If you thought 1992 was the year of the woman, 2018 will be remembered as the year of the woman on steroids.
On the cusp of the midterm elections, there are more women running for political office than ever before in our nation’s history. Approximately 23 women—15 of them Democrats—are running for seats in the U.S. Senate; 239 women are vying for slots in the U.S. House; and 16 women are seeking to be elected governor of their respective states.
What’s driving this trend? What does this mean for society?
Women are running for all kinds of political office—and they aren’t shying from seeking some of the seats that require more gravitas. A record number of women stepped up for U.S. House and Senate primaries. According to Bloomberg’s tracker, 524 women ran for U.S. House or Senate races and almost half of them won their primaries.
Six U.S. Senate races feature women candidates running against other women, most notably Arizona’s Senate seat, featuring Republican Rep. Martha McSally and Democrat Rep. Kyrsten Sinema. Of course, most politicos are aware of the young, controversial Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who upended incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley in New York, despite espousing far-left political views.
At the state level, women seem to be vying for seats all over the map and attempting to bust down barriers doing so. If Paulette Jordan wins her race in Idaho, she will be the nation’s first Native American governor. Likewise, if Rep. Kristi Noem—a Republican—wins, she will become the first female governor of South Dakota. Stacey Abrams, a Democrat, is looking to become the first black female governor of Georgia.
There are 3,379 women running for state legislative seats nationwide, a 15 percent increase in female candidates from the previous record. There are more Democratic women running for political office than Republicans. Nearly three-fourths of the women who sought election to the U.S. Senate or House were Democrats and half won their races, as did about 40 percent of Republicans.
Democratic women are having more success winning their races than their male counterparts in the party. However, CNN reports that many of the women running for the House as Democrats won primaries in districts that are “solid Republican” and so the likelihood of them winning in the general election is slim.
While there are fewer women running for office as Republicans than Democrats, they are still showing a solid presence. Jesse Hunt, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told the Washington Times, “Some of the most impressive candidates on the Republican side are women.”
Why So Many?
So why the sudden, significant increase of women running for political office? In many other areas, women have been slowly “catching up” to men. In terms of education, women outnumber and outperform men, even earning more doctoral degrees. When women are compared to men in the workplace—job for job, hour for hour—the wage gap all but disappears.
Politics has almost always been dominated by men, so it seems a natural next step to become the last frontier for women in a first-world, industrialized, Western nation. Part of the increase in women seeking office is likely due to the natural course of more and more women responding to the first, second, and third waves of feminism, which have allowed for more legal, societal, and political freedom than ever before.
While many people believe the increase is a response to Donald Trump’s presidency, which is different than most have seen in their lifetimes, it’s likely that a surge of this many women is simply due to the fact that since women can run, they are running.
Julie Gunlock, director of the Independent Women’s Forum’s center for progress and innovation, wrote in an e-mail she thinks the surge of women running for office is “very clearly a reaction to Trump’s victory” and for many on the right, a reaction to the Kavanaugh hearings, since there are many women “who want to protect the rule of law and the presumption of innocence.”
She added: “This, of course, suggests that it might be a one-time phenomenon—a flash-in-the-pan reaction to Clinton’s unexpected loss. Yet, I think this could have a lasting impact.”
Once in office, women will attempt to make their mark on policy. With greater experience in elected office than their male counterparts, they may have a head start: More than half of the women who are running for governorships have previous experience as elected officials—only 37 percent of men do—and “80 percent of women running for the Senate have previously held elected office, compared with just 22 percent of men,” according to the website FiveThirtyEight.
More women in office may mean more dialogue on issues that tend to primarily affect women (although they also affect men), including domestic violence, paid maternal or parental leave, abortion, and health care (particularly contraceptives).
Research suggests that having more women in Congress could “bring a more collaborative approach to policy-making” and more attention to issues of particular concern to women and families, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. For instance, several young women candidates are calling for a federal law requiring paid leave to care for family members.
Gunlock thinks more women running for office will have a positive effect on women and politics. “I think women will be inspired by seeing women run.”