With the 2018 election now in full swing, the Ms. Blog is excited to bring 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. They’ll be tracking, analyzing and illuminating gender dynamics during election season—so check back with us regularly!
Teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and Colorado have recently or are currently striking and protesting for better pay and additional education funding. Overwhelmingly, Molly Ball writes in TIME, these public school teachers are women—77 percent. With West Virginia’s primary around the corner, it gives us the opportunity to observe the effect education-focused strikes have on women candidates running for office.
Past Barbara Lee Family Foundation (BLFF) research showed that women candidates have advantages on issues that are traditionally “women’s issues”—education, healthcare and women’s health. For our recent research report, “Opportunity Knocks: Now is the Time for Women Candidates,” BLFF asked voters about education, as well as other issues, with these questions in mind: How does a Democratic woman stack up again a Republican man? A Republican woman against a Democratic man? We found that voters still give women candidates from both parties an advantage when it comes to the issue of education. Conventionally, Republican candidates have a disadvantage in the eyes of voters when it comes to education, but today, a Republican woman can neutralize those disadvantages. Democratic women have a huge advantage—more than 30 points—over Republican men on education.
West Virginia’s primary has the potential to demonstrate the impact education can have on an election—women are running in all of West Virginia’s congressional districts—but the effect of teachers’ strikes has the potential to be much more widespread. This year, women are taking the leap from marching and protesting to running for office, and striking teachers may just decide to do the same.
While they wouldn’t be the first to run for office with a background in education—about 18.5 percent of Congress has a background in education—women teachers who run this year do have some distinct advantages on their side. BLFF research highlights that, as Americans express frustration with the political status quo, the perception of women as “different” in a sea of male politicians offers them a distinctive advantage in the eyes of voters. Voters are especially drawn to women who are running because they saw the impact of an issue and want to effect change, allowing teachers to use their experiences in the classroom to highlight the changes they want to see implement in their schools and their communities. While simply describing their background is not enough, women who are able to talk about how their teaching experience gives them the skills to get things done for their constituents are setting themselves up for success.
Combine these advantages for women on the campaign trail right now with a January poll showing that Americans put education as their #2 top priority—ahead of the economy—and this could just be the moment for women teachers to make their mark on Capitol Hill.