Gender Watch Hot Takes: 25 Feminist Experts React to the 2018 Election Results

Throughout election 2018, the Ms. Blog has brought you content presented in conjunction with Gender Watch 2018, a project of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation and the Center for American Women and Politics. Now that results are in, Gender Watch 2018 experts have offered additional insights and analysis into what happened.

We asked experts on gender, race and politics to weigh in on the 2018 election results, sharing their reactions to what happened and insights and analyses from research, practice and personal sentiments. Their “hot takes” break down what the 2018 election results will mean for certain communities, our country and their work.

Celeste Montoya, University of Colorado Boulder

As a political scientist, I am torn between hope for the possibilities of our democracy and the empirical reality of how far we are from achieving it.

While I process through the “victories” and “defeats” of this election, tonight I’m thinking about my students who have just heard or are waiting to hear about whether or not they’ll be separated from beloved family members in the upcoming months. About those who hear political rhetoric belittling or demonizing their existence. About those whose have had their experiences with sexual assault and violence mocked. About those who were unable to exercise their right to vote this election. As a political scientist, I am torn between hope for the possibilities of our democracy and the empirical reality of how far we are from achieving it. [Election] night restored at least one component of our federal checks and balance, as well as some of those that exist at the local level. Yet, these efforts may have been more successful had there not been so many insidious efforts to keep voters from the polls, and such blatant attempts to scapegoat marginalized populations. Voter restrictions disproportionately impact marginalized groups; yet, the burden seems to be placed on them to rectify the mistakes of the current political class.

With a record high gender gap found across all racial-ethnic groups, it is still women of color that are expected to shoulder the burden of change and persist despite intersectional oppression, and white women who are blamed when efforts fall short. Let’s make sure to hold accountable those who are truly to blame for the current threats to our democracy. These are not the demographics currently in power. Let us hope that the slim victories of tonight create a path for the future victories that are needed to build a more inclusive and just democracy, or at the very least weaken a backlash aimed at undoing 150 years of incremental progress towards racial and gender equity. But remember, elections are only one means of resistance. There are many more, or we wouldn’t have the very rights being threatened today.

Christina Bejarano, University of Kansas

We can celebrate the historic success of women of color in the 2018 election.  This includes some historic ‘firsts’ for women elected to the House of Representatives:  first Native American women with Deb Haaland (NM) and Sharice Davids (KS); the first Muslim women with Rashida Tlaib (MI) and IIhan Omar (MN), the first Latinas elected from Texas with Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia; the first black female elected from Massachusetts with Ayanna Pressley and Connecticut with Jahana Hayes; and the youngest women elected with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY) and Lauren Underwood (IL).

But as we have said before, we also need to move beyond the focus on their distinction as “firsts” to examine what these women’s candidacies have meant for challenging voter expectations and stereotypes, since we now have more examples of campaign strategies that are nontraditional and incorporate intersectional perspectives.  Women of color are disrupting assumptions of minority women’s “double disadvantage” and demonstrating how they can attract wide voter support that is not restricted to their racial/ethnic/religious minority communities.  They are changing the future rules of electoral politics and encouraging new and more diverse people to enter the fray.  Future elections will include even more discussion of the growing impact of minority women as key political candidates and voters. 

Emily M. Farris, Texas Christian University

During Ayanna Presley’s campaign for Massachusetts’ 7th district, she wore a lapel pin with a folding chair emblazoned with four letters: BYOC. Bring Your Own Chair. This was for Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress who famously said: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

It was a historic night for many women of color being elected to all levels of office. There were many firsts in Congress—the first Muslim women and Native American women, first Latinas from Texas, and Ayanna Presley became the first African American congresswoman from Massachusetts. Across the country, other women of color broke barriers, such as Melody Stewart, the first African American woman elected to Ohio’s Supreme Court and Letitia James, the first woman and first African American to be elected New York attorney general and the first African-American woman to be elected statewide. There were many firsts that are exciting to see, but also show the progress still needed to ensure all have a seat at the table.

Rachel VanSickle-Ward, Pitzer College

Last night was a milestone for women candidates of color.  We witnessed the election of the first two indigenous women to Congress, Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids; the first black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley; and the first Latinas to be elected to congress from Texas, Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia.  Davids has spoken openly about the challenges and opportunities presented by breaking barriers: “When people see a black woman or a native woman or a Latina or an LGBT person,” she says, “it should be part of the norm that they look and see a leader.” Extensive research illustrates that electing women to office can change perceptions about women’s role in politics more broadly. Given how long women of color have done the heavy lifting, but too often invisible labor, around campaigns and elections, the visibility of these women is noteworthy indeed.

Christabel Cruz, Center for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University

Since the 2016 election, we have been hearing a lot about establishment and anti-establishment candidates, but the midterm elections was really our chance to see women of color shine as challengers to the political status quo.

Win or lose, we saw women of color, many of whom were first-time candidates, change the face of what a qualified, viable candidate looks like. I spent Election Night 2018 in Queens, NY with a roster of Latina candidates entering elective office for the first time. Meanwhile, across the nation, women of color first-time, non-traditional candidates won or came close to winning in elections that were hotly contested. These candidates disrupt the narratives that women of color are not politically active or that women of color are not viable candidates unless they are fully recruited and endorsed by a party establishment. The successes of women of color candidates like Lauren Underwood in Illinois, Young Kim in California, Sharice Davids in Kansas, Jahana Hayes in Connecticut and Julia Salazar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Catalina Cruz in New York, show that women of color candidates can appeal to voters based on their intersectional identities and can use their life and work experiences as politically involved community members to appeal as representatives to their neighbors. In my own research on Latina candidate emergence in the Bronx and Queens, I have spoken to many Latinas that have been involved in political activism and community organizations but have never seriously considered running for office because they don’t think that they will gain support from the party establishment, making them unlikely to win. I think that the wins and near-wins of many women of color first-time candidates that are outside of the traditional political establishment in the 2018 primary and general elections will change their minds and motivate them to see themselves as candidates in the coming election cycles.

Dianne Bystrom, Iowa State University

It’s not just that women candidates led the Democratic Party takeover of the U.S. House. It’s the diversity of the women elected—women of color, veterans, LGBTQ—campaigning on such issues as health care, gun control and reproductive rights that make the 2018 midterms significant in terms of gender. Now, many are cautiously optimistic that the diversity of women elected – led by probable Speaker Nancy Pelosi – will work across the aisle to pass key pieces of legislation.

Carrie Skulley, Sewanee: The University of the South

Forget the blue wave. Let’s talk about the wave of newly elected women across federal, state and local government. Last night, a record number of women were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Among them were many notable firsts at the intersections of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and generation. The election of these women serves to highlight women’s diversity and challenge the “women as monolith” narrative that permeates the punditry. Most of these women ran as Democrats, a feature of women in politics we have come to expect. However, many of them did not make their status as a woman or a woman of color the central focus of their campaigns. Perhaps they learned from Hillary Clinton’s failed attempts to build a gender consciousness that would propel women to the polls. Or, perhaps they wanted to focus on the issues with the knowledge that their status as a woman or as a woman of color was evident to voters.

The success of women in 2018 is inspiring, but it should not cause us to lose focus on the continued underrepresentation of women across all levels of government.

Sierra Watt, University of Kansas

The midterms elections bring two Native American women to the House of Representatives—Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk Nation) and Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo)—as well as a potential third in Yvette Herrell (Cherokee Nation), who is leading in a close race with absentee ballots still being counted. Alongside two Native men in the Senate, this will constitute the largest representation of indigenous peoples in Congress. During this historic moment, these ladies stand as a reminder that Native Americans are not monolithic: they vary on their personal background, policy positions and political affiliations. In Kansas, the win for Sharice Davids is particularly groundbreaking, as she is also the first lesbian Representative for the state. In two New Mexico districts, Deb Haaland is a Democrat, while Yvette Herrell is a Republican.

Despite these wins, it is important to remember that there is still much work to be done for Native Americans throughout the country. Both Haaland and Davids faced racialized rhetoric during their campaigns, with the latter targeted by a Republican precinct committeeman who posted on social media that she would be “sent back packing to the reservation.” (He later resigned.) We can also frame Heidi Heitkamp’s loss in North Dakota alongside a new voter ID law requiring a street address which disproportionately targeted those living on Native American reservations—a law which was upheld by the Supreme Court. Heitkamp had previously experienced high support from Native communities in her first election. These incidents point out the need for increased representation for Native Americans and tribes at the local, state and national levels.

Corrine McConnaughy, The George Washington University

Women’s place in the game of politics changed with the 2018 elections, but not the fact that women are not a political group. What the gender politics of the 2018 midterms reminded me of most was the politics of the suffrage movement that I documented in my book The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment.

We saw historic gains for the place of women in politics made not because women came together as a group, but because some women who had enough of politics-as-usual found a way to create winning coalitions to take down a specific set of gender barriers. Importantly, though a record-breaking number of women candidates won seats in Congress, they did so by running campaigns that fit their local political environments and their own political identities—not a common “women’s campaign playbook.” The result? An incredibly diverse set of women will enter the halls of Congress in January, including the first Native women elected, the first Muslim women elected, the youngest woman elected, the first woman Senator from Tennessee and the first women elected to the House from Iowa. This could be a big leap forward in our understanding that “running as a woman” may be different than “running as a man,” but it is also different across different women’s candidacies. Learning that sort of lesson of political diversity within “women’s” politics was a major turning point in the suffrage movement, enabling successful state-level campaigns that ultimately turned the tide for the 19th Amendment.

Anna Sampaio, Santa Clara University

Women of color, and specifically Democratic women of color, delivered some of the most important victories this election cycle. There were an impressive number of path-breaking firsts from Ayanna Pressley becoming the first woman of color in the Massachusetts congressional delegation, to Rashida Tlaib (MI) and Ilhan Omar (MN) becoming the first Muslim women in Congress and Sharice Davids (KS) and Deb Haaland (NM) becoming the first Native and Indigenous women elected to Congress.

Latinas secured particularly high-profile wins, with Democrats Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia becoming the first Latinas elected to Congress from Texas and Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico becoming the first Latina Democrat elected as Governor. In addition to these firsts, Latina incumbents proved they know how to hold onto power as every Latina congressional incumbent, both Democrat and Republican, from California to New York, won re-election. Possibly the most impressive win for Latinas came in the form of Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who defeated Republican Carlos Cubelo in Florida in a tightly contested race that helped to flip the balance of power in the House.

These wins represent historic victories and reflect changing demographics in the parties as Democrats become more racially, ethnically, religiously and regionally diverse and achieve greater levels of gender and age balance and responsiveness on sexual orientation and identity. At the same time, the election pointed to a Republican party constraining diversity by becoming more invested in whiteness, masculinity and rural voters. These demographic differences are interesting in their own right, but will undoubtedly come into play in the 2020 Presidential election and future national elections.

Laura Belko, Rutgers University-Camden

New Mexico’s outgoing Governor Susana Martinez had already broken that glass ceiling of gender and race, but with Martinez’s abysmal approval ratings, Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham faced the possibility of voters’ backlash towards a new Hispanic female Governor.  Grisham used video endorsements of white men who looked more like her opponent Congressman Steve Pearce, to counteract any doubts about her capability to hold that office. Grisham let the media champion her race and gender, while she presented herself as the best candidate for Governor and stayed on message about issues in her state with voracity and a depth of knowledge. Grisham rarely talks about her status as a Latina, but her campaign was smartly calculated to consider voter’s reactions.

Dara Strolovitch, Princeton University

My initial reactions are emotional ones. I am (tearfully) exhilarated about the amazing number of “intersectional firsts,” with women of color, queer people and queer people of color earning victories in so many races and at so many levels of government.  I am disappointed about the results in the gubernatorial races of Andrew Gillum (FL), Stacey Abrams (GA, though votes are still being counted and she has not conceded) and Christine Hallquist (VT), and about Beto O’Rourke’s Senate race (TX), at the same time as I am inspired by and optimistic about how close most of those races were. I also feel a deep, and also tearful, physical sense of relief that the Democrats will hold a majority of House seats, and, though I recognize that this is not panacea, I am hopeful that these results will provide some respite from what has felt to so many of us like two years of Trumpian impunity. I feel hopeful, too, that the results of things like the restoration of voting rights for people convicted of felonies who have completed their sentences in Florida and the organizing and turnout efforts that brought about these and other progressive victories foreshadow even more positive changes to come.

As a scholar of intersectional politics, I am also struck by the fact that many of last night’s progressive victories give lie to the received wisdom that, as one person I interviewed for my 2007 book about social and economic justice advocacy told me “the only way to build a Democratic majority” is to shift the focus of the party away from issues such as abortion, affirmative action and LGBT rights and to “persuade white men” to “vote their pocketbook”—though I also feel certain that this narrative will nonetheless persist. And as I contemplate what exit polls suggest is a significant decline in the still very high proportion of white women who cast ballots for Republicans, 52 percent in 2016 compared to 49 percent this year, and the increase in the proportion who voted for Democrats, 43 percent in 2016 and 49 percent this year, I am also thinking about the work of scholars like Catherine Harnois and Eric Anthony Grollman, who show how important it is that white women and white LGBT-identified people recognize their own experiences of oppression, as this leads them to recognize and oppose other axes of marginalization as well.

It seems increasingly clear that the arc of intersectional justice is not only long but also that it is so uneven that looks like an EKG, and that although the last two years have been a crash-course for many white women about the implications of persistent and institutionalized misogyny, many straight white Christian women have doubled-down on what my co-authors Janelle Wong and Andrew Proctor and I have characterized as their “possessive investment in white heteropatriarchy.”

Jennifer L. Merolla, University of California at Riverside

What is striking about this election is the extent to which the broader political environment spurred women to overcome some of the traditional barriers to running for office.

Election night may not have resulted in the blue wave that Democrats had hoped for, but it certainly was a pink wave. A record number of women will be in the U.S. House of Representatives, at least 31 newly elected, most of them Democrats, and many women of color. What is striking about this election is the extent to which the broader political environment spurred women to overcome some of the traditional barriers to running for office. We know from existing scholarship in race and ethnic politics and political psychology that threat can be mobilizing, especially when it generates feeling of anger. In that sense, the record number of women and women of color running against the backdrop of anger over Trump’s intersectional threat to women and minorities is consistent with existing scholarship. At the same time, these types of effects of the political environment for women are unprecedented, and have extended well beyond candidates running for U.S. Congress. Record numbers of women also ran for state and local office, and more women became engaged in politics and elections post 2016. The increased presence of women in political life and political office will likely have consequences that extend well beyond the current election cycle.

Erin Cassese, University of Delaware

In the run-up to the midterm elections, people often wanted to know whether the Republican Party was losing white, college educated women. According to the exit polling data from CNN, 59 percent of these women voted for their Democratic House candidate. Among white women without a college degree, only 42 percent voted for the Democratic candidate.  In 2016, 51 percent of college educated white women voted for Hillary Clinton, compared to 34 percent of white women without a college degree. In both 2018 and 2016, there is 17-point gap between white women based on their education levels, but there seems to be a leftward shift in 2018.

Without having the data on hand just yet, it’s hard to say for sure whether some of the growth in Democratic voting among college-educated white women came from the Republican camp. I suspect much of this growth actually came from Independent women. Ninety-three percent of Republican women voted for the Republican House candidate, so party loyalty looks strong. However, 56 percent of Independent women voted for Democrats in 2018, compared to only 47 percent in 2016. Based on these figures, I’d say that Independent women voters are a group worth looking at more closely.  Independent women voters may be key to the leftward shift among college educated white women.

Heather Ondercin, Wichita State University

Party identification was critical in shaping how women voted.  Despite the popular claim that Republican women were going to defect en masse from the Republican Party, exit polls reported by CNN indicate 93 percent of Republican women voted for Republican House candidates—which is similar to the 96 percent of Democratic women who voted for Democratic House candidates.

