What You Need to Know About the Record Numbers of Women Candidates in 2020

 

With filing deadlines passed in all 50 states, the Center for American Women and Politics can confirm that more women are running for U.S. House and U.S. Senate in 2020 than ever. Putting these aggregate numbers into context offers additional insights into women’s candidacies over time, across parties, as well as clarifying racial and ethnic diversity in the candidate pool.

Here are some key take-aways from this year’s totals.

A record number of women are running for the U.S. House and Senate this year.

The 2018 election broke nearly all records in women’s major-party candidacies for the U.S. House and Senate. That year, 476 women ran for the U.S. House, up from the previous high of 299 (+59.2%). In 2020, 583 women are candidates for the U.S. House, a 22.5% increase from the record set two years ago.

The shattering of previous records was entirely due to Democratic women in 2018 House contests; 356 Democratic women ran for the U.S. House in 2018, compared to a previous high of 191 (+86.4%), while the 120 Republican women candidates fell short of their record high (130, -8.3%). In contrast, Republican women are responsible for the jump in women’s House candidacies in 2020. This year, 227 Republican women are candidates for U.S. House, a 74.6% rise from the previous high. Democratic women matched their previous record for women’s candidacies; 356 Democratic women are running for U.S. House in 2020.

Both Democratic and Republican women broke records for U.S. Senate major-party candidacies in 2018, though by smaller margins than they did in House contests. In 2018, 53 women ran for the U.S. Senate, up from the previous high of 40 (+32.5%). In 2020, 60 women are candidates for the U.S. Senate, a 13.2% increase from the record set in the last election. Unlike in the U.S. House, both Democratic and Republican women contributed to the record-breaking Senate numbers in 2018; 31 Democratic women ran for the U.S. Senate in 2018, up from a previous high of 27 (+14.8%), while the 22 Republican women candidates broke their previous record of 17 (+29.4%). In 2020, six more Democratic women are running for the U.S. Senate than did in 2018 (+19.4%) and the Republican women have surpassed their record for senate candidacies by one (23, +4.5%).

Changes in the number of women congressional candidates were larger from 2016 to 2018 than they are between 2018 and 2020, though Republican women’s House candidacies have seen the largest swing over the past two election cycles.

One of the most notable facts of the last election cycle was that Democratic women doubled their candidacies from 2016 to 2018. This year, Republican women House candidates have neared, but not matched, that jump; Republican women’s House candidacies increased from 120 to 227 (+89.2%) between 2018 and 2020. But because there was no increase in Democratic women House candidates from 2018 to 2020, the overall increase in women’s House candidacies is notably smaller this year (+22.5%) than it was between 2016 and 2018 (+74.4%).

The increase in women’s U.S. Senate candidacies is also smaller from 2018 to 2020 (+13.2%) than it was between 2016 and 2018 (+32.5%). In 2018, the number of Republican women senate candidates (22) was especially larger than the previous cycle (13, +69.2%), while that number only increased by one (+4.5%) between 2018 and 2020. Democratic women’s rise in senate candidacies is not notably different between the 2018 cycle (+14.8% from 2016) and this year’s election (+19.4% from 2018).

Despite breaking records, women remain underrepresented among all candidates for elected office in 2020.

Women are more than 50% of the U.S. population, but remain less than a third of all major-party candidates for congressional and statewide executive offices in the 2020 election. More specifically, women are 29.1% of all U.S. House candidates and 23.9% of U.S. Senate candidates in 2020. In addition, while many SEEO offices around the country are not up for election this year, women make up just 25.6% of candidates for these offices in 2020.

 

Consistent with previous elections, women are better represented among Democratic than Republican candidates in 2020. Women are 37.9% of Democratic House candidates, 31.1% of Democratic Senate candidates, and 32.3% of Democratic candidates for statewide executive offices. In contrast, women are 21.3% of Republican House candidates, 17.4% of Republican Senate Candidates, and 20.6% of Republican candidates for statewide executive offices.

