It’s only been 18 months since the historic 2016 election yet the seismic cultural and political changes around women’s issues have never been bigger and frankly more surprising: two historic women’s marches; young women leading national activism against gun violence; #MeToo and the toppling of an ever-growing cast of prominent men across myriad industries and sectors. And my personal favorite: more women running for office than ever before. At IGNITE we are thrilled about this wave of female candidates, but I’m worried that the narrative about women and political power in 2018 may set us up for some serious disappointment if we don’t win big at the federal level.
Here are some things of note:
- Yes, there are a record number of female candidates for Congress!
- Here’s the kicker: many more men are running too. The share of women running for these seats has only increased by 6% higher since 2016.
- Most of these female candidates are Democrats, many running in districts that are solidly, deeply conservative.
- Most of the women running for these seats are challenging incumbents, who almost always win.
- Democratic female candidates outnumber their Republican counterparts 3:1. Put another way, the increase in federal female candidates this year is almost entirely explained by the surge on one side of the aisle. That’s great if you want to elect Democrats, but if you also want to get to political parity, Republicans have to elect women too.
- Another interesting thing to note: women aren’t just running at higher rates than before, they are also donating at higher rates, although their collective contributed dollars are still significantly lower than the amount donated by men. And the money is largely going to federal candidates.
The reason why we don’t have women in office is not because they don’t WIN at the same rates as men, it’s because they don’t RUN at the same rates as men. The only way to reach and sustain parity is to ensure that we have parity in the candidate pool. With three times as many male candidates in 2018, even if more women win this year, we have to stay on the gas and ensure that the proportion of female to male candidates evens out in 2020 and every election thereafter.
The more optimistic story is at the local level. The United States has over 520,000 elected offices, most of which are at the local level. These school board members, city council members, community college board members, and county supervisors make critically important policy decisions that impact our daily lives (decisions like: Do you live in a sanctuary city? Does your city regulate gun and ammo sales? How much does community college cost? Can public school students learn about evolution?)
While the sheer volume of local elections makes it nearly impossible to count candidacies now, it looks as though we’re seeing a commensurate surge in women running for these positions, which are typically non-partisan and less costly races.
Whether you care about local, state, or federal politics, one thing is clear: we are not getting to political parity in just one election cycle. No matter how well women fare in 2018, we need to ensure that more women continue to run for every level of office in every election year until our governing bodies look like, and represent the perspectives, of all Americans. At IGNITE, we know that means political parity is a long game, and playing a long game means we MUST educate the next generation of young women, by teaching them that it is both their calling and their duty to own their political power — by voting and running.