With Election Day right around the corner, the future for women in politics is brighter than ever before.
In fact, 583 women ran as candidates for the U.S. House in 2020, a 22.5 percent increase from the record set two years ago. And as of now, 300 women (206 Democrats and 94 Republicans) are still in the running for the U.S. House. These races span 253 districts in 44 states.
And in the U.S. Senate, 60 women ran as candidates in 2020, a 13.2 percent increase from the record set in the last election. Some 27 women candidates are still in the running for a total of 17 seats. Of the 27 candidates, 16 are Democratic for a total of 13 seats, and 11 are Republicans running for a total of nine seats.
While experts touted 2018 as “the Year of the Woman,” 2020 clearly is as well. Notably, there has been a substantial increase of Republican women throwing their hats into congressional races.
“This trend of an increase in women candidates is continuing beyond 2018,” said Kelly Dittmar, director of Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics. “We’ll find out after Election Day if this also holds true when it comes to their success.”
This election cycle’s increase in women on the Republican side is great news for the future, said Dittmar. “We knew coming out of 2018 that we’d be limited in gender parity if increases happen on only one side of the aisle,” she said.
There are also a record number of women of color running. At least 248 women of color – including women who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander (API), Black, Latina, Middle Eastern or North African (MENA), Native American, and/or multiracial – ran for the U.S. House in 2020. This number is higher than any other election year, noted Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics.
The increase in women running this year is important because “it shows that 2018 was not a blip on the radar,” said Nichole Bauer, assistant professor of political communication at Louisiana State University. “After 1992, the first so-called ‘Year of the Woman,’ the rates of women’s candidacies did not continue to spike and grow in subsequent elections. It pretty much just plateaued for about the next 15 to 16 years, and women’s representation at the federal level grew by a rate of less than 1 percent during that time period,” she added. “Women’s continued candidacies suggests that women’s interest in running for political office may, depending on what 2022 brings, be a sustained phenomenon.”
All of this points to the fact that the gender gap in political ambition might be closing, and this has longtime repercussions, Bauer explained. This is very important because going forward, more women running can have important role-modeling effects for young women who might consider running for office in 10, 20 or 30 years from now.
“A pipeline of women to run for political office is being built, and this pipeline is the only way that women’s representation can be improved,” Bauer said. “It’s been 103 years since the first woman took a seat in Congress, and women have only reached a level of representation in Congress of 25 percent.” Bauer believes it will take a sustained surge of women running and women winning to reach gender parity.
More women of color running is especially worth celebrating. This is one of the most poorly represented groups in terms of numbers, yet women of color are often highly productive lawmakers, Bauer noted. “They represent the interests of not just marginalized communities but their broad constituents very well,” Bauer added. “Women of color get stuff done in government. And the role-modeling benefits for young girls of color are huge. This cannot be understated given the prejudice, misogyny and institutionalized racism-sexism faced by young girls of color.”
That said, women still have to overcome many more obstacles in order to win compared to men—and while we’re on the right track for progress, we have a long journey ahead. “Women winning is good for democracy, but it doesn’t mean we are in a gender-bias-free election climate anymore,” Bauer said. “There is still more work to do.”