2018: The Pink Wave Will Arrive on Nov. 6


By Lauren Rowley

Since the first Congress in 1789, fewer than 3 percent of America’s national political leaders have been women. It wasn’t until 1992, more than 200 years later, that women achieved 10 percent representation. That year, a record-breaking 47 women walked up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to start their jobs in the House of Representatives. They had ignited a fire for more women to step up and share their voice in the political arena, and other women went to the polls in masses energized by the surplus of females on the ballot. Since then, the year 1992 has been referred to as, “The Year of the Woman,” and it marked the beginning of a trend for more women to enter into the political scene.

Figure 1 Source: Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University

The Year of the Pink Wave

Leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, a new season of unparalleled advances for women in U.S. politics has emerged. While there has been a consistent increase of female candidates since the early ‘90s, this year there is an unprecedented number of women who have thrown their hat in the ring for various elections, both big and small, all around the United States. This year, 524 women ran in the primaries for the U.S. House and Senate, with even more joining them for state house elections. The number of women running against male incumbents for US Senate increased by nearly 350 percent since 2016 alone. In addition, 79 women ran for governor in the primaries this year, which doubled the record from 1994.

Since the primary elections, a total of 257 women have qualified for the November ballot in House or Senate races — 198 Democrats and 59 Republican candidates, according to an analysis of election results done by Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University (Figure 1). There are 235 women running for the House and 22 for the Senate. Some 16 women have also advanced to the November elections for gubernatorial races, and over 3,000 female candidates in state legislatures.

A few things to note is, first, that Democrats are advancing more female candidates than the Republican party. This comes as no surprise, because the Democratic party has made female candidates a party priority over the past few years in particular, and tends to have a better voter turnout for female candidates. Second, on both sides of the aisle, these women are not all professional politicians. They are educators, mothers, doctors, and businesswomen, and they are adding a fresh new energy to the political landscape. They are candidates with a passion for change and the ability to bring a new perspective.

What is causing women to run?

Many scholars argued the surge of women running in 1992 was greatly due to law professor Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony before an all-male Senate judiciary committee regarding Clarence Thomas’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, which left women dