates Abby Finkenauer (IA), Abigail Spanberger (VA), Lauren Underwood (IL), Elaine Luria (VA), Elissa Slotkin (MI), Lucy McBath (GA), and Xochitl Torres Small (NM).
The increased number of vulnerable Democrats combined with a significant number of Republican retirements means that Republican women have more opportunities to run. However, they need to win their primaries. The first female head of recruitment for the NRCC, Elise Stefanik, reported recruiting more than 100 female candidates in the 2018 cycle, but only 35 non-incumbent Republican women made it through their House primaries and just one new Republican woman, Carol Miller (WV), won in the general election. Stefanik has now dedicated her leadership PAC to electing women, but the first women endorsed are all running in competitive or Democratic leaning seats. These races might be difficult to win with President Trump on the ballot, particularly the seats in suburban areas with higher numbers of college-educated women voters who strongly disapprove of President Trump. Similarly, in the Senate, many of the Republicans' most vulnerable seats in the 2020 election are held by women, including Susan Collins (ME), Martha McSally (AZ), and Joni Ernst (IA). All three were outraised by their challengers in the most recent fundraising reports. In 2020, it remains an open question whether we will see an increase or a drop in women’s representation across the two parties and in the House and Senate.
I’m keeping an eye out for double standards with men and women candidates.
Caroline Heldman, Professor of Political Science
Moving into the thick of the 2020 election, I am keeping an eye out for double standards with men and women candidates. Are women being judged on “likeability” while men get a pass? Are “scandals” sticking to female candidates that wouldn’t be news for male candidates? Are men with very little experience being treated as competent as women candidates with extensive experience? Sexist assumptions about women running for the presidency typically come in subtle but powerful forms that hinder their candidacies.
There has never been a woman governor or U.S. Senator in Pennsylvania, but if the pool of women with strong political experience continues to grow year after year, those ceilings shouldn’t hold for long.
Jennie Sweet-Cushman, Assistant Professor of Political Science
Assistant Director, Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics
While the country is captivated by the presidential election in 2020, I’ll be watching more than just where Pennsylvania’s electoral college votes wind up. In 2018, the state saw the largest increase in the number of women running and winning congressional and state legislative races of anywhere in the country. This growth is crucial if a diverse pool of women will be consistently positioned in the political pipeline to higher-level office, a feature we know is critical to women’s political representation. Pennsylvania, like a handful of other states, continues to have a glass ceiling that has excluded women from holding higher levels of office. There has never been a woman governor or U.S. Senator in Pennsylvania, but if the pool of women with strong political experience continues to grow year after year, those ceilings shouldn’t hold for long.
Will Elizabeth Warren be celebrated as a great orator?
Christine Jahnke, Founder
During the October debate, a confrontation illustrated how some still feel when a woman speaks out forcefully. It occurred when Joe Biden pointed a finger at Elizabeth Warren and insisted, “I got you votes” for the consumer protection bureau she proposed and fought for. Biden had earlier stated he was the only candidate who had “gotten anything really big done.” Warren ignored the outburst the way a mother might handle a willful child and responded that she wasn’t afraid to make big, structural change.
Warren is continuously redefining what leadership looks and sounds like. It’s exciting how she energizes huge crowds with policy solutions, not bombastic rhetoric. It’s funny when she makes light of a question about marriage stereotypes, not a reason for alarm. It’s telling when her personal recounting of pregnancy discrimination is initially disbelieved causing other women to share similar experiences.
What’s not surprising is that tech executives, bankers, and political foes don’t engage her on substance, instead they plot to undermine her credibility. These defenders of the status quo have had their say for too long. Warren calls out corruption while speaking empathetically for those who’ve lost the most. And voters are listening.
That’s the mark of a great orator.
Not more of the same.
Ivy Cargile, Assistant Professor of Political Science
California State University – Bakersfield
Many of the women of color who ran in 2018 are disrupters! They ran for political office despite being told to wait their turn, despite the fact that they would be running against popular incumbents, despite not having the support of their political party. In 2020 what will the political landscape look like? It is set to be quite similar with both gender diversity and racial/ethnic diversity. In 2020, it will be women, and women of color, who will make up a large contingency of challengers looking to, once again, disrupt the status quo. Similar to their predecessors from 2018, this group of women will not wait their turn and are already mounting campaigns in order to head to the halls of government and work to create a political body that is truly representative of the U.S. electorate.
