12 charts that explain the record-breaking year women have had in politics

November 6, 2018

Vox: 12 charts that explain the record-breaking year women have had in politics

By Li Zhou

The votes are in and the numbers prove it: 2018 is the Year of the Woman.

Democrats have retaken the House and they’ve done so, in large part, because of wins driven by women candidates. But, that’s not all. In addition to running for office in record numbers — and doing it so well that many of them outperformed their male peers nationwide — women spearheaded the most effective, sustained resistance in generations, much of which served to push back against the Trump administration.

There’s a feeling in the air that women are becoming more politically active in America. But it’s more than that. It’s in the hard data. Here are 12 charts and graphs that explain the seismic shift in women’s participation in politics that changed 2018 and could have an impact for years to come.

Female congressional challengers hit a record high
Of the women who are running for public office, many are angling for a congressional seat. A record 529 women have filed to run for the House or Senate this cycle, compared to 312 women in 2016. (In both years, about 470 congressional seats were up for grabs.)

As of June, these candidates comprise 23 percent of all congressional challengers this time around, up from 16 percent last cycle.

The potential to add more women to the House and Senate is significant. Today, just 20 percent of Congress is made up of women — after Tuesday, that number is expected to go up.

These increases are important because they can transform the way people perceive political leaders, not to mention the kinds of policies that get prioritized.

Democratic women’s interest in running for office surged in 2018
More women are running for office overall, but this increase has been especially notable on the Democratic side. Emily’s List, a Democratic group that helps train and fund women candidates who support abortion rights, saw a massive outpouring of interest from women in the wake of the 2016 election.

According to Emily’s List, at least 42,000 women have reached out to the organization about running for public office since the 2016 presidential election. That marks a huge jump from the 2016 election cycle, when just 920 women expressed a similar interest. The sizable difference between these two numbers underscores the scale of this year’s surge and suggests that 2018 could be the start of even more women getting politically involved in the future.

Research from the University of Virginia’s Jennifer Lawless and Loyola Marymount’s Richard Fox has found that it’s tougher to get women to run for office because women candidates are more likely to question their qualifications or see political office as a viable career path.

Women candidates’ enthusiasm this cycle, however, signals that the interest in running for office is absolutely there. “We know people get politically active if they have a reason to and if they are asked to,” says Notre Dame political science professor Christina Wolbrecht.

Women make up a lower proportion of candidates on the Republican side
A much higher proportion of Democrats’ congressional candidates are made up of women compared to Republican ones. Democratic women are the nominees in 42 percent of House races, and Republican women are the nominees in 12 percent of House races, based on data from the Center for American Women and Politics.

This is, in large part, because of the discrepancies in infrastructure and support the respective parties have provided for women candidates. Emily’s List has been a fundraising powerhouse for women on the left, while women on the right don’t yet have any organizations that are quite as comparable.

Additionally, being a woman candidate and discussing gender is viewed as a political advantage for Democrats, while Republicans tend to sidestep any focus on gender because they often don’t like to be seen as playing into “identity politics.”

Women are outperforming men
One of the most interesting dynamics to emerge in this year’s primaries is that women candidates consistently did better than their male counterparts. According to an NBC News analysis, 44 percent of non-incumbent Democratic women won their primaries, compared to 21 percent of Democratic men. Similarly, non-incumbent Republican women have also outperformed their male counterparts, with 34 percent of non-incumbent Republican women winning versus 29 percent of Republican men.

As Vox’s Ella Nilsen reported, “[Democratic] female candidates in 2018 are more likely to defeat male candidates than the other way around.”

Women lead the resistance
Women have been at the forefront of protests that have taken place in response to Donald Trump’s election, starting with the Women’s March the day after his inauguration. According to a Vox report, at least 4.2 million people attended one of the Women’s March events in cities across the country including Washington, DC, New York, and Los Angeles.

In DC, somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million showed up. That number dwarfed attendance for Trump’s inauguration, which a crowd scientist estimated as between 300,000 and 600,000 people. It’s a dynamic that quickly emerged as a sore spot for the president and underscored the magnitude of the opposition toward him.

Young women are part of the resistance too
Young women — a group that’s historically been less engaged in political activities — have been a crucial component of the so-called resistance.

A staggering 74 percent of Democratic millennial women said they took a concrete political action to mark the Women’s March in 2018, while 38 percent of Republican millennial women said the same. As the Washington Post reported, a survey from the Public Religion Research Institute and MTV has also shown that young women are more likely to have attended a protest and donated money to a campaign or cause, compared to young men.

Female donors have skyrocketed
Women aren’t just running and protesting in larger numbers; they’re also giving money to candidates in a way they haven’t before. Women have donated to federal candidates and committees in unprecedented numbers, a development that’s significant given the pivotal role that fundraising plays in various congressional races.

As of last fall, the number of women giving was up 284 percent compared to the same time in the 2015-’16 election cycle. Plus, they aren’t just donating to political candidates; they also made up the majority of donors for groups like the American Civil Liberties Union as of January.

Midterm turnout rates are low among young voters. Young women might make the difference.

Millennial voters have historically had notoriously low turnout in recent elections, even though they amount to more than 30 percent of the electorate. This year, that could be changing.

The enthusiasm of young women voters could play a major role in increasing voter turnout, though it’s still unclear just how much of this energy will actually materialize at the ballot box.

A survey conducted by PRRI and the Atlantic in July found that 56 percent of women ages 18 to 34 said they were either definitely or probably planning to vote in the upcoming midterm elections, compared to 47 percent of men in the same age bracket.

Young women are leaning Democratic by sizable margins

Across age and gender lines, young women are the one group that identifies as overwhelmingly Democratic.

Women overall are likely to lean Democratic, with 54 percent supporting or leaning toward the Democratic candidate in their district, versus 38 percent who favor the Republican candidate. But 68 percent of young women are choosing Democrats, compared to 24 percent who prefer Republicans. Their affinity for the Democratic Party could mean big gains for these candidates if these voters turn out.

African-American women were the deciding factor in the Alabama special election

Though it’s hard to say what will happen on Election Day, there’s one race where African-American women were the deciding factor: the Alabama special election last year. African-American women went for Democrat Doug Jones by a 98-2 margin, and they were seen as the crucial votes needed to push him to a win.

African-American women in a slew of other states — including Missouri, Georgia, and Florida — could once again be the deciding voters on Election Day, the Washington Post reports.

One other effect of the Alabama special election was that it prompted more African-American women to pursue state office, Vox’s Alexia Fernández Campbell reports:

At least 70 African-American women are running in Alabama, according to Emerge America, a nonprofit group that trains women to run for political office. These women are running for seats on local school boards, and as county judges, state lawmakers, and members of Congress. Many are entering politics for the first time with the momentum from December’s special election, when Democrats turned out en masse to defeat Republican Roy Moore’s bid for US Senate and to elect Doug Jones.

This year’s election has also shattered records for the number of women of color who are running across the country.

Women make a difference when they take office

Women lawmakers have a long history of prioritizing issues that are important to women, including abortion rights, health care, and family leave. As Vox’s Sarah Kliff reports, a paper from Georgetown University professor Michele Swers has previously shown that “liberal female legislators co-sponsored an average of 10.6 bills related to women’s health — an average of 5.3 more than their liberal male colleagues.” A study of a 2009 congressional session also found that women were able to get 2.31 bills enacted compared to their male counterparts who enacted 1.57 bills, on average.

“Women in Congress are just more likely to prioritize issues that have a direct connection to women — violence against women, family leave policy, those kinds of things,” Swers told Kliff. “The more you can directly connect the consequence to women, the more you see female legislators getting involved.”

Women in Congress get more for their constituents

Women lawmakers in the House have also brought back more money for their districts. According to a study conducted by UC Berkeley’s Sarah Anzia and University of Chicago’s Christopher Berry, female legislators sent 9 percent more funds back to their districts between 1984 and 2004. Anzia and Berry found that districts represented by women received $49 million more in federal funding annually, on average, compared to those represented by men.

One example of this discrepancyf this discrepancy was the $70 million difference in annual funding procured by Rep. Judy Biggert for Illinois’s 13th Congressional District in her first term compared to what Rep. Harris Fawell brought back in his final term in office.

Another, less tangible outcome that is still important is that perceptions of women’s ability to hold leadership roles also shifts dramatically. Notre Dame’s Wolbrecht has found that young women were more likely to be politically active or participate in debates about politics in places where more women hold elected offices or leadership positions.

Women in office spur more women to run

When women ascend to different elected offices, there’s also a sizable multiplier effect.After women are elected to statewide office, including governorships and Senate seats, more women pursue roles in the state legislature four years down the line, according to research by Amelia Showalter, the digital analytics director for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.

Her research indicated that women in positions of power helped compel other women to vie for political office in the future.

And as this video shows, the women elected in the 2018 midterms may help motivate other women to run for office in the future. As more women join government their representation will become more and more normalized.