Fifty years to the day that Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress, five new Black women won seats in the U.S. House. In January, they will join 17 other incumbent Black women representatives, two Black women delegates, and one Black woman senator to represent the largest cohort of Black congresswomen to ever serve in Congress. Black women also surpassed the previous high for U.S. House nominations. In 2014, 29 Black women were major party nominees to be voting members of the U.S. House. In 2018, 41 Black women were on general election House ballots nationwide.
None of the five new Black congresswomen had an easy path to success in 2018. Three challenged incumbent officeholders in the primary or general election, two won their primary nominations without the endorsement of their party, and another challenged stereotypes of not only race but religion in becoming one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Their resilience and determination in the face of these challenges mirrors that of Chisholm, who described her motivation to run for president in 1972 in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles in this way: “The fact of the matter is we cannot continue to take things as they are…when we see around us that government is not responsive to certain segments of the population.”
Disrupting the status quo and enhancing the representativeness of Congress continued to be a motivating force for Black women candidates in 2018. In fact, three of the five new Black congresswomen elected in 2018 will be the first Black women to represent their states in Congress: Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Ihan Omar (D-MN). They will also be the first women of color to serve in their states’ congressional delegations.
While their success is worthy of celebration, the fact that we are still celebrating firsts for Black women in Congress five decades after Chisholm’s win also reflects the persistent underrepresentation of Black women in American politics – and that underrepresentation was not remedied in this record-setting year for women. Black women were about 5% of all House nominees in 2018 and will be just 4.1% of members of Congress in 2019, despite representing nearly 8% of the U.S. population. And consider this: after new members are sworn in next year, just 43 Black women will have ever served in Congress (of more than 12,000 members who held congressional office in U.S. history).
Even starker, only two Black women have ever served in the U.S. Senate and no Black women were major party nominees for the Senate in 2018. Likewise, Black women’s representation in statewide elected executive offices has been – and will remain – especially low. In a year when Stacey Abrams (D-GA) made history as the first Black woman to win a gubernatorial nomination nationwide and Black women were about 12% of all women nominees for statewide executive offices, they were just 2 of 65 women who won statewide executive posts on Election Day (two Black women incumbents were not up for election this year and will hold statewide executive posts in 2019). Both Black women winners were firsts in their states; Tish James became the first Black woman elected statewide (statewide executive office or U.S. Senate) in New York and Juliana Stratton became the first Black woman elected to a statewide executive post in Illinois.
These women candidates are doing the work that Shirley Chisholm did fifty years ago to push through durable barriers to Black women’s political representation. Especially at the statewide level and in majority-white districts, Black women candidates are challenging the idea – too often embraced by political power-brokers – that they cannot appeal to non-minority voters. Look at Representative-elect Lauren Underwood (D-IL), who defeated a four-term Republican incumbent in an Illinois House district where 86% of constituents are white. And despite falling just short of success, Stacey Abrams (D-GA) won a greater percentage of Georgia voters than any other (white male) Democratic nominee since 1998.
There is much to celebrate for Black women in politics in 2018 that goes beyond candidacy and officeholding, including their power at the ballot box and on the front lines of activism and advocacy. But in the spirit of Shirley Chisholm and in honor of what would be her 94th birthday, let’s pair that celebration with a call to action.
Recruit and support Black women candidates. Push back against the biases that doubt Black women’s electoral viability. And help us to move beyond first and only Black women across levels and types of office. Fifty years after Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman in Congress, these may be the best gifts you could give to invest in the next generation of her “unbought and unbossed” legacy.
All statewide executive and state legislative primary elections are now complete, giving us the opportunity to take stock of women's candidacies and put their successes into context. Note that our findings on primary success and nominations do not include contests that remain too close to call or Lousiana's special election for Secretary of State, which will be held as a jungle primary on November 6th.
Women gubernatorial candidates have run for and won nominations in record numbers this year.
But women are still underrepresented as a proportion of all gubernatorial nominees, with significant disparities by party.
While women shattered the record for gubernatorial nominees this year, there is no guarantee that they will break the record for women governors serving simultaneously – which is 9 - in 2019.
Regardless of numbers of winners, the diversity among women gubernatorial candidates is notable this year.
In addition to 3 (3D) LGBTQ nominees (Kate Brown-OR, Lupe Valdez-TX, and Christine Hallquist-VT), there is more racial and ethnic diversity in this year’s pool of women gubernatorial candidates than ever before. 5 of 16 women nominees are women of color, including 4 Democratic nominees who would be the first Democratic women of color ever elected governor in the U.S.
- Stacey Abrams (D-GA) would also be the first Black woman governor in the U.S. With her counterparts this year. She is also the first Black woman nominee for governor in the country.
- Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and Lupe Valdez (D-TX) would be first Democratic Latinas elected governor in the U.S.
- Paulette Jordan (D-ID) is the first Native American woman nominee for governor nationwide. She would also be the first Native American woman governor, and just the second Native American woman elected to a statewide executive office in the U.S.
- Andria Tupola (R) is the only Republican woman of color nominee and the only Asian/Pacific Islander woman on a general election gubernatorial ballot in 2018.
Of the 16 states with women gubernatorial nominees in 2018, 4 have never had a woman governor: Idaho, Georgia, Maine, and South Dakota.
In Iowa, where incumbent Kim Reynolds (R) – who was appointed last year – is on the ballot, no woman has ever been elected governor.
All Statewide Elected Executive Offices
Overall, women candidates have won nominations for statewide elected executive offices in record numbers this year, though record-breaking nominations are concentrated in select offices (governor, auditor, and insurance commissioner).
More detail by specific office is available here.
But women are still underrepresented as a proportion of all statewide executive nominees, with significant disparities by party.
Women of color, who currently hold just 8 (2.6%) of statewide elected executive offices, are 10% of all nominees and 30% of women nominees for statewide elected executive office this year.
Other milestones to monitor for women candidates for statewide elected executive offices this year include:
- If elected, Democratic nominee for attorney general Tish James would be the first woman of color elected to statewide office in New York.
In Illinois and Minnesota, women of color were selected by both major-party candidates for governor as nominees for lieutenant governor. The last time that two women of color competed against each other for lieutenant governor was in 2002 in Ohio.
- In Illinois, incumbent Republican Evelyn Sanguinetti, who is Latina, and Democrat Juliana Stratton, who is Black, are nominees for lieutenant governor.
- In Minnesota’s gubernatorial race, both male nominees have selected Native American women as running mates: Peggy Flanagan (DFL) and Donna Bergstrom (R). Either woman would be the first woman of color elected statewide in Minnesota and the first Native American woman lieutenant governor elected nationwide.
- Debra Call, Alaska's Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, would – if elected – be the first woman of color elected to statewide office in Alaska and just the second Native American woman elected to statewide executive office in the U.S.
- If elected in Arizona, January Contreras - the Democratic challenger for attorney general - would become the first Latina and Kimberly Yee - the Republican nominee for state treasurer - would become the first Republican woman of color elected statewide.
State Legislative Offices
Women state legislative candidates have won nominations in record numbers this year.
In 34 of 46 states holding state legislative elections this year, a record number of women have been nominated. However, these milestones vary by party.
- 35 states have hit a new high for Democratic women nominees for the state legislature.
- 10 states have hit a new high for Republican women nominees for the state legislature.
7 in 10 women state legislative nominees in 2018 are Democrats.
- 71% of women nominees for state senates are Democrats.
- 70% of women nominees for state houses are Democrats.
Larger proportions of Democratic women than Republican women nominees across state legislative chambers are running as challengers to incumbents in November.
Our full election information, as well as candidate lists and historical information, is available through our Election Watch page.
All congressional primary elections other than Louisiana (which holds a jungle primary on November 6th) are now complete, giving us the opportunity to take stock of women's candidacies and put their successes into context. Note that our findings on primary success and nominations do not include Lousiana's congressional candidates. *UPDATED on September 17, 2018 to include results from MA-03 recount
Women congressional candidates have run for and won nominations in record numbers this year.
But women are still underrepresented as a proportion of all congressional candidates and nominees, with significant disparities by party.
Much attention has been paid to both the surge and success of Democratic women candidates in 2018. In U.S. House primary contests, Democratic women candidates had the highest win rates of any group, both among all candidates and among non-incumbents only.
Importantly, however, Democratic women nominees for the House are more likely than their male counterparts to be running as challengers in November.
- 50% of women nominees, and 36% of men nominees, are running as challengers in November.
- Among Democrats, 52% of women nominees and 39% of men nominees will challenge incumbents in November.
Women are favored to gain representation in the U.S. House based on current race forecasts, but are very likely to remain underrepresented among all officeholders next year.
- If women won all House contests in which they are currently favored as well as those races deemed toss-ups, they would hold about 24% of House seats in 2019. Currently, women are 19.3% of House members.
Women of color are more than one-third of women House candidates and nominees, but just one woman of color will be a Senate nominee this November.
Many women of color congressional candidates are poised to make history this year.
- Deb Haaland (D) of New Mexico is likely to become the first Native American woman in the U.S. Congress. Sharice Davids (D), in a more challenging race in Kansas' 3rd congressional district, could join her.
- Michigan's Rashida Tlaib (D) and Minnesota's Ilhan Omar (D) are set to become the first Muslim-American women in Congress. Omar, who is Somali-American, would also become the first woman of color to represent her state in Congress.
- Two more Black women, Jahana Hayes (D-CT) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), are also likely to be the first women of color in their states' congressional delegations.
- In Texas, two of four Latina nominees - Veronica Escobar (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) - are favored to win in November; they will be the first Latinas to represent Texas in Congress.
Other milestones to watch for include:
- Arizona will get its first woman senator this year, as both major-party nominees are women. The contest between Martha McSally (R) and Kyrsten Sinema (D) is just one of 33 women v. women general election match-ups for Congress in 2018, six in the Senate and 26 in the House. Of those 33 races, eight will be for open seats. This marks a record for the number of women v. women races in a given year. The previous record was 19, set in 2002.1
- Marsha Blackburn is the first woman to be nominated by the Republican party of Tennessee in a Senate race, and, if she wins in November, she will become the state's first woman senator.
- If elected in November, current Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) will become the first woman elected to Congress from Mississippi.
And stay tuned to these states:
- Pennsylvania, the largest state in the country that does not currently have a woman in its congressional delegation, will shed that dubious distinction this year, as both major-party nominees for the state's 5th congressional district, Pearl Kim (R) and Mary Gay Scanlon (D), are women. If Kim wins in November, she will also become the first woman of color to represent the state in Congress.
- In South Carolina, another one of 11 states with no women currently in Congress, Katie Arrington (R) - who defeated incumbent Mark Sanford in the primary - is currently favored to win in the 1st congressional district.
- South Dakota will lose its woman in Congress this year. Current Representative Kristi Noem (R) is the state's Republican nominee for governor.
Our full election information, as well as candidate lists and historical information, is available through our Election Watch page.
1 In CA-45, two women will be on the ballot this fall, but Aja Brown (D) has withdrawn from the contest. That race is counted among the 33 women v. women contests, though Brown is not actively campaigning.
In this record-setting year for women candidates, all eyes are on the campaign trail. But what happens when women are elected? In our new book A Seat at the Table: Congresswomen’s Perspectives on Why Their Presence Matters (Oxford 2018), we use personal interviews we conducted with more than two-thirds of the women serving in the 114th Congress (2015-2017), to illuminate how women both experience and affect Congress. From altering the image of political leadership to influencing policy agendas, congresswomen agree that there a multiple ways in which it matters that they are there.
Paving the Way
The Democratic and Republican parties have been engaged in a fierce competition for control of Congress in 2018. Yet women in Congress—Democratic and Republican—largely speak with one voice about the need to have women in politics. In fact, with Democratic women dramatically outnumbering Republican women in Congress, a number of the Democratic women we interviewed even expressed their desire to see more Republican women elected.
Women in Congress see an obligation to broaden the public’s image of politicians, be role models for other women and girls, and tap other women to run. As Kathleen Rice (D-NY) commented, “I would be surprised if every other one of my colleagues didn’t say that they felt an enormous responsibility as a role for young women.” Her Republican colleague Representative Elise Stefanik (NY) similarly observed “You have to be aware that you’re a role model for women, and that’s something that I’ve taken to heart.” And Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) told us that she makes it “a great priority” to encourage talented women she knows to seek a seat in Congress.
There is nothing like seeing women in power to open minds. Representative Joyce Beatty (D-OH) told us “[Having more women of color in Congress] makes a difference when little African American girls can dream that they, too, can serve in Congress.” And Representative Susan Brooks (R-IN) noted that girls need to see leadership as an option but also added that “we have to change the minds of boys and boys who support girls.”
The women we interviewed spoke with great pride about their work on behalf of their districts and states. Representative Martha Roby (R-AL) explained her role on the Veterans’ Affairs (VA) committee in working to ensure “the VA is really meeting the needs of our veterans” in her district and across the nation. After all, she noted, “this is a representative government and I’m here to work on behalf of the people that I represent.”
Oftentimes, the policy change women pursue as members of Congress is aimed at women as a group or at subgroups of women. The women we interviewed explained that without women in Congress, gendered experiences, perspectives, and issues might not enter the debate or receive the attention they deserve. As Representative Kristi Noem (R-SD) noted, “Most of the voters in this country are women. So they deserve to be represented and have people there that think like they do.” Likewise, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA) echoed many of the women we interviewed when she told us how important it is for American women “to see that someone who may have shared their experience—whether it is to be a working mom or whatever it happens to be—[has] a voice at the table.”
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said that she and her female colleagues “carry with us the needs of women and their families.” Oftentimes, legislators’ personal experiences as women, as mothers, as daughters, and as grandmothers inform their policy priorities, leading to “a sense of greater responsibility for the family,” according to Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).
And although they may pursue different policies and disagree with one another on ideological or partisan grounds, the interviews provided many examples of the significance of having women in Congress. As Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) told us, “Democratic women have carried issues that men just didn’t pay attention to or that were not [even] considered issues.” From women’s health to violence against women and family leave, the women we interviewed provided specific examples of legislation they thought would not have been enacted were it not for women in Congress.
Women of color pursue an “expanded agenda” that addresses gender inequality as well as racial inequality. For Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), that means opening doors “in really meaningful ways” for Latinas and other minorities. A woman’s personal experiences with racial inequality and her obligations to underrepresented groups in the district or state can be the basis for both gendered and racialized understandings of a range of issues. This can create racial differences in representational priorities of women legislators. For example, Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) told us that mass incarceration tended to be a greater priority issue for Black women legislators compared with White women.
Sources of Solidarity
One unexpected finding from our interviews is that women see the feat of winning office as a thread that unites women in Congress. Women in Congress represent different types of districts, have different personal and racial/ethnic backgrounds, and so forth; but they all campaign in what has been a male-dominated sphere. And once in office, they legislate in a male-dominated institution.
Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) argued “There is a bond among the women members” because of the challenges they face serving in Congress. And Representative Kathleen Rice (D-NY) observed, “We know the struggle of actually trying to put together a winning campaign” with financial and political infrastructure that was “not already premade for us like it is for men.”
Moreover, women’s single-sex activities such as dinners, trips, and softball, can ease partisan divisions and build friendships among women. Thus despite significant partisan polarization in Congress, we find that women in Congress can feel a sense of comradery with their colleagues across the aisle on the basis of gender. The fact of women’s underrepresentation in politics is what makes the presence of women in politics a “big thing,” as Representative Yvette Clarke (D-NY) explained: “We will run into women who will say, ‘Well, so what you’re a woman in Congress? That’s no big thing.’ But actually, it is.”
Just under a month ago, Ohio State Representative Emilia Sykes filed a complaint with the Ohio Department of Public Safety for over two years of disparate treatment by security officials at the Statehouse. More specifically, Representative Sykes – one of ten Black women in the Ohio state legislature – cited heightened scrutiny at security checkpoints and direct comments from security officials that she doesn’t “look like a legislator.” A citizen in Oregon seemed to struggle with the same issue this week when she called the police on Oregon State Representative Janelle Bynum– the only Black woman in the Oregon House – while she was canvassing a neighborhood in her district for re-election.
