What You Need to Know About the Record Number of Women State Legislative Nominees in 2020

On the eve of Election 2020, what do we know about women’s representation on general election ballots for state legislatures this year?

As the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) reported last week, a record number of women are state legislative nominees in 2020. This year, 3,446 (2,315D, 1,105R, 18NP, 6I, 2P) women are state legislative nominees for the 86 (of 99) state legislative chambers holding elections. This includes major-party nominees, third-party incumbents running for re-election, and nominees for Nebraska’s non-partisan legislature. The previous record for women state legislative nominees was 3,418, set in 2018.

A record number of women are state senate nominees in 2020 as well. This year, at least 665 (436D, 211R, 18NP) women are state senate nominees, beating the previous record of 638, set in 2018.[i]

The number of women state house nominees in 2020 – 2,781 (1,879D, 894R, 6I, 2P) – matches the record set in 2018.

While Republican women surpassed previous records for state legislative – including state house and state senate – nominations in 2020, fewer Democratic women are state legislative nominees this year than they were in the record-setting election year of 2018. This year, 1,105 Republican women are state legislative nominees, surpassing their previous record of 993, set in 2018. In contrast, 2,315 Democratic women are state legislative nominees, far outnumbering Republican women, but short of their previous record of 2,402, set in 2018. This partisan difference might be partially explained by the fact that more Democratic women – who won a record number of state legislative seats in 2018 – are running as incumbent nominees (44.6%) than Republican women (40.5%) in 2020. Still, the increase in Republican women nominees is important, especially as they remain particularly underrepresented among both women and Republican officeholders. Should these nominations translate into electoral success, Republican women could counter the losses they suffered in state legislative representation as a result of the 2018 elections.

The increase in the number of women state legislative nominees was much larger from 2016 to 2018 than from 2018 to 2020. The number of women state legislative nominees increased by 29% from 2016 to 2018, while the number of women nominees is up just 0.8% from 2018 to 2020. Even Republican women, who won a record number of state legislative nominations this year, saw an increase from 2018 to 2020 (+11.3%) that was on par with the increase they saw from 2016 to 2018 (+10.3%). It is only in state senate nominations that Republican women’s rate of increase from 2018 to 2020 (+24.9%) is in stark contrast to the decline they saw from 2016 to 2018 (-6.6%). Still, this rate of increase is less than the rate of increase for Democratic women state senate nominees from 2016 to 2018 (+50.7%). Democratic women’s increases in state legislative nominations from 2016 to 2018 were larger than the gains for Republican women across chambers from 2018 to 2020.

Looking beyond nationwide counts, the story for women’s state legislative nominations varies by states and legislative chambers. In 2020, of the 43 states with state house contests, 27 have more women nominees, 15 have fewer women nominees, and one has the same number of women nominees in 2020 as compared to 2018. Of the 43 states with state senate contests this year, 20 have more women nominees, 18 have fewer women nominees, and 5 have the same number of women nominees in 2020 as compared to the previous senate election.

What do the numbers look like in your state? Use the charts below to see the number of women state house and state senate nominees by state from 1992 to 2020.

To see if the record number of women state legislative nominees will result in a record number of women state legislators in 2021, stay tuned to the Center for American Women and Politics for state legislative election results.


[i] These nominee numbers do not include women candidates participating in one jungle primary for the Georgia State Senate on November 3, 2020.

 

Kelly Dittmar is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Rutgers–Camden and Director of Research and Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics.  She is the co-author of A Seat at the Table: Congresswomen’s Perspectives on Why Their Representation Matters (Oxford University Press, 2018) (with Kira Sanbonmatsu and Susan J. Carroll) and author of Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns (Temple University Press, 2015). 

Chelsea Hill is the data services manager at the Center for American Women and Politics. She manages research, collection and organization of current and historical information about women's political participation. She responds to inquiries from the media, scholars, activists, officeholders and the general public. Each semester, Hill oversees a team of interns and student workers whose work is critical to the Center’s ability to provide accurate and up-to-date information.