The Year of the Woman
In a 1776 letter, future First Lady Abigail Adams famously urged her husband John, who at the time was a member of the Second Continental Congress, to “remember the ladies.”
The rest of the letter was less decidedly less demure, especially by 18th century standards. The wife of the future president continued: “If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.”
While we can’t be certain for which party Mrs. Adams would cast her vote today (her husband was a member of the Pro-Administration, Federalist, and Democratic-Republican parties, respectively, throughout his political career), it’s almost certain she’d be proud of the ground broken during the 2018 election cycle. This week’s primary contests, especially, were an historic achievement for women in public policy, and signal a long-term trend towards a more diverse — and perhaps ultimately gender-balanced — American political system.
This past Tuesday, Vermont Democrats chose a transgender woman as their candidate for governor. Democrats in Minnesota selected Ilhan Omar to represent them in the 5th Congressional District and if Omar wins in November (as she’s predicted to do), she’ll become the first Muslim woman ever elected to the United States Congress.
In Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District, Democrats chose former national Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes as their candidate. This district also leans left, which means Hayes is likely to become Connecticut’s first African American woman in Congress. Wisconsin voters, meanwhile, will have an all-female U.S. Senate ballot. Democrats chose incumbent Tammy Baldwin to face off against Republican Leah Vukmir. Though the path toward progress is often long and rarely direct, Wisconsin serves as a great example of the sea change afoot in our politics. When Baldwin won her first United States House race in 1998, she became the first woman from Wisconsin ever elected to Congress and is still the only Wisconsin woman to serve in the Senate.
Though there are still several states that have not yet held their primary contests, regardless of those outcomes, a record number of women already have been nominated by the two major political parties for the House and Senate. And, interestingly, women have been faring better this cycle in their primaries. Overall this year, female candidates have a win rate of 46 percent compared to 23 percent for male candidates. While some of that deficit is attributable to the fact that more races have multiple men on the ballot, batting almost .500 to men’s .250 is indisputably impressive.
The increase in female representation in our politics hasn’t favored both parties equally, however. In fact, Wisconsin’s Vukmir is downright unique. In races for seats in the House of Representatives, GOP women represent only 14 percent of all Republican candidates. That compares to roughly one-third for Democrats. In fact, according recent reporting from The New York Times, some Republican organizations have counseled women to wait to run for office because the party’s current political weakness in this mid-term cycle could hinder well-qualified—and more moderate—candidates’ chances for success.
Democratic women, meanwhile, have been especially successful in open seats -- congressional districts where a sitting lawmaker is not running for reelection. According to an analysis completed before this Tuesday’s primaries, women have won 65 percent of open Democratic primary races that featured at least one man and one woman on the ballot. The apolitical polling blog FiveThirtyEight has concluded that “all else being equal, being a woman has been worth an additional 10 percentage points over being a man” in open Democratic primaries in the 2018 election cycle.
The shift is not just happening at the federal level. State capitals also are likely to see a growing balance in the gender representation next year. According to a Reuters analysis, next year could see the highest number of female state legislators ever. With more than 2,200 women running for state legislative seats, if female candidates win at their historical average rate of 60 percent, women will account for 38 percent of all state lawmakers nationally, up from 25.4 percent currently. (Though some states have surged forward—Arizona and Vermont each have a 60-40 male to female breakdown—the nationwide percentage of women in state political office has been pretty much the same for the last 10 years.)
And, of course, more women in the statehouses, which have historically been the proving grounds for many a future member of Congress, means the Beltway balance likely will shift even closer to parity over the next decade.
Will that success include the White House? According to an analysis by the Washington Post, two of the three top and three of the top six contenders for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in 2020 are women. All—Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.)—are now serving in the Senate.
On the Republican side? Well, maybe Omarosa will run.