Mirya Holman, Tulane University

Women’s wins in state legislative races represent a key–and perhaps overlooked–piece of the 2018 election. As CAWP notes, we had 3,389 women running for a state legislative seat, a dramatic increase over previous records. In Colorado and Minnesota, Democratic women’s wins represented key victories that allowed the party to take control of a chamber. Women won big in Texas, Nevada, and New Hampshire. Many of the candidates were political newcomers, running in districts previously labeled unwinnable for their party. And many of these women are graduates of women’s candidate training programs. State legislatures provide a key pipeline to Congress – if we want more women running (and winning) at the national level, we should be celebrating these big wins for women at the state level.

Anna Mahoney, Newcomb College Institute, Tulane University

This election did not create a lot of favorable conditions for women state legislators looking to consolidate their power in a women’s caucus. My research with Christopher J. Clark demonstrates that when women’s numbers in Democratically controlled legislatures increase, legislators are slightly more likely to form caucuses; while Minnesota’s House flipped to the Democrats, likely resulting in a woman ascending to the Speaker of the House spot, women House members as a whole actually lost a seat.

There is hope, however. Savvy entrepreneurs may still read political conditions on the ground as favorable because women caucuses are found even in unlikely places with high party polarization (Colorado), low numbers of women in office (Wyoming) or in strongly Republican states (Georgia). Some environments may be more favorable than others, but evidence found in case studies also suggests that when strategic women legislators utilize the right frames and marshal the right resources, they can unite women across party lines. 

Barbara Palmer, Baldwin Wallace Center for Women and Politics of Ohio

In spite of a record number of women running, Ohio’s congressional delegation remains mostly male.  Eleven women — more than double the number in 2014 — ran in 10 of Ohio’s 16 U.S. House districts, but the only women who were successful were the 3 Democratic incumbents.  The only Republican female candidate, Beverly Goldstein, ran against Marcia Fudge, who won her 5th term to the House.  Six of the remaining 7 women, all Democrats, ran against male Republican incumbents who all cruised to victory.

The results can be explained with one word: gerrymandering.  Ohio’s House districts are examples of a highly successful Republican gerrymander.  Even in the one open seat featuring a female candidate, Ohio’s 16th district south of Cleveland, the Republican won by 14 points.

Related to this is the political geography that helps to explain where women tend to be successful.  Female candidates of both parties, but especially Democratic women, are more likely to be successful in large urban areas that are racially diverse, have higher proportions of people with college educations, and have higher incomes.  Ohio’s 3 female Democratic incumbents are all examples of this:  in spite of their extremely odd shapes, all of their districts are anchored in the cities of Cleveland, Toledo, and Columbus.  The rest of Ohio’s districts are large, rural, and overwhelmingly white.

Ohio will be using a new process to draw its congressional district lines in 2022, but it will remain to be seen if it will have an real impact on gerrymandering or creating more opportunities for female candidates.

Rosalyn Cooperman, University of Mary Washington

Going into the 2018 midterm congressional elections, Republicans held a majority (7) of Virginia’s 11 congressional districts. Women Democrats helped flip the partisan balance of the Virginia congressional delegation and lend Democrats early seat pick-ups in their bid to retake the House. After yesterday’s midterms that partisan advantage flipped with Democratic women challengers Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger, and Jennifer Wexton, unseating three Republican incumbents in VA-2 (Scott Taylor), VA-7 (Dave Brat) and VA-10 (Barbara Comstock), respectively, and giving Democrats a majority within the congressional delegation for the 116th Congress that convenes in January 2019. These Democratic wins, along with Tim Kaine’s re-election to the U.S. Senate, further solidifies Virginia’s move from a purple to a blue state ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Haley Norris, Rutgers University

We can celebrate the addition of three new gay women and one new gay man to the U.S. House of Representatives, and the first bisexual woman to ever serve in the Senate. In addition to these challengers, five incumbents—David Cicilline (RI), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY), Tammy Baldwin (WI-S), Mark Pocan (WI), and Mark Takano (CA)—were re-elected to the House, and Tammy Baldwin in the Senate. The results of the Rainbow Wave are eight openly LGB members of the House of Representatives and two in the Senate. All of these candidates are Democrats. The leadership in the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus will be more gender-balanced and include more people of color.