Yesterday I filed a complaint w/ the Ohio Dept of Public Safety about repeated scrutiny & questioning by Troopers & Statehouse security. No longer can my race, gender, age, or any other characteristic subject me to differential treatment as I'm serving my community. #WeBelongHere pic.twitter.com/WkQBPYFk5o— Emilia Sykes (@EmiliaSykesOH) June 14, 2018
These recent cases reveal the stubborn and biased expectations of political leadership as old, White, and male. Those expectations are deeply rooted in the foundations of our political (and social) institutions, which were built for and by White men, but are reinforced by an indolence or even unwillingness to reimagine political leadership in ways that expand access to those historically excluded from officeholding.
In addition to age, citizenship, and residency requirements for holding federal office, state constitutions established requirements for candidacy and officeholding based on religious belief, educational attainment, and property ownership for much of the 18th and 19th centuries. These formal sites for exclusion from the political system were bolstered by informal modes of exclusion with disparate effects on women and people of color, some which persist to present day (think, for example, of the costs of campaigning and/or the role of “insider” networks in candidate recruitment, endorsement, and funding, to say nothing of the physical and emotional risks of running for office in racist and sexist environments). It’s little surprise, then, that of the 12,249 individuals that have served in Congress to date, just 322 (2.6%) have been women and 61 (0.5%) have been women of color.
Even for the women who have fought successfully for inclusion into our political institutions, efforts to exclude or marginalize them have continued. In the documentary Chisholm ’72: Unbought and Unbossed, Representative Shirley Chisholm (NY) – the first Black woman in Congress – describes being repeatedly heckled by a White, male colleague who couldn’t believe that they earned the same salary. While she successfully confronted him to stop his behavior, Chisholm’s experience reflects the unwillingness of some to accept changes in the allocation of political power.
More than three decades letter, Representative Linda Sánchez (CA) entered Congress as one of just seven Latinas in the 108th Congress and the only Latina under 40 years old. In an interview for our forthcoming book on the impact of women in Congress, Representative Sánchez described a situation strikingly similar to Representative Sykes’ interactions with Ohio Statehouse security.
Representative Sánchez recounted being stopped repeatedly at security checkpoints in the Capitol to show her member identification, despite wearing her member pin and even after multiple instances of proving herself to be an elected representative. Describing how this felt, she told us, “When you are walking with male colleagues and the male colleagues are waved through and they’re stopping you, the subtle message that they are sending is that these people belong here and you don’t.”
Like Representative Sykes, Representative Sánchez took action. First, she called out one of the security guards for reinforcing norms of who should or does hold congressional office, telling them, “You know, White men are not the only members of Congress. There are women who are members. There are Hispanic and Black members too.” Then she complained directly to the Sergeant at Arms, who warned members of his team not to question her credentials again. When we interviewed Representative Sánchez, she was unconvinced that new women members were not subject to the same skepticism, but her efforts pushed some inside the institution to revise their own expectations of political leadership.
Representative Sykes has gone further in her response to heightened scrutiny, launching #WeBelongHere last month as a forum in which Black women in elected office, government, policy, public service can share their stories of bias and extra scrutiny on the job. As its name reflects, the initiative is itself an assertion of Black women’s belonging within institutions from which they have long been excluded.
Like @EmiliaSykesOH I've been questioned when someone *thinks* I don't look like a lawmaker. But I was elected just like anyone else. Black women have the capacity and credentials to do anything. #WeBelongHere in Congress, and everywhere else. pic.twitter.com/1yyb3IMwqa— Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (@RepBonnie) June 19, 2018
Like Chisholm, Sánchez, and Sykes, women nationwide are standing up for themselves against forces that would ignore or erase their presence in political institutions. But the work cannot fall only on those who are challenging the status quo to prove that they belong. It’s on all of us to not only accept, but also celebrate and promote the diversity of political leadership. It’s on all of us to question our own biases and rethink images and conceptions ingrained in our psyche about who is meant to lead. And, finally, it’s on all of us to recognize that the scrutiny and surveillance of women and people of color are rooted in racist and sexist norms that founded American political institutions without them in mind.
Today, while White men are still overrepresented at every level of political office, 1,876 women, 456 women of color, and 277 Black women serve in state legislatures nationwide; 107 women are voting members of Congress, including 38 women of color; 72 women hold statewide elected executive office, including 6 women governors and 8 women of color; and nearly 300 women are mayors in cities with populations over 30,000. There is much progress left to make in achieving a more representative democracy for women and communities of color, but these data make clear that women across racial and ethnic groups belong in positions of political power. It’s up to everyone else to get on board.
Media reports frequently confuse the women's vote and the gender gap, actually reporting on the women’s vote but calling it the gender gap. To clarify: the gender gap in voting is the difference between the proportions of women and men who support a given candidate, generally the leading or winning candidate. It is the gap between the genders, not within a gender. It is also not the aggregate of differences within both genders (e.g. women +10 Democrat and men +10 Republican ≠ 20 point gender gap). Here is how to calculate the gender gap in vote choice or preference:
[% Women for Leading or Winning Candidate] – [% Men for Leading or Winning Candidate] = Gender Gap
The women's vote describes the division in women’s support for major party candidates in any given race. It is the percentage-point advantage that one candidate has over the other among women voters – that is, the difference in women’s support for the Democratic and Republican candidates.
[% Women for Leading Party’s Candidate] – [% Women for Trailing Party’s Candidate] = Women's Vote
This distinction is important because even when women and men favor the same candidate, they usually do so by different margins, resulting in a gender gap. For example, we frequently see a gender gaps even in races where the women’s vote breaks for the Republican - i.e., where more women voters prefer the Republican candidate than the Democratic candidate.
