2018: Another "Year of the Woman"
In 1991, an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Professor Anita Hill about the sexual harassment allegations she raised against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Photographs from the watershed moment sparked a conversation about gender representation in government, especially considering that only 31 of the 535 total seats in the 101st Congress spanning 1989-1991 were held by women. Rallying cries for stronger representation of women’s interests in government following the Anita Hill hearings contributed to a record number of women running for political office the following year. 1992 would later be dubbed the “Year of the Woman.”
Over two decades later, we are seeing an even higher number of women running for public office in today’s midterm elections. In fact, scholars and pundits alike have suggested that we could be experiencing yet another “Year of the Woman.” There are 257 women on ballots across the country today as major party nominees vying for seats in Congress. For comparison, only 140 women were major party nominees running for congressional seats in 2008. Although it remains to be seen if this record number of female candidates will translate to them holding more seats, the data consistently shows that when women run, they win just as consistently as men. Such evidence suggests that the future looks favorable for the vast number of women candidates this year.
However, the biggest predictor of vote choice is not the candidate’s gender, but rather their party affiliation. A CNN report showed that a significant number of the women appearing on the ballot today are Democratic nominees in solidly Republican districts. In other words, the theory of party affiliation as the strongest predictor of vote choice suggests that a sizable number of Democratic women running in Republican districts won’t be finishing first in tonight’s results.
Regardless of the proportion of women who win general elections this year, evidence suggests that women and girls are more likely to become politically active — including running as candidates — if they see other women modeling this behavior. Thus, the generation of young women and girls currently observing the Year of the Woman in 2018 may be inspired to run in the future, contributing to their own Year of the Woman later on.
Despite irrefutable evidence of women’s increased participation in politics as demonstrated by the record number of women running for office in this election cycle, the United States still has a long way to go to achieve equal representation in government. As of October of this year, women make up only 19.6% of the legislature, ranking 104th among the countries of the world in terms of the number of women in government. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Israel, China, and South Sudan are among those with a greater proportion of women in their legislatures than the United States.
Overall, the record-breaking number of women running for office this year will have a significant impact on the U.S. political landscape in the coming years. Regardless of how today’s contests pan out across the country, it is certain that the unprecedented amount of female candidates competing today will reassure the young women considering running for public office in the coming years — and their chances will surely be even better then.