The three new LGB women in the House all beat Republican incumbents, as did Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) in the Senate. Angie Craig (MN) ran and lost in 2016, but won by about five percentage points. Sharice Davids (KS) is one of two Native American woman elected to Congress. Katie Hill (CA) is one of the youngest women elected to Congress at age 29.

Jennie Sweet-Cushman, Chatham University

Those who emerged from the 2016 presidential election feeling bruised by the electorate’s treatment of Hillary Clinton should take heart in the 2018 midterm results. This year’s electorate, arguably younger and more diverse—like the future of American electorates—offered up win after win for women candidates up and down the ballot and around the country. In Pennsylvania, those victories will result in record numbers of women serving in the U.S. Congress (four), and a 71 and 24 percent increase in the number of women serving in the state’s senate and house, respectively—also record numbers. Nonetheless, these women candidates didn’t appear to necessarily win at higher rates than men on the ballot; there were just more of them. Some may express frustration that, despite a host of firsts and more women being elected, there did not seem to be a “pink wave” that ushered in women candidates as voters expressed a preference for women. At least in Pennsylvania, that didn’t appear to be the case. However, this has the potential to ultimately be great news for women’s representation. In 2018, to some degree women’s candidacies felt “normal” and voters considered them as candidates first and foremost.

If we are hopeful that more women will continue to run and win elective office, normalization of their candidacies is crucial to the full integration of women into running for office, more women doing so, building of a strong pipeline to higher offices, including the presidency, and—crucially—changing how voters are socialized to think about what political leadership should “look” like. Now that we’ve seen women candidates break through so many glass ceilings, maybe we can begin to just start expecting they will be there every year, in every race, in every state.

Christine Matthews, President Bellwether Research

The story of the 2018 election is the mobilization of women as candidates and as activists—many for the first time. Like many first time endeavors, success isn’t always immediate. But the question is: What is success? Is it winning? Or is it changing norms, like Democratic House candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley did when she successfully petitioned the FEC to allow childcare expenses to be paid out of campaign funds? Shirley did not defeat incumbent Peter King in New York’s 2nd congressional district yesterday, but she tackled an issue women candidates face. Many women candidates did win at every level, but many really great women candidates lost. Defeating an incumbent is hard; the re-election rate for House incumbents in 2016 was 97 percent, which is pretty typical. The good news is that the next Congress will have more women—and more diversity—than ever before.  But what about the women who did not make it to Congress this time? Or to the state legislature or Governor’s mansion? 

The most important advice: Don’t be discouraged, and stay involved. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake and I were so excited to undertake in-depth research for the Barbara Lee Family Foundation to explore how voters react to women candidates who lose an election and in what ways they’d like to see these candidates remain active. The Barbara Lee Family Foundation has since released the results of this Resilience Research. It has encouraging news for women candidates who aren’t giving up.

Jamil S. Scott, Georgetown University

The results of the 2018 midterm election are both exciting for the many women who have won their seat and thought provoking in terms of engagement this election cycle. The 2016 election was galvanizing. Whether it was anger about the outcome of the presidential race or a call to politics because of a sense of unhappiness with the status quo, something changed. It is significant that more women have been elected to Congress this year than ever before, a number of these being women of color. Women of color also had some great wins in down ballot races as well. 

Yes, political ambition does still matter, but I think it’s time for us to think more about how the motivation to engage in politics differs across groups, especially at the intersection of race and gender. There is already some work that has addressed this; but in this time of high engagement we should think more about it. Furthermore, as these women take office, it’s important to not only think about their impact as role models during this election cycle, but also about how their presence matters for representation, the presence of women of color in particular. Last, but not least, we should not forget about the women of color who have and continue to come through for the Democratic party. Their vote matters.