Why Women’s Votes Matter
- Women vote in higher numbers than men and have done so in every election since 1964. In 2016, 9.9 million more women than men voted. Women have voted at higher rates than men since 1980. In 2016, 63.3% of eligible female adults went to the polls, compared to 59.3% of eligible male adults. Even in midterm elections, when voter turnout is lower among men and women, women vote in higher numbers and at higher rates than men.
- More women than men register to vote. Some 83.8 million women were registered to vote in 2016, compared to 73.8 million men.
- There has been a gender gap in every presidential election since 1980. In the 2016 election, men were 11 percentage points more likely than women to vote for Donald Trump (52% of men vs. 41% of women), according to the exit poll conducted by Edison Research.
- There also has been a gender gap in congressional voting in every recent midterm election. In 2014, there was a 10-point gender gap, with 58% of men compared to 48% of women voting for the Republican candidate in their district. In 2010 there was a 6-point gender gap, with 57% of men compared to 51% of women voting for the Republican candidate in their district. In 2006, there was a 4-point gender gap, with 56% of women and 52% of men voting for the Democratic candidate in their district.
The 2018 election has been widely touted as the next “Year of the Woman.” The number of women seeking congressional office is indeed at an all-time high, with 468 women running for the U.S. House and 51 running for the U.S. Senate. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, these figures well surpass the previous records of 40 female Senate candidates who ran in 2016 and 298 female House candidates who ran in 2012.
Yet as Kelly Dittmar wrote last week, women are still less than one quarter—24%—of all major party House candidates running in 2018, up from 18% in 2016. And Democratic women are the real drivers of the surge in female candidates in 2018: women are 33% of all Democratic candidates but only 14% of all Republican candidates. Many parallels have been drawn to previous election cycles, but how does the number of women candidates in 2018 look over a longer time horizon?
I collected data on U.S. House candidates from 1980 to 2014 to examine historical and partisan changes in the number of female candidates on the ballot over the last three decades. The tables below include all major party primary candidates from 1980 to 2014, with breakouts for Democrats and Republicans.
It is clear that the number of women candidates has increased steadily over time. The percentage of female primary candidates is four times higher in 2018 than it was in 1980. What is more, the six point increase in the percentage of women candidates compared to the previous year—18% in 2016 to 24% in 2018—is larger than that in any other year during this period. The second largest increases in the percentage of female candidates were 3 points in 1992 and 2012.
As Dittmar noted, much of the current surge in women candidates has been fueled by Democratic women. But it hasn’t always been this way. Throughout the 1980s, women made up relatively equal proportions of Democratic and Republican primary candidates, hovering around 10% in both parties.
The first significant change was in 1992, popularly dubbed the “Year of the Woman,” when the number of Democratic women primary candidates doubled from the previous election and the percentage of women candidates increased by four points. Yet Democratic gains did not end there. The proportion of female Democratic candidates has increased slowly but steadily since then. These small, incremental gains are what differentiate women in the Democratic Party from women in the Republican Party.
To be sure, the proportion of women in Republican primaries has increased—in fact, more than doubled—during this period, from 6% in 1980 to 14% in 2018. However, the trend has mostly been one of stagnation. In my research, I have shown how the Republican women in Congress in the 1980s and 1990s were virtually all ideological moderates who are no longer in office today. The complete replacement of moderates had important implications for the representation of Republican women in particular.
Unlike the Democratic Party, which both retained and added new women to their caucus, the Republican women in Congress today are almost an entirely new crop of members. Of the 23 Republican women in the U.S. House, only 2 were elected before 2000, and one of them—Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL)—is retiring this year.
A longer time horizon helps us to put the 2018 figures in perspective and consider the effects for women’s representation and female political engagement more generally. Scholars have been cautious about whether this surge in female candidates will result in the election of more women to office, primarily because many of them are running against incumbents or in districts that favor the other party. Yet all agree that this year is a historic one for women candidates, and the data shown here provide a new window into how the changes we are seeing this year are indeed different from those in previous election cycles.
Danielle Thomsen is an Assistant Professor in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. She is the author of Opting Out of Congress: Partisan Polarization and the Decline of Moderate Candidates.
In order to tell an accurate story of women’s political outcomes in November, it’s essential that we demonstrate the empirical nuances and complexities of women’s candidacies before then. Therefore, at this midway point in the primary season whereby 26 states have held primary election contests, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University has analyzed the success of and prospects for women candidates for congressional and statewide executive offices.
Below are five key data points by which we can evaluate how women are faring with necessary attention to historical precedent, partisan differences, racial and ethnic diversity, and general election competitiveness.
For regularly updated data on women’s candidacies and historical information on women running for office, see CAWP’s Election Watch. In addition, follow Gender Watch 2018, a project of CAWP and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, for real-time analyses of gender dynamics in election 2018.
1. Record levels of women are running for Congress and governor.
The numbers of women who have filed as candidates for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, and governor have each surpassed previous highs.
- U.S. House: As of June 18th, 468 women have filed as candidates for the U.S. House, up from a previous record of 298 women candidates set in 2016. While Democratic women candidates for the U.S. House have surpassed their previous high of 190 (set in 2012) to 350 today, Republican women candidates for the U.S. House are just short of their record of 128 (set in 2010); as of June 18th, 118 Republican women have filed for candidacy for the House.
- U.S. Senate: As of June 18th, 51 (29D, 22R) women have filed as candidates for the U.S. Senate, up from a previous record of 40 women candidates set in 2016. Both Democratic and Republican women have already surpassed previous highs for Senate candidacies; the previous high was 28 (set in 2016) for Democrats and 17 (set in 2010) for Republicans.
- Governor: As of June 18th, 61 (40D, 21R) women have filed as candidates for governor, up from a previous record of 34 women candidates set in 1994.
