A record number of women are running for office in the midterm elections in the United States and while analysts expect a record number of women to serve in the next Congress, that number is unlikely to top 25%.
An expert with the Centre for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey has also poured cold water on the idea that 2018 is the year of the woman despite the marked increase in female nominees and candidates for the Congress and State Legislatures across the country.
Just days to go before the 6 November election that will determine control of the House of Representatives, the Senate and various Governorships around the country, candidates are making their closing arguments.
Women currently make up about 20% of Congress – out of 435 seats in the House of Representatives, just 84 are women. In the 100-seat senate, just 23 are women, 17 Democrat and 6 Republicans.
Despite the uptick in candidates, women make up just 28% of nominees for the House. “Overall we do think we’ll see a record level of women serving in Congress after this cycle, the question really becomes how much of a break are we going to see, what is the magnitude of the increase of women’s representation and I would say and what I have been saying on the record, that it seems that it’s going to be hard to get top 25% in Congress, it’s possible but that’s going to be a reach.
“So when we’re thinking about the year of the woman – as people have been calling it – we have to remember that we’re still probably going to end this cycle with less than or about a quarter of those members of Congress being women,” says Assistant Professor in Political Science and a researcher at the Centre for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, Dr Kelly Dittmar.
The State of Georgia could make history by electing the first black female Governor in the history of the United States. It is a nationally watched race that saw Oprah Winfrey stump for Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams, who is in a tight race against Republican candidate, Brian Kemp.
“She cares about common sense gun control. She doesn’t want to take the guns from the people. This is Georgia; we know people want to hunt in Georgia. But, since when have we lost common sense for common sense. She wants common sense gun control. She cares about affordable housing and she cares about criminal justice reform, to protect our communities and creating jobs. So the reason I am a registered independent is because I believe that everybody should have the right to vote their values, and vote their conscience regardless of the party. And I tell you I have voted Republican and I have voted Democrat and each time I voted, I voted for the people who I felt represented my values.”
Despite a booming economy and unemployment at a record 50-year low, President Donald Trump has a 63% unfavorability rating among women nationally, with just 30% of women approving of his job performance.
“Women of colour voters generally, black women specifically who are essential to the democratic base. So if you’re looking at states where Democrats are trying to win, whether it be in Texas or in Georgia, you’re going to be looking at Latino voters in Texas, black women voters in Georgia who could really make the difference at the end of the day in shifting some of these races. 96% of black women voted Democratic in the last presidential election so you’re really talking about an effect on the democratic successes based on those voters. And I should say that black women voted at the highest rates of any race and gender subgroup in 2008 and 2012 so they’re reliably democratic voters,” says Dr Dittmar.
As candidates across the country make their closing arguments to voters, most pollsters agree that Democrats look increasingly likely to flip at least the House of Representatives while Republican chances of holding the Senate have strengthened.
“ Whoever is in the White House loses the midterm. You lose the midterm, we are going to go through nothing but fights. We are going to be fighting to keep what you have, they are going to want to take it away. You have to go out, we can’t be complacent. Can you imagine Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House? Don’t do that to me,” says President Donald Trump.
Dittmar explains that despite the President’s high disapproval numbers, women are not monolithic voters in the United States.
“We should not be ignoring the fact that there are many Republican women voters who feel strongly in support of both the President and Republican policies of today and I think often they get missed in the conversation because they’re still the minority of women.”
So while Trump is not on the ballot, this election is being framed as a referendum on his two years in office. A Gallup survey shows that healthcare, the economy and immigration are the top three issues in this election cycle while other extremely important issues include the way women are treated in society, gun policy and taxes.
With President Trump’s job approval rating at around 40%, it’s worth noting that his predecessor Barack Obama had 45% approval when Democrats lost a whopping 63 seats in the House during the 2010 midterm elections.