In celebrating the winners, we must also not forget about the losers this election cycle. There was a wave of women running and many did not make it past their primary. What happens next for the electoral losers this cycle and how do we keep them engaged? It will be important to think about how this engagement may or may not be translated into the next election cycle or politics more generally.

Christina Wolbrecht, University of Notre Dame

An unprecedented number of women ran for election in 2018. Not all women won, but even many of the women who lost on Tuesday likely inspired greater political engagement among young women and girls.

My research with David E. Campbell shows that under some conditions, the presence of women candidates leads young women and girls to be more interested in discussing politics, voting, campaigning, and other forms of political engagement. Women have an impact when they run viable campaigns that attract media attention. We see strong effects in years in which women candidates are especially prominent, such as Geraldine Ferraro, the first female Vice Presidential nominee, in 1984, or the Year of the Woman in 1992. Women also are more likely to have an effect if their candidacies are novel—women running for offices previously held by men. What doesn’t seem to matter is the outcome of the election: as long as women are viable and visible candidates, we see an impact.

Clearly many women candidates in the 2018 midterms met these conditions: An unprecedented number of women ran for office, many for the first time and many for seats long-held by men. From the “pink wave” to women vets like Amy McGrath (KY) and MJ Hegar (TX), women candidates have been a central story in election coverage. The impact of those campaigns may ultimately not only be historic numbers of women in office, but an increased engagement in politics among the next generation of women.

Jessica N. Grounds, Mine The Gap

The number of Democratic women elected last night, and their diverse backgrounds, is significant—but overall, we did not see the total number of women serving in Congress increase dramatically. We saw a lot of women running against and beating other women. This is partly because many women can only see their own path to leadership in places where other women have been successful. Unfortunately, the number of Republican women serving in the House may shrink by as much as half.

We are a two party system. We will be stifled in our ability to tackle the biggest issues facing the country and globe without more women in both parties.

Nicole Carlsburg, The Barbara Lee Family Foundation

Women across the country made history this election cycle. Some races still remain to be decided, but we already know we’re sending record numbers of women, and specifically women of color, to Congress. We’ve elected the first Muslim and Native American women as well as the youngest woman ever to the U.S. House of Representatives. We’ve met the high-water mark for women governors serving concurrently. There is a lot for us to celebrate! However, a big question remains: How do we keep the momentum going past 2018?

While we should take time to celebrate all of the firsts women achieved in this year, the conversation can’t stop there if we want to continue moving towards greater gender parity. Our next question needs to be: How do we keep those who ran and lost in 2018 engaged?

New research from the Barbara Lee Family Foundation shows that losing is not and should not be the end of a woman’s political career; in fact, it can be the beginning of the next chapter. This study shows that voters are incredibly open to the idea of a woman candidate relaunching herself as a public figure and running for office again after a loss, and provides guidance about next steps. The resilience of women willing to run again, even after losing a hard-fought campaign, is essential to changing the face of leadership in the United States once and for all.

Michele Swers, Georgetown University

A large freshman class with many new women will bring new energy to the Democratic Caucus and could help Nancy Pelosi secure her grip on the Speakership.  Equally important, Congress runs on seniority.  Four women will chair House committees, including Nita Lowey at Appropriations and Maxine Waters on Financial Services. Women could wield at least 33 subcommittee gavels.  A Congress with split control, Democratic House and a Republican Senate, will lead to more policy gridlock meaning that much of the work that gets done will go through the spending bills that keep the government running.  As Appropriations chair, Nita Lowey will be a pivotal player on a range of issues.  In the area of women’s rights, expect Lowey to push back on Trump administration efforts to limit domestic and international family planning and to advocate for women’s health protections in the Affordable Care Act.  At Financial Services, Maxine Waters will join other chairs in stepped up oversight of the Trump administration.  With her long interest in civil rights, expect her to scrutinize the treatment of minorities in housing programs and bank lending.


Kelly Dittmar is an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University and a scholar at the Center for American Women in Politics. Find her on Twitter @kdittmar.