With nominations decided in about half of all states, we have not yet surpassed record numbers of nominations for women candidates at any level of office. Follow CAWP’s candidate summary to track nomination records broken in 2018.
2. But women are still one-quarter or less of all congressional and statewide executive candidates in 2018.
Women are 25.4% of all statewide executive candidates (including governor) who have already competed for major party nominations in election 2018; they are 30.7% of Democratic and 19.9% of Republican candidates that have competed in all states where primary elections or conventions for statewide executive offices have been held.
Among only candidates for governor, women are 23.3% of those candidates who have already competed for major party nominations in election 2018; they are 25.3% of Democratic and 20.9% of Republican candidates that have competed in all states where primary elections or conventions for governor have been held.
Women are 16.7% of U.S. Senate candidates who have already competed for major party nominations in election 2018; they are 24.4% of Democratic and 11.8% of Republican candidates that have competed in all 26 primary states and in Utah’s party conventions.
Women are 22.7% of all filed U.S. House candidates for major party nominations in states where nominations have already occurred; they are 31.2% of Democratic and 12.2% of Republican candidates for nomination in all 26 primary states and in Utah’s party conventions.
With just 4 states left to certify primary candidates, women are 23.9% of all major party filed U.S. House candidates in election 2018. In the same states in 2016, women were 18.1% of all major party candidates on primary ballots. In 2018, women are 32.8% of all Democratic and 13.8% of all Republican U.S. House candidates certified thus far; in the same states in 2016, women were 25.6% of all Democratic and 11.8% of all Republican U.S. House candidates on primary ballots.
3. Women are winning primary nominations at high rates among Democrats, but not higher than previous cycles.
There are many ways to evaluate women candidates’ success in this year’s primary elections, which means that various numbers have been circulating from different organizations and media outlets. Below, we have broken down candidate outcomes by level of office, party, and incumbency and then compared current win rates for women with success rates in previous election cycles.
Importantly, the previous election data encompasses all primaries while the 2018 data includes just those states that have already selected nominees via primary elections or conventions. We have excluded California from the U.S. House totals because there remain multiple undecided contests.
The win rates for women candidates in 2018 U.S. House primaries (excluding California) – overall and among non-incumbents only- is higher than men among Democrats, but not among Republicans. Still, women are just one-quarter of U.S. House nominees selected thus far in 2018. There are significant partisan differences in the pool of nominees; 41.5% of Democratic nominees and 8.2% of Republican nominees are women. Among only non-incumbent nominees, women are 49.3% of Democrats and 10.7% of Republicans. Moreover, Democratic women non-incumbents have won at a rate distinctly higher than their male and Republican female counterparts. Their success is not, however, unmatched historically; in previous election cycles, non-incumbent Democratic women House candidates have won at higher rates across all nominating contests.
The win rates of women candidates – Democrats, Republicans, or overall - have not surpassed previous levels of success for women running for the U.S. House. Importantly, as more women run – especially as non-incumbents and within the same primary contests, the number and proportion of women losing is likely to increase.
The win rates for women candidates in 2018 U.S. Senate primaries – overall and among non-incumbents only- is higher than men among Democrats, but not among Republicans. Still, women are just one-fifth of U.S. Senate nominees -31.3% of Democratic nominees and 7.7% of Republican nominees - selected thus far in 2018. Among non-incumbent nominees, however, women are 50% of Democrats and 0% of Republicans.
The win rates of women candidates – Democrats, Republicans, or overall – have not surpassed previous levels of success for women running for the U.S. Senate. Importantly, as more women run – especially as non-incumbents and within the same primary contests, the number and proportion of women losing is likely to increase.
The win rates for women candidates in 2018 gubernatorial primaries – overall and among non-incumbents only- is higher than men among Democrats, but not among Republicans. Still, women are just over one-quarter (28.1%) of all gubernatorial nominees selected thus far in 2018. There are significant partisan differences in the pool of nominees; 35.3% of Democratic nominees and 20% of Republican nominees are women. Among only non-incumbent nominees, women are 33.3% of Democrats and 11.1% of Republicans.
Moreover, Democratic women non-incumbents have won at a higher rate than their male and Republican female counterparts.
4. Increasing women’s representation in November is more complicated than securing nominations. Women will start from a deficit in U.S. House and gubernatorial seats, and many women nominees are running in states and districts that favor their opponents.
With 13 women incumbents not returning to the U.S. House, making gains in women’s congressional representation requires first replacing those lost seats. In addition, several incumbent congresswomen are in danger of being defeated.
- Republican Representative Barbara Comstock (VA-10) is in a contest currently rated as leaning Democrat; because her opponent is a woman, however, the seat will continue to be woman-held. Republican Representative Claudia Tenney (NY-22) is running in a district deemed a toss-up by Cook Political Report. Republican Representative Martha Roby (AL-02) is running in a safely Republican district, but was forced into a runoff to secure her party’s nomination for re-election.
- Among the incumbent women senators running for re-election this year, two Democrats are in contests currently deemed as toss-ups by Cook Political Report: Senators Claire McCaskill (MO) and Heidi Heitkamp (ND).
Of the 99 women who have secured major party nominations for the U.S. House (excluding California): 32 (23D, 9R) are running in districts that favor their party; 63 (57D, 6R) are running in districts that favor their opponents; and 4 (3D, 1R) are running in districts that are deemed toss-ups by Cook Political Report.
Among non-incumbent House nominees only, 57 of 69 (82.6%) Democratic women and 6 of 9 (66.7%) Republican women are running in districts that favor their opponents. In contrast, of the 12 non-incumbent women who are nominees in districts that favor their party, 9 (75%) are Democrats and 3 (25%) are Republicans.