While women continue to fall short of parity with men in candidate pools, they are a greater percentage of all candidates for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate this year than they were in 2018. Republican women are also a larger percentage of their party’s House and Senate candidates in 2020 than in 2018 and Democratic women are a larger proportion of their party’s House, but not Senate, candidates this year.

A record number of women of color are running for congressional office in 2020, and women of color are also a larger percentage of all women running for the U.S. House and U.S. Senate this year.

At least 248 women of color – including women who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander (API), Black, Latina, Middle Eastern or North African (MENA), Native American, and/or multiracial – are running for the U.S. House in 2020. This number is higher than any other election year. The numbers of Democratic (162) and Republican (86) women of color House candidates are also record highs. As of August 5th, racial identification is unavailable for 12 (6D, 6R) women House candidates (from 2004 to 2020, unavailable cases range from 0 to 14).

Women of color are also a larger percentage of all women running for the U.S. House this year than in any other year since this data has been collected. Women of color are at least 42.5% of all women, 45.5% of Democratic women, and 37.9% of Republican women House candidates in 2020.

At least 18 women of color are running for the U.S. Senate in 2020. This number is higher than any other year since CAWP collected comprehensive race data on Senate candidates in 2004. The numbers of Democratic (13) and Republican (5) women of color Senate candidates are also higher in 2020 than in any other year in our records. As of August 5th, racial identification is unavailable for 2 (1D, 1R) women Senate candidates (from 2004 to 2020, unavailable cases range from 0 to 6).

Women of color are at least 30% of all women running for the U.S. Senate in 2020, which matches 2016. The percentage of women of color among Republican women Senate candidates is greater in 2020 (21.7%) than in any other year since this data has been collected. Finally women of color are 35.1% of Democratic women Senate candidates in 2020, a smaller percentage than in 2016 (44.4%).

These aggregate counts provide a broad view of the growing racial and ethnic diversity among women running for congressional office, but are inadequate in capturing the full range of racial and ethnic representation among women congressional candidates. That is why CAWP has conducted independent and in-depth analyses of Asian or Pacific Islander (API), Black, Latina, Middle Eastern or North African (MENA), and Native American women candidates in 2020 to provide more detail on women candidates and nominees within specific racial and ethnic groups to provide historical context and trends that do not lump women of color into a single group.

Even in a record year for Republican women candidates, Democratic women are the majority of women running for the U.S. House in 2020.

It is important to celebrate the rise in and record number of Republican women’s candidacies in 2020, especially due to the persistent underrepresentation of Republican women in the U.S. Congress. But there remains a partisan gap in women’s candidacies. In 2020, 61.1% of women candidates for the U.S. House are Democrats. While that gap was larger in 2018 (74.8% of women House candidates were Democrats), this year’s party break mirrors what we saw more than a decade ago. Republican women have only closed this gap more – and near completely – in one cycle since 2004; in 2010, 49.1% of women candidates for the U.S. House were Republicans.

This data point merits additional context. According to the most recent Pew Research Center survey on party identification, about 38% of women identify as Republicans. If we assess representativeness in the candidate pool by party identification breaks by gender among the public, the numbers above indicate a less concerning story for Republican women. These data do not, however, resolve the persistent underrepresentation of women in either party’s total pool of candidates.

As noted above, the number of Republican women of color candidates for the U.S. House is greater in 2020 than in previous years. In 2020, 34.7% of the women of color House candidates are Republicans, a larger percentage of women House candidates than any other year in which CAWP has comprehensive race data. We will continue to analyze Democratic and Republican’s women’s representation among women of color, women overall, and all candidates as primaries conclude to see if the party gap closes further, expands, or stays the same among U.S. House nominees.

What to Watch

Now that all filing deadlines have passed, we will continue to monitor how women candidates fare in primary elections nationwide. We will assess women’s comparative success in both the primary and general elections to men, by party, and among women in different racial and ethnic groups. We will also continue to track records in women’s nominations and officeholding and watch to see if the rise in candidacies this year will result in new highs for women in elected office in 2020. Stay tuned to CAWP’s Election Watch for all of the latest numbers and analysis, and follow us on Twitter for real-time results and context for this year’s campaigns.

 

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).