A quick scan of some of the women who are already positioning themselves to run provides some insight. In the Illinois 14th Congressional District, Catalina Lauf, a Republican Latina, is seeking to challenge and replace Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL). Similarly, Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, M.J. Hegar, Sema Hernandez, and Amanda Edwards are just some of the women who will be competing to challenge incumbent Republican Senator John Cornyn in Texas. These are just two examples of races that will make 2020 both competitive and exciting because of the diverse representation it might yield.
We are investigating the sexual harassment policies affiliated with 2020 presidential campaigns.
Anna Mitchell Mahoney, Adm. Assistant Professor of Women's Political Leadership, Newcomb Institute
Carly Shaffer, Newcomb Scholar/Tulane Undergraduate, Tulane University
The #MeToo conversation has grown to include a deeper analysis of structural cover-ups related to claims of sexual harassment and the lack of accountability for high-profile offenders. As we turn to consider the work cultures in which sexual harassment has been allowed to flourish, we are investigating the sexual harassment policies affiliated with 2020 presidential campaigns. Presidential candidates should not only be asked to discuss their policy solutions to this problem, but to account for their own organizational responses.
We have contacted all Democratic and Republican campaigns directly to request copies of their official policies, and we are currently awaiting their responses. So far, news coverage suggests a handful of campaigns (most notably Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, Sanders, and Trump) have or had robust policies. They tout(ed) staff handbooks with explicitly printed rules, mandatory training sessions for new hires, and easy access to supervisors and hotlines for complaint filing purposes. These organizations boast(ed) zero tolerance for any and all forms of sexual harassment, an encouraging sign for the future of political campaigns. We will continue to watch, if more accusations surface, that these policies are actually adhered to and if sexual harassment and its response continues to be a polarizing issue for political parties.
On Sunday night, freshman Representative Katie Hill (D-CA) announced she was resigning from her position in Congress after allegations of an affair with a member of her congressional staff. These allegations were brought on by the non-consensual publication of nude photos of the congresswoman. Right wing blogs and British tabloid The Daily Mail shared these photographs after Hill admitted to a consensual relationship with a campaign staffer. Despite the high profile and public nature of this case, Representative Hill’s story represents an all too common experience for many young women. Nonconsensual image sharing, or “revenge porn,” has become commonplace in our increasingly digital world. According to the Data & Society Research Institute, one in 25 Americans has been a victim of posts of private images without their permission or being threatened with the release of these images.
Hill’s story raises many questions about harassment and abuse of women candidates and politicians. It also generates concern that the freshman representative’s treatment in the press and in the public could affect young women with ambitions of running for office. Will women, for fear of being the victim of revenge porn or other sexualized forms of harassment, opt out of vying for high-profile positions? As laid out in CAWP’s new report, Unfinished Business: Women Running in the 2018 Election and Beyond, the women who ran in 2018 undoubtedly faced a myriad of barriers to candidacy. Threats of violence and harassment leveled at women candidates and officeholders represent a particularly insidious hurdle to progress. The #MeToo movement shed light on just how pervasive experiences of harassment are for everyday women. Although there has been a lack of systematic data on the prevalence of violence and harassment towards women candidates in the U.S., it stands to reason that the heightened scrutiny and publicity of a bid for office would increase the potential for harassment.
A significant amount of harassment and abuse occurs online.
An online presence is essential to participation in politics, particularly for mounting a political campaign. However, this presence often comes with the cost of online harassment on social media platforms. Social media, where harassers can often remain completely anonymous, presents a new arena for harassment and violence against women political candidates. Analyzing messages on Twitter, a group of academics found that women candidates are more heavily targeted by uncivil messages than men. More systematic studies of online abuse and harassment against women politicians should be conducted. However, we do know that women in general are more likely to receive abuse on social media platforms than men. It is likely that this heightened abuse extends to the political realm as well.
- Harassment against women is often sexualized.
A 2016 study conducted by the Inter-parliamentary Union (IPU) of 55 women across 39 countries, found that almost 82% of those surveyed were subject to psychological violence. For 45% of these women, this violence included threats of rape, beatings, death, and abduction. More anecdotally, many women who ran in 2018 also described a constant barrage of rape threats and other sexualized forms of harassment. As we learned from the Hill case, private photos can also be weaponized against women in positions of power. These types of threats are clearly gendered and represent a concern that women candidates have to consider that male candidates generally do not.
- Harassment is often racialized and targeted against candidates with marginalized identities.
Women of color, LGBTQ women, and candidates with other traditionally marginalized identities likely face even more intense and sustained harassment. For example, transgender women are increasingly running for political office. Christine Hallquist, the first transgender woman nominee for governor in the U.S., regularly experienced abuse and even death threats during her campaign. It is far from inconsequential that Representative Katie Hill was the first openly bisexual woman to serve in the House. The 2018 election was historic for Black women. For the first time in history, more than 20 Black women will serve in Congress as a result of the midterm election. However, Black women candidates face the additional burden of race-based stereotypes and racialized threats of violence. For example, Vermont State Representative Kiah Morris (D) – Vermont’s only Black woman lawmaker at the time – resigned from office in September 2018 after sustained raced-based harassment and attacks.
Drawing from my own research, however, I find reason for optimism. In a large-sample survey study of U.S. women, I find that self-reported gender discrimination and harassment can actually mobilize women to become politically engaged. More specifically, I find that as experiences with harassment and discrimination increase, so does political efficacy, interest, and propensity to participate in politics. This comports with the literature on race and politics that shows how discrimination, abuse, and harassment can be the impetus to political involvement.
Women are not a monolith and their evaluation of threats and harassment will be varied. Although harassment should never be the cost of running for office as a woman, we should not automatically assume that all women will be deterred by the potential for this type of abuse. Women, like most marginalized groups, are accustomed to the fact that any type of bid for power or equality will be followed by backlash and resistance. #MeToo, the world’s first mass movement to tackle sexual abuse and harassment, demonstrated the galvanizing power that feelings of discrimination combined with collective action can have. In her resignation statement, Representative Hill wrote “Now, my fight is going to be to defeat this type of exploitation that so many women are victims to and which will keep countless women and girls from running for office or entering public light.” We will all be better off in a political environment where women do not need to fear abuse. However, until then, women will hopefully continue to harness the unequal conditions they face and use it as a catalyst for candidacy instead of a deterrent.
In the three years since Hillary Clinton “put 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling” the question remains, “Can America elect a woman president?” There have been countless thought pieces diving into the nuance of of the presidential campaigns of the women running this year and analyzing what factors make them more or less viable than others as we march towards November 2020.
It seems pedestrian to ask the counter question, “Can America elect a man president?” The simple answer is obvious, of course, because we’ve elected men in every U.S. presidential election. But perhaps raising this question would help to illuminate the additional work women have to do to first establish that they can win before going about the business of winning. Included in that work is calling out the biases that put women at a disadvantage in American elections.
The women running for president in the 2020 election, in a likely uncoordinated effort, are doing this work, holding a mirror up to the face of American politics in the hope that we, as a nation, will see what our bias against women’s leadership really looks like. But they are not the first or only women to disrupt assumptions or expectations.
It has been well documented that women attempting to re-shape elected leadership in America face the question of their viability regardless of their qualifications, experience, resources and know-how. Women of color are the ones most often crippled by this question. Early in 2019, as the field for the 2020 presidential election was coming together, questions swirled around Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams and whether or not she was a viable candidate. During her gubernatorial campaign, Abrams lost her election by 55,000 votes (1.4%) out of more than 3 million cast. She received over 250,000 more votes than the last two democrats to run statewide (Jason Carter and Michelle Nunn) and yet there was a question as to whether she had what it took to win. By all accounts Abrams’ candidacy changed the perspective on the possibilities that exist for black women’s executive leadership, particularly in the South.
Beto O’Rourke also came incredibly close to winning a seat that many deemed not competitive in 2018. He lost his bid for the U.S. Senate in Texas by 215,000 votes (2.6%), out of more than 8.3 million cast. O’Rourke was immediately added to the list of candidates declared and undeclared as discussion swirled in the media and the donor class as to who would be the Democratic standard-bearer in 2020. Abrams was not.
On paper, race and gender were the only two factors that differentiated these two trailblazing leaders. These factors have prevented so many women candidates of color from being able to get the traction necessary to have a successful campaign.
Why? In a recent survey, Fast Company found a majority of women entrepreneurs surveyed didn’t think a woman would be elected president because “sexism is still prevalent among the electorate.” Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce finds in their report that though bias against female politicians has declined over time, 13% of voters still report that women are less suited emotionally for political office than men. They conclude, “The role that sexism plays in politics is shrinking, but it’s still too substantial to ignore.”
So what’s a woman to do?
Most recently Kamala Harris asked voters at a Nevada town hall if American was ready to elect a woman president. The response from the audience was an honest but shocking “No!” The press reported it as a gaffe by the campaign, showing that the candidate is out of touch with the electorate, but I disagree. Though the audience’s response may have been different than the campaign expected (or wanted), it reflected the bias that Harris later elaborated on in her stump speech. In late September, she told an audience that she was used to dealing with the electability question, but added, “I have faith in the American people to know we will never be burdened by assumptions of who can do what based on who historically has done it.”
Though Elizabeth Warren has taken the lead in several polls and is one of the top fundraisers in the Deomcratic field, the question of her likability seems to be a hurdle she must clear for some as she continues to make indisputable gains in the polls. Axios conducted a small focus group of women in Wisconsin who mostly supported Warren’s policies, but doubted her electibility and her ability to lead based on how much they liked her style instead of her substance. This underscores the doubts some people have about women in leadership - that success is not determined by experience or background, as it is with most male candidates, but instead comes down to whether or not we like her. Warren, like Harris, has pushed back against claims that her gender will work to her disadvantage, emphasizing that she has proved doubters wrong before and plans to again in 2020.
Each woman in the presidential race has taken on the question of what makes them viable. They have answered the question directly and indirectly on many occasions. More often than not they answer by bringing their authentic selves to the campaign trail, speaking about their lived experiences as women in America and how those experiences inform their policies and platforms. By highlighting the difference in life experience from their opponents or predecessors, these women might offer an answer to the question, “Why aren’t we ready to elect a woman president?” Do voters fear that bringing more voices to the table will change the power dynamic too much? When we as a nation look in the mirror, are we surprised to find ourselves nodding yes?
Early in the 2018 campaign, Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), and I issued a note of caution about the gender progress we would see as a result of the midterm elections. Our motto was “under-promise and over-deliver,” noting that gender parity for women in American politics was not going to be achieved in any single election year. While many did not heed our caution (narratives of the “surge” and the “women’s wave” abounded), 2018 proved us right. Gender disparities and gendered barriers in American politics were not upended in a single cycle, but the 2018 election delivered key points of progress that will shape the terrain that candidates are navigating in election 2020 and beyond. The 2018 election also left those of us committed to more equitable political institutions with a reminder that we have unfinished business left to address in 2020 and beyond.
This is the focus of CAWP’s new report, Unfinished Business: Women Running in 2018 and Beyond, which draws from CAWP’s unmatched data and a review of the latest research on gender, candidacy, and representation to outline what happened with women candidates in 2018 while acting as a guide for gender and intersectional dynamics to watch for in election 2020. A key section of the report outlines both the destruction and durability of gendered and intersectional barriers to women’s political advancement, reminding us that gender equality is a work in progress– not a marker of success in any single “year of the woman.”
Just as the story of gender in election 2018 is much more complex than simply celebrating a “surge” in women running and winning, so too is our evaluation of gender and intersectional dynamics in 2018 and beyond. But here are a few take-aways for you to consider in reflecting backward and looking forward.
1. Women candidates in election 2018 disrupted the (White male) status quo in American politics and challenged assumptions of how, where, and which women can achieve electoral success.
There is no doubt that women made history in the 2018 election, running for and winning elected office in record numbers. Non-incumbent women won at higher rates than men across most levels of office and were responsible for the majority of congressional, gubernatorial, and statewide elected executive offices that flipped from red to blue. Women of color made history at various levels of office and – perhaps most notably for the future – challenged biased perceptions that they can win over majority-White electorates; more than one-third of women of color elected to the U.S. House for the first time in 2018 won in majority-White districts.
Success went beyond the numbers for women candidates in 2018, however. Many women challenged gender and intersectional biases while campaigning, embraced gender as an electoral asset instead of a hurdle to overcome, and cleared hurdles that have historically deterred or derailed women candidates’ emergence or success.
2. But the 2018 election did not upend durable gender and intersectional disparities in electoral politics and officeholding.
Too often, the gender story of 2018 has been simplified to note the success of one group of women: Democrats. While Democratic women made historic gains in 2018, the number of Republican women officeholders declined at every level of office. Moreover, women’s numeric success simply chipped away at centuries-long exclusion and underrepresentation of women, and especially women of color, in American political institutions. Even amidst the “surge,” women were less than 25% of all candidates in 2018 and are less than one-third of officeholders from the state legislative level upward in 2019.
Beyond persistent inequities in the numbers, women continue to face electoral challenges that are distinct from men: party and financial support infrastructures vary by gender and race; stereotypes and sexism continue to shape candidate evaluation; women candidates combat sexualized harassment and threats of violence; and gender biases persist in media coverage of and commentary on U.S. campaigns. The ground is shifting in each of these areas, with positive signs of progress for women, but it is certainly premature to declare mission accomplished.
3. Early signs from the 2020 cycle indicate that women will continue to disrupt U.S. electoral politics.
While 2018 revealed the durability of gendered and intersectional hurdles to women’s political progress, it also provided evidence of women candidates disrupting both formal and informal rules of the game in U.S. campaigns. That disruption is likely to continue in the 2020 election. From the record number of women running for the presidency – and their unabashed (but also diverse) embrace of identity – to women who are no longer “waiting their turn” to run for office, the gender story of election 2020 will be well worth watching. Importantly, that story also includes the men – especially the White men who, perhaps for the first time, are being asked to address their privilege as a potential liability for their presidential bids instead of assuming that their race and gender identities provide only electoral advantages.
The 2020 election is replete with narratives to watch, foremost among them the impeachment and potential re-election of President Donald Trump. But evaluating the complexities of gender and race across party and levels of office in 2020 will be key to telling the full story of what happens in another historic election year. With just over one year until Election Day 2020, our report gives you a head start and some tips for what to watch for as the cycle plays out. So read up because the work is not done.
*Updated as of August 2019. Please check our permanent page on this topic for the most up-to-date information.
In May 2018, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) ruled that Liuba Grechen Shirley, a congressional candidate from New York, could use campaign funds to cover her campaign-related childcare expenses. The FEC issued a similar ruling in 2019 about congressional candidate MJ Hegar (which builds on the previous ruling although the circumstances were slightly different, thus requiring separate rulings). The Shirley ruling spurred several candidates to seek clarity on the rules regarding campaign funds and childcare expenses at the state level. Both legislative and administrative channels have been employed to expand access to the use of campaign funding for relevant childcare expenses.
Most states’ laws are silent on the issue of allowing campaign funds for campaign-related childcare expenses. Of the 13 states which currently allow or have allowed campaign funds for childcare, only four states have enshrined the practice into law. A 2018 Minnesota statute specifically lists campaign-related childcare as an allowable expense for campaign funds. Utah passed a bill in March 2019 allowing campaign funds to be used for campaign-related childcare expenses, followed by Colorado in May 2019 and New York in June 2019. California, New Jersey, and New Hampshire have bills allowing the practice pending in their legislature.
Two states specifically prohibit the practice, and in a third an attempt to allow it was rejected by the legislature. In Massachusetts, current state law bars candidates from using campaign funds for personal expenses, and a bill allowing campaign funds for childcare stalled in the legislature in 2018. In West Virginia, state law prohibits using campaign funds for childcare expenses. In Tennessee, a proposed bill allowing the practice was killed by the Tennessee House Elections and Campaign Finance Subcommittee in March 2019.
In most cases, the decision to allow this practice is decided on a case by case basis by the relevant elections or ethics authority in the state. In 7 states, elections/ethics commissions have issued recent advisory opinions in favor of allowing candidates to use campaign funds for campaign-related childcare (Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin).
Two additional states’ commissions allow the practice to some degree. The Connecticut State Elections Commission issued a ruling in April 2019 stating that privately used funds can be used for campaign-related childcare expenses; public financing cannot be. Since most candidates use public funds for their campaigns, this effectively limits the use of campaign funds for childcare to a small pool of candidates. The California Fair Political Practices Commission allows candidates to use campaign funds for childcare at a cap of $200 per campaign event. Pending legislation would remove the cap and codify the allowance of campaign funds for childcare into law.
In Iowa, on the other hand, a request from a candidate in July 2018 to use campaign funds for childcare was rejected by the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board. The board noted that the policy decision was best left to the legislature to decide and proposed a bill to allow the practice. As of July 2019, the bill has no sponsors in the legislature.
Most advisory opinions issued by commissions note that state law does not specifically address the issue, and some opinions encourage the legislature to take the matter on and formally enshrine the practice into law, as did Iowa’s ethics board. While advisory opinions set precedents and provide guidance for future candidates, because the matter isn’t settled by law, it often means that individual candidates would have to be approved on a case by case basis. Ultimately, legislation is the most effective guarantee of ensuring that the campaign funds can be used for campaign-related childcare.
To view the full list by state, visit: TABLE: Use of Campaign Funds for Childcare Expenses, By State
When Serena Williams lost the Wimbledon final last weekend, some on-screen analysts and news outlets led with the number six — noting that this is the sixth time that Williams has lost a major final. They chose that number over 23, the number of major finals that Williams has won over the course of her historic career. This choice shaped the tone of the coverage, framing this loss as one in a pattern instead of emphasizing that it stands apart from Williams’ norm of success. It demonstrates the importance of context and framing in reporting numbers, whether in sports or any other field.
In politics, the work we do at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) is grounded in numbers. For nearly 50 years, we have tracked the number of women in elected office and, more recently, have collected data on women’s candidacies across levels of office. We know that collecting and reporting this data is more than just counting beans; these data tell a story about whose voices are being heard in politics and government (and whose are not) and help to illuminate obstruction points en route to greater diversity among political elites. To tell an accurate story, however, it’s incredibly important that we are clear about what our numbers represent and provide the context by which they can be best understood. This puts pressure on all of us to check the facts and, where possible, push journalists to do the same.
In their analysis of BBC news in 2016, Stephen Cushion, Justin Lewis, and Robert Callaghan find that only around a third of statistics referenced in news reports were both clear and presented with context; the remainder of references were lacking in either or both. While they tout the “democratic potential of statistical evidence,” their findings demonstrate the need for scrutiny, especially in a media environment that incentivizes the reporting of numbers that are eye-catching, or at least click-catching.
That’s why in 2018 we kicked off the campaign cycle by remindingjournalists and observers that a record number of women candidates was just one step toward gender parity in government; despite running in record numbers, women were still less than 25% of all candidates for the U.S. House, for example, and — even with their successes — they hold just 23.4% of U.S. House seats today. We also urged clarity in reporting other numbers in 2018 — such as those released by women’s organizations that showed heightened engagement or interest among women with their work. These data, such as the 16,000 women who signed up online to get more information from EMILY’s List about running for office in the first 9 months of 2017, were notable on their own and indicative that more women were paying attention to the political sphere (and their roles in it) than before, but they did not equal candidacies. When conflated with candidate numbers, it would be easy for members of the public to miss out on the very real hurdles that women must clear between initial interest and actually running for political office, let alone winning an election.
As we head into the 2020 election, there are similar risks of conflation. For example, recent reporting that describes a rise in Republican women’s congressional candidacies relies heavily on the National Republican Campaign Committee’s (NRCC) calculation of women who have expressed an interest in running for the U.S. House in 2020. That number, close to 200 by their recent count, is far from the 60 Republican women that we have determined as likely to run for the U.S. House based upon filings and/or publicly-stated intentions to run (as of late June 2019). This number is still notable when compared to the 37 Republican women House candidates we counted at this point in 2017, but it is far from the hundred-plus women that have contributed to a narrative implying a surge of Republican women candidates in election 2020. Moreover, the number of Republican women candidates should not be viewed in isolation. In 2018, they were just 13.7%of all Republican House candidates (while a third of Democratic candidates were women). Another measure of progress in 2020 will be how well represented women candidates are within their own party ranks.
Accuracy alone is an important reason for checking numbers like this as we head into our next election season. Our attention to numbers matters for setting reasonable expectations. If Republicans tout close to 200 women running in July 2019 and the final count of filed House candidates falls below that in 2020, the narrative will remain one of Republican women falling short. Likewise, if we emphasize raw counts instead of minding denominators that account for men, we risk inflating the sense of success that is possible. However, if the more realistic numbers are reported from the start, any gain in Republican women’s candidacies — and officeholding — can be touted as a win come November 2020.
When it comes to women’s political representation, in our experience at CAWP we find it’s best to under-promise and over-deliver. And while we know that success for women in politics goes well beyond the numbers, it’s key that we get the numbers right.
The drop in Republican women’s representation in the U.S. House – down to 13 women who hold just 6.6% of all Republican House seats – garnered national attention amidst what was otherwise perceived as a “year of the woman” in American politics. But the problem of Republican women’s underrepresentation is not isolated to Congress. Not only are Republican women underrepresented as a proportion of women and Republican state legislators, but they also hold less power in the state legislatures with the greatest potential for them to make policy change.
Perhaps most notably, Republican women are only 16% of Republican state legislators in states where Republicans control both state legislative chambers, while they are 20.7% of Republican legislators in states where the GOP is in the minority. The reverse is true for Democratic women; in states under Democratic control, women are slightly better represented (43.1%) than in states where they are not in control (40.6%). Thus, Democratic women legislators are better positioned to influence policy agendas and outcomes than their Republican counterparts.
We can cut the numbers other ways, too. While women are 41.9% of all Democratic state legislators nationwide, they are just 17.2% of Republican state legislators. Democratic women are at or above parity with their male partisans in nine state legislatures (Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Oregon, Nevada, and Utah), while Hawaii is the only state where Republican women are equally represented with men in their (highly-underrepresented) party (women are 3 of just 6 Republicans serving across both chambers).
There is only one Republican-controlled state legislature where Republican women near parity with men; in Alaska today, women are 44.4% of all Republican officeholders. In the Alaska House, Republican women fall just short (47.8%) of parity with men in their party’s caucus. Alaska is an outlier in other ways, too, as home to the only Republican-majority state legislature where Republican women are better represented in-party than Democratic women (Democratic women hold 31.8% of their party’s seats), and as one of just five states where a Republican woman currently serves as senate president or senate president pro tem (43 Republicans hold those posts nationwide).
Apart from Alaska, Republican women hold no more than 30% of their party’s seats in the other 29 state legislatures under Republican control. In contrast, women hold at least 30% of Democratic seats in the 18 state legislatures currently under Democratic control. Democratic women actually outnumber Democratic men in four state legislatures: Nevada – where women are the majority of all state legislators for the first time in history, Colorado, Maine, and Oregon.
Republican women are also less likely to hold top leadership spots in state legislatures where Republicans are in control. Of the 23 women who hold top state legislative leadership posts (senate presidents or presidents pro tem, or speakers of state houses), six (26%) are Republicans and 17 (74%) are Democrats. Women are 11.6% of Republican senate presidents and presidents pro tem, while they are 42.3% of Democrats who hold the same posts. Likewise, while women are nearly one-third of Democratic House speakers nationwide, just one of 30 Republican House speakers is a woman.
These data demonstrate that the dearth of Republican women in state legislatures overall is compounded by even more severe underrepresentation among those leading state legislative chambers. While the narrative around women’s political underrepresentation has focused on federal offices, it’s important to note that this problem persists at the state legislative level. That is, unless you’re in Alaska.
At the end of the 2018 midterm cycle, our friends and collaborators at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation published a new research memo, Relaunch: Resilience and Rebuilding for Women Candidates After an Electoral Loss, that looked at voter perceptions of losing candidates and how those candidates might make a successful electoral appeal moving forward. This piqued our interest. A record number of women ran for office last year, yes, and a record number won. But, among the races we track*, 2,172 women also lost an election in 2018, and that’s just general election losses. What’s next for them?
For more than forty women who ran for Congress or statewide office, getting knocked down in 2018 means getting up again in 2020. As part of our Buzz 2020 candidate-tracking project, we’ve been keeping tabs on all the rumored 2020 candidates who ran congressional and statewide campaigns in 2018 but weren’t ultimately successful. Of the 593 women who lost primary or general election bids in these races during the last cycle, we’ve counted 43 thus far who are already moving towards a 2020 campaign. Some of these candidates, like Brianna Wu in Massachusetts, lost primary contests. Others cleared the primary but fell in the general, Texas’s Gina Ortiz Jones among them. There are rematches brewing, like Georgia’s Karen Handel, who’s preparing a campaign against Rep. Lucy McBath after McBath knocked her out of the Georgia 6th seat in 2018. Then there are candidates like Amy McGrath and M.J. Hegar, who are parlaying star-making but ultimately unsuccessful 2018 House runs into 2020 challenges against entrenched Senate incumbents.**
While much research has detailed the distinct hurdles to candidacy for women, Dr. Danielle Thomsen's research on candidate reemergence (from 1980 to 2014) finds no significant gender difference in U.S. House candidates' decision to run again. Relaunch, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation research, provides a game plan to guide that reemergence. First of all, they find that an electoral loss does not lead to shifts in favorability ratings and voters’ perceptions of candidate qualifications, and they outline strategies for messaging and engagement that their study shows can create the groundwork for future success. On messaging, Relaunch encourages candidates to stay positive, avoid laying blame, emphasize the campaign’s strengths and successes, and focus their forward-looking message on the collective energy of the campaign and its supporters, rather than solely on the candidate. Between campaigns, candidates should stay engaged with the issues that they ran on and with the community that makes up their potential constituency. Candidates who were already holding another political office should emphasize the continuing contributions they make in their current position. Otherwise, women hoping to run again should stay engaged with listening tours, becoming active in their party, and getting involved in activism on specific issues related to their past (and future) campaigns.
It takes more women running to get more women winning. It’s the only path to political parity. As with anything worth doing, it takes experience and practice to forge talent into success, so these women who have chanced a campaign, the near-misses and the longshots, aren’t just people who have lost elections; they’re a pool of experienced and practiced campaigners poised to win. They got knocked down. But they got up again. You’re never going to keep them down.
See all the returning candidates at our Election Watch page, Rebound Candidates: Women congressional and statewide candidates who lost in 2018 and are likely to run again in 2020.
*U.S. Congress, statewide elected executive offices (including governor), and state legislative candidates.
**How are we tracking rumored candidates when filing deadlines are months away? This information comes from at least two of the following sources: KnowWho Data Services; Campaigns and Elections; House Race Hotline; CQ Politics Daily; Politics1.com; The Hill; Roll Call; and local newspapers in many states.
Just last week, we surpassed the record number for women candidates filed to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. As of April 6, 309 (231D, 78R) women filed in the 29 states where filing deadlines have passed and candidacies have been certified. The previous high for women primary candidates for the U.S. House was 298, set in 2012. With 21 states left to file or certify candidacies, the number of women candidates across this year’s U.S. House primaries will most certainly confirm predictions of a surge in women running.
Amidst the narratives of women’s surge in candidacies and political engagement being floated by organizations and news media, it’s hard to see these particular data on women House candidates in the appropriate context. Within that context, you’ll find that women remain underrepresented among all House candidates, despite increasing in number and proportion of candidacies from 2016 to 2018.
As of April 6, women are just 21.9% of the major party candidates that have filed for the U.S. House. This is the other half of the story in election 2018: the number of men running is also up, and male candidates still far outnumber women running for the House.
In the 2016 U.S. House elections, 17.8% of all of the candidates on primary ballots or successful in party conventions were women.* While these data reflect candidacies across all states and account for any filed candidates who withdrew before ballots were printed, they indicate that the proportion of women candidates – not just the number of women running – is up this year from the previous election cycle.
Another way to compare the data is to look only at 2016 House candidates only in the same states that have already filed and certified candidates in 2018. Women were 15.9% of primary candidates and convention winners in these states in 2016.
The data in the table below show that the number of filed candidates in these 29 states is up by nearly 40% from the number of primary candidates on 2016 ballots or successful at party conventions. That number masks an enormous gender gap; while the number of male candidates is up by about 28% in these states overall, the number of female candidates is nearly double – 90% more – what it was in 2016.
NOTE: 2016 data reflects the number of men and women candidates on primary ballots or successful in nominating conventions (where the conventions were held in lieu of a primary election). 2018 data reflects the number of men and women candidates who filed and whose candidacies were certified according to state election officials in the 29 states that completed certification by April 6, 2018.
Short answer: no. To start, 75% of the major party women candidates who have already filed for the U.S. House are Democrats. And the underrepresentation of Republican women is particularly stark when reported as a proportion of all filed Republican House candidates. As of April 6, just 12% of all filed Republican House candidates are women, while women are 30.2% of all Democrats filed to run for the House.
In a previous analysis, I made the point that the “pink wave” in 2018 hues blue, demonstrating how much of the increase in women House candidates this year is concentrated among Democrats. When focusing specifically on the states where candidates have already filed this year, this story remains true. Compared to 2016 numbers of candidates on primary ballots or winning conventions in the same states, Democratic candidacies are up by about 68% overall, by 51% among Democratic men, and by 126.5% among Democratic women. The increase in Republican women candidates (28%) is larger than among Republican men (12%) from 2016 to 2018, but overall the rise in candidacies among Republicans is minimal (13.5%) and unequal to that among Democrats running for the House in 2018.
CAWP’s Election Watch provides updated numbers of women candidates in real time, including breakdowns by filing status, candidate type (open seat contender, challenger, incumbent), party, and level of office. These data help to provide additional context to understand gender differences among 2018 candidacies, as do analyses that have shown that challengers make up a high proportion of women House candidates and that many women candidates are running in districts where members of their party are unlikely to win.
These details matter, not only for understanding what is happening in electoral politics today, but also for predicting and contextualizing what happens in November. Thus far in 2018, the House data show that the progress for women candidates is real but not universal, and that the push to gender parity in congressional elections – at least vis-a-vis candidate numbers – is far from over.
* The proportion of filed candidates today may not reflect the total candidates on primary ballots (the measure used for 2016 data) if any candidates withdraw before ballots are printed.