Of the 6 women who have secured major party nominations for the U.S. Senate: 2 (1D, 1R) are running in districts that favor their party; 2 (2D) are running in districts that favor their opponents; and 2 (2D) are running in districts that are deemed toss-ups by Cook Political Report. Just one non-incumbent woman nominee for the U.S. Senate thus far is in a race deemed competitive for her; in Nevada, Jacky Rosen (D) is the nominee in a toss-up Senate contest.
Of the 9 women who have secured major party nominations for governor: 5 (2D, 3R) are running in contests that favor their party; 3 (3D) are running in contests that favor their opponents; and 1 (1D) is running in a contest that is deemed a toss-up by Cook Political Report.
5. The representation of women of color varies by level of office and stage of the electoral process (candidacy and nomination). While women of color are the majority of Democratic women nominees for governor thus far, there are no women of color nominees for the U.S. Senate to date. Women of color are about one-third of candidates and nominees for the U.S. House.
- Of the 468 women who filed as candidates for the U.S. House as of June 18th, 164 (35%) identify as women of color (129 are Democrats and 35 are Republicans): 72 identify as Black; 48 identify as Latina; 31 identify as Asian/Pacific Islander; 2 identify as Native American; and 11 identify as multiracial.
Of the 99 women who have secured major party nominations for the U.S. House already (excluding California), 31 (31.3%) are women of color (27 are Democrats and 4 are Republicans): 19 identify as Black; 6 identify as Latina; 3 identify as Asian/Pacific Islander; 1 identifies as Native American; and 2 identify as multiracial.
- 3 women of color nominees – all Democrats – are nominees in districts that favor their party, including the potential first Latinas to represent Texas in Congress (Sylvia Garcia and Veronica Escobar) and the potential first Native American woman in Congress (Debra Haaland-NM).
- 43% of women of color major party candidates – compared to 45.4% of all women- have secured nominations in the states where primaries or conventions have already been held (excluding California). 34.9% of non-incumbent women of color candidates – compared to 39.6% of all women - for the U.S. House have been successful thus far.
- Of the 51 women who filed as candidates for the U.S. Senate as of June 18th, 11 (21.5%) identify as women of color (8 are Democrats and 3 are Republicans): 7 identify as Black; 1 identifies as Latina; 2 identify as Asian/Pacific Islander; and 1 identifies as multiracial.
- Of the 6 women who have already secured major party nominations for the U.S. Senate, none are women of color.
- Of the 61 women who filed as candidates for governor as of June 18th, 14 (23%) identify as women of color: 5 identify as Black; 3 identify as Latina; 4 identify as Asian/Pacific Islander; 1 identifies as Native American; and 1 identifies as multiracial. 
- Of the 9 women who have already secured major party nominations for governor, 4 (44.4%) are women of color (all Democrats). More specifically, of the 6 women Democratic nominees, 4 are women of color. If successful, Stacey Abrams (D-GA) would be the first Black woman governor in the U.S. If successful, Lupe Valdez (D-TX) and/or Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) would be the first Democratic Latina woman/en governor(s) in the U.S. Finally, Paulette Jordan (D-ID) is the first Native American woman nominee for governor in the U.S. and would also become the first Native American woman governor if successful this fall.
With 24 states left to select nominees, CAWP will be tracking women’s candidacies in real time at Election Watch and will offer insights into and analysis of gender dynamics in this year’s campaigns at Gender Watch 2018. Stay tuned.
 These data include withdrawn candidates in OH and CA who withdrew before the primary election but still appeared on the ballot.
 Real-time updates on CAWP’s Election Watch page include partial results from California, while we have excluded them here. This explains any discrepancy between numbers.
 Of the 468 women candidate who have filed for the U.S. House, racial identification remains unverified by CAWP for 25.
 Of the 51 women candidate who have filed for the U.S. Senate, racial identification remains unverified by CAWP for 3.
 Of the 61 women candidate who have filed for governor, racial identification remains unverified by CAWP for 2.
The underrepresentation of women in American politics cuts across racial and ethnic groups. As the table here shows, a significant gap exists for each racial and ethnic group between women’s representation in the U.S. population and their representation across levels of office.
However, the dearth of women of color has been historically stark and persistent in statewide elected executive and U.S. Senate offices. To date, just 5 (5D) women of color have served in the U.S. Senate, with three entering office in 2017. 33 (24D, 9R) women of color have ever served in statewide elected executive office, including just 2 (2R) women of color who have served as governors.
Even in the U.S. House, where women of color are 16.1% of Democratic members and 51% of female Democrats, there is significant progress left to be made. Today, 33 states have no women of color in their congressional delegations (11 states have no women at all), and 30 states have never sent a woman of color to Congress.
Will the 2018 election change these numbers? It’s too early to make accurate predictions of success in November, but we have our first cut at the racial and ethnic diversity in this year’s congressional and gubernatorial candidate pool. The data reflect trends similar to gender and racial disparities among officeholders:
- Women of color are proportionately represented among women running for the U.S. House, though women are underrepresented overall; and
- Women of color are underrepresented among women and among all candidates running for the U.S. Senate and governor.
In early results, our data show that the success rates of women primary candidates vary by race and office. Of particular note, black and white women have the highest win rates thus far in U.S. House races and women of color are 3 of 4 gubernatorial nominees selected as of May 23.
