An Evaluation of USA Midterm Elections by Gender Equality Expert Kristina Wilfore
Big picture: Women have been breaking records all year – from nomination to Election Day
At least 125 women will be in the next Congress after the 2018 midterm elections, breaking the 115th Congress’ record of 112. Women will comprise 26% of the U.S. Congress (House and Senate combined), a 7 point boost, which will be the first time in US history that women are above the world average of women in Parliament at 24%. This number is likely to increase given that there are 10 House races pending, five of which are contested by women.
“This election cycle is only a down payment on the future of women’s representation in office. We’ll need more than this one year to get to political parity for women. The multiple successes of this year — the increase in candidates, the growth for women office holders, as well as the changes we’ve seen in the why and the how women have run — are the foundation for longer-term change. The challenge now is keeping this momentum going.” Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women and Politics, quoted in a USA Today op-ed, Year of the Woman 2: Record election success for women that goes way beyond the numbers
House of Representatives (Lower chamber, 435 Representatives)
There were 237 female candidates for the House of Representatives in the election (185D and 52R). Women picked up 102 seats (the majority of those against men). Women have never held more than 84 of the 435 seats in the House. Women will comprise at least 27% of the House. It’s also notable that in this election cycle, the most women filed for the House in US history as candidates (467).
Senate (Upper chamber, 100 Senators)
In the Senate, there were 23 candidates 15D, 8R (53 filed). Women were the major party nominees in 63% of Senate races, beating the previous high of 18 set in 2012. 13 women won Senate seats, which adds to the 10 women currently in the Senate who were not up for election. STATE-LEVEL (36 Governor’s races, over 6000 State Legislative seats in 46 states) For Gubernatorial races, 16 women ran for election, 12D, 4R (61 filed), which the previous record of 10 women in 1994. Nine women were successful. The first female governors of South Dakota (Kristi Noem) and Maine (Janet Mills) were elected. In state legislatures across the country, 3389 women ran (2387D, 981R, 12NP, 4I, 5P), which was a large influx of women compared to previous years. (The gender breakdown of results is under analysis).
Michigan&Nevada – Stand Outs for Women
• Notably, Michigan, a perennial presidential battleground state, selected a woman for every statewide office on Tuesday’s ballot: governor, U.S. senator, attorney general and secretary of state. The second female governor elected in Michigan’s history, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer defeated Republican Bill Schuette, upending years of Republican control in the state house after campaigning on a promise to fix the state’s roads and aging drinking-water infrastructure, and to expand Medicaid to lower-income adults.
• In Nevada, a female political movement driven by backlash to Trump kicked off the year with a women’s march. Eleven months later, that activism helped women win key races across the state, including ousting an incumbent U.S. senator, electing a female-majority federal delegation and a female-majority State Assembly. On the Senate side, Republican Congressman Dean Heller said in 2016 that he “vehemently” opposed Trump, and he even returned a campaign contribution he’d received from the GOP nominee. Trump lost the state in 2016, but Heller changed his tune last year to avert a primary challenge and to keep his base from splintering. When Trump came to stump for him Heller hugged him. “Mr. President,” he said, “everything you touch turns to gold.” Apparently, that’s not so in the Silver State. Thanks partly to strong Latino turnout, Heller lost reelection by five points to Rep. Jacky Rosen (D), who Trump nicknamed “Wacky Jacky.”
More Achievements for Women
• Women candidates were more diverse than ever this year – with black, Latina, Native American women running and winning. 40 women of color are headed to the House. (The current number is 38.)
• Rep. Kyrsten Sinema won the race for one of Arizona’s Senate seat, which marks the first Democratic triumph since 1976 in a battle for an open Senate seat. She will be the first openly bisexual person elected to Senate.
• Ayanna Pressley became the first African-American woman elected to House by Massachusetts and Jahana Hayes, the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, is the first African American female U.S. Representative from Connecticut’s 5th district.
• Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress (New York) at age 29, joined by Abby Finkenauern (Iowa), also 29 (she is a little more than 10 months older than OcasioCortez, and is still paying off her student loans).
• Ilhan Omar (Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) are the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress. Omar was elected in to the Minnesota State House in 2016, the first Somalia-American to be elected to office in the United States. Tlaib is the daughter of Palestinian immigrant parents, she has been serving in the Michigan State House since 2008.
• Sharice Davids defeated a Republican incumbent in Kansas to become the first Native American woman elected to Congress (also LGBT)
• 19 African American women ran for judge in Texas county – and all 19 won. They campaigned together under the slogan “Black Girl Magic” with the support of the Harris county Democratic party (Harris county is bigger than 24 US states in terms of population). Tish James was elected New York State Attorney General – first African American woman elected statewide in NY
• Kansas voters rejected the sharply conservative message of Kris W. Kobach, a Republican known for fiery warnings about election fraud and illegal immigration, chairman of the president’s failed voter fraud commission, and instead elected State Senator Laura Kelly, a Democrat, as governor of their red-leaning state. She focused her campaign on issues like Medicaid expansion, school funding and highway construction, winning endorsements from many prominent Kansas Republicans and votes from across the political spectrum, managing to win by large margins in several populous counties that favored Mr. Trump in 2016.
Women were responsible for a slew of Democratic gains key to retaking control of the House, as well. Out of the 28 House Seats Democrats flipped, 17 of them (60%) were won by women. Highlights of women defeating Republican Incumbents: Elaine Luria won in Virginia’s 2nd District ; Jennifer Wexton won in Virginia’s 10th; Abby Finekenaur won in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District; Abigail Spanberger did so in Virginia’s 7th District; first-time candidate Katie Hill, 31, ousted Republican Steve Knight, who was seeking a third term in the 25th District in northern Los Angeles County; gun control advocate Lucia “Lucy” McBath won her race for Congress in Georgia’s traditionally Republican 6th Congressional District. Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force veteran and first-time Democratic candidate, won in Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District race, replacing retiring Rep. Ryan Costello, a Republican.
Nomination of women has a partisan gap
There was a dramatic increase in women running this election cycle, with Democratic women taking the lead. Emily’s List reportedly heard from 42,000 women who said they wanted to run for office, up from 920 in 2016. The surge of female candidates this year was largely fueled by Democrats nominating women in record numbers: half of all nonincumbent Democratic nominees to the House were women, compared to just 18 percent of nonincumbent Republican House nominees. Overall, of the 276 women on the ballot in House, Senate and Governor’s races, 77 percent were Democrats. Women are on track to make up nearly 40% of House Democrats in 2019, but less than 7% of House Republicans.
Party investment to increase representation Matters The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee made strategic investments to boost the number of more diverse and representative candidates, including $63 million into female candidates, $39 million into candidates of color, $25 million into veterans and $9 million into LGBT candidates.
Women at the polls – 2018 Gender Gap
More women are registered to vote than men, women vote in higher numbers than men and there’s been a gender gap in every midterm election since 2006 and every presidential election since 1980. Women made up 52% of the overall electorate in 2018. According to national exit poll data, 59% of women voted for Democrats and 40 percent voted for Republicans, which adds up to a record margin of 19% points — nearly double the margin by which they voted for Democrats in 2016. And when we compare how women voted to how men voted — or the gender gap — we find a record-breaking 23-point difference. The main reason the gender gap leans so Democratic is that a large number of nonwhite women vote for Democrats (Hispanic women especially shifted to the left in greater numbers in 2018). More white women voted for Democrats in 2018 (this year splitting their vote evenly between Democrats and Republicans 49 to 49%), while in 2016 they voted for Republicans by 12 points.