The U.S. Midterms: Year of the Woman
There’s a joke going around right now. You know how you tell a woman is angry? She’s not talking to you. You know how to tell she’s really angry? She’s running for office.
Wiser heads predict a Democratic Party tsunami in November, when we have our middle-of-the-presidential term election. We’ll be voting for all 435 members of Congress and a third of the senators. Right now, the Republicans have an overwhelming majority in Congress, with 44 more seats than Democrats. Midterm elections typically give a slight advantage for the non-presidential party, so we would normally see Republicans lose some of that sizeable majority, but still retain leadership.
These days, largely because of Trump’s phenomenal unpopularity, the smart money expects the Democrats to wipe out the Republican majority altogether, and take over control of Congress. Democrats have a giant enthusiasm advantage – they really want to win. Republicans want to win, sure, but their enthusiasm has been sapped by the foolishness flowing on a daily basis out of the White House.
Weirdly, that might not be the most important thing about the upcoming election.
Women are running, and women are winning, like we’ve never seen before.
Currently, 81% of congresspersons are male, while the US population is 49% men. That there is a slight mismatch between those numbers has not escaped attention.
In fact, many women have connected the dots between not having a lot of women in elected office and opening the door to a president who has an absolutely horrid record about women. He has insulted them individually, for example, saying of Carly Fiorina, one of his opponents in the Republican primary, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” Or, calling a beauty contest winner “Miss Piggy” to humiliate her for gaining a few pounds. And he’s insulted us collectively, talking about how willing we are to put up with sexual assault because he is famous, or talking about women almost exclusively in terms of our appearance, no matter our other accomplishments. No fewer than 20 women have credibly accused him of sexual assault. Policy-wise, he’s been just as awful, attempting to slash programs especially important to single parents (who are mostly women), reduce women’s access to abortion, and reduce workplace protection against discrimination.
So instead of just getting mad, women are getting even. More than 40% of the Democratic candidates stepping forward are women, increasing by half the number of candidates in the best year so far. Better yet, they’re winning. Female candidates are overperforming male candidates in Democratic primaries by about 15%, meaning women candidates are far likelier to defeat male competitors than the other way around.
That, my friends, is happening for the first time in history.
Republican women are stepping forward in much smaller numbers. For every Republican woman standing up as a candidate, there are three Democratic women. They’re in a pickle, because they can’t condemn the leader of their party, but nor can they support what he says about women. Several promising candidates have said they are interested in running, but just not this year.
However, it’s about more than just Trump. We know that because Democratic women sitting in Congress outnumber Republican women three to one – the same as the ratio in new candidates. That means the Republican gender gap (already more severe than the Democratic gender gap) is longstanding.
Republican women have good cause to be less confident than Democrats when running.
While Democratic women are overperforming against male candidates they face in primaries, Republican women do not see the same support from the voting public. Democrats actively want to elect women this year. It’s not that Republicans are voting against women specifically; when Republican women run, they win about half the time. The problem is that far fewer Republican women choose to run in the first place.
Democrats will almost certainly change the face of Congress all by themselves, however, regardless of how women succeed in the Republican contests. If we have a Year of the Woman, it will be one of the great ironies of this era to correctly give some credit to Trump. More than one female candidate I’ve talked to has said some version of, “Well, if that fool can do it…”