We break down the data (as of May 23, 2018) by level of office below, accounting for the diversity among major party women candidates of different racial groups as well as the types of races in which they are competing. These data include women who have already lost their primaries in order to count them among all of the women who have run for office this year. Our count of total candidates also includes a small number of women for whom we have no racial identification.[i]
|U.S. House||U.S. Senate||Governor|
Today, women of color are 40.5% of women members of the U.S. House and 7.8% of all members. Among all major party filed candidates for the U.S. House (36 states) this year, women of color are 34.3% of all 399 women candidates and 9.5% of all 1725 candidates (male and female).
- They are 35.5% of filed Democratic women and 11.3% of filed Democrats; 31% of filed Republican women and 4.1% of filed Republicans.
- Democratic women of color House candidates are more likely than White women to be incumbents; 22.6% of Democratic women of color versus 11% of white women Democrats are running as incumbents. 26.8% of Democratic Black women candidates filed for the U.S. House in 2018 are incumbents.
- Among Republican House candidates, however, 93.5% of women of color are non-incumbents compared to 78.7% of white women.
- Women of color are one-third of all women non-incumbent candidates, a slightly smaller proportion than they are of all candidates.
When likely candidates (not yet filed) are included, these numbers change little. Women of color are 34% of filed + likely women candidates. They are 35.8% of filed + likely Democratic women and 28.7% filed + likely Republican women.
Proportion of All Women Candidates for the U.S. House
Among all filed candidates for the U.S. House (36 states), white women are 60.7% of all women candidates and 14.3% of all candidates (male and female). By comparison, they are about 61% of women in the U.S. population and 32% of the total population. Today, white women are 59.5% of women members of the U.S. House and 11.5% of all House members. The proportion of White women increases only slightly (to 61.2%) when filed + likely candidates are included.
Women as a Proportion of All Candidates (Male and Female) Filed for the U.S. House (as of May 23, 2018)
In 13 primaries to date, 43.4% of women of color won nominations in U.S. House contests. 36.2% of women of color non-incumbents won major party House nominations. Black women have the highest win rate overall when incumbents are included; 55.6% of Black women candidates have secured nominations compared to 48% of White women, for example. Among non-incumbents, however, the win rate for black and white women is the same at 42.9% and lower for Latinas, asian/pacific islander, and multiracial women.
Success Rates for Women Candidates for the U.S. House (as of May 23, 2018)
Women of color were 32.3% of all women House nominees in 2016. They are 31.9% of women nominees selected already in 2018.
Women of color are 17.4% of women members of the U.S. Senate today. They are 25% of all 36 major party women candidates who have filed to run for the U.S. Senate this year (across the 36 states where filing deadlines have passed).
- They are 28.6% of filed Democratic women and 20% of filed Republican women.
- As of May 23, all women of color candidates who have filed for the U.S. Senate are non-incumbents. There is just one woman of color Senate incumbent up for re-election this year – Mazie Hirono (D-HI).
When likely candidates (not yet filed) are included, these numbers change little overall. Women of color are 22.2% of all 54 filed + likely women candidates. However, the representation of women of color among Republican women declines when likely candidates are included in these counts. Among all filed + likely candidates, women of color are 29% of filed + likely Democratic women and 13% filed + likely Republican women.
Proportion of All Women Candidates for the U.S. Senate
Today, white women are 82.6% of women members of the U.S. Senate. They are 69.4% of all women candidates who have filed to run for the U.S. Senate and 74.1% of all filed + likely women candidates for the U.S. Senate.
Success Rates for Women Candidates for the U.S. Senate (as of May 23, 2018)
In 13 primaries to date, none of the three women of color candidates for the U.S. Senate were successful. Of the 4 White women who have competed in Senate primaries thus far, 2 – including incumbent Deb Fischer (R-NE) – have secured nominations.
Women of color were 20% of all women Senate nominees in 2016. They are are 0 of 2 women nominees selected already in 2018.
Just 1 of 6 current women governors (16.7%) is a woman of color: Susana Martinez (R-NM). Women of color are 25.5% of all 47 major party women candidates who have filed for governor this year in the 24 states where filing deadlines for gubernatorial contests have passed.
- They are 35.7% of Democratic women and 10.5% of Republican women who have filed to run for governor.
- The only incumbent woman of color governor – Susana Martinez (R-NM) – is not eligible to run for re-election this year.
Proportion of All Women Candidates for Governor
White women are 83.3% of women governors today and 70.2% of all women candidates who have already filed to run for governor this year. Of the 4 (2D, 2R) incumbent women governors running for re-election this year, all are white.
The proportion of women of color candidates for governor drops by about 7 percentage points if all 74 filed + likely women candidates are included. If all are included, women of color are about 18.9% of all women candidates for governor and 23.4% of all Democratic women running for governor.
Success Rates for Women Candidates for Governor (as of May 23, 2018)
In the 9 gubernatorial primaries to date, 3 of 5 (60%) women of color candidates won nominations for governor, all non-incumbents. Of the 10 White women on gubernatorial ballots to date, just one – incumbent Governor Kate Brown (D-OR) – was successful.
Women of color were 0 of 2 female gubernatorial nominees in 2016 and 2 of 9 (22.2%) women nominees for governor in 2014. They are 66.7% of women nominees selected already in 2018, with 28 gubernatorial primaries left to go.
To monitor women's candidacies throughout election 2018, see CAWP's Election Watch page and watch for additional analyses at Gender Watch 2018, a project of CAWP and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.
[i] Candidate race was coded by a team of CAWP researchers in two ways. First, we relied on candidate self-identification. Where self-identification was not provided to us, we relied on a multiple source verification process for coding. If verification sources were unavailable or unclear, we left the candidate as uncoded for race identification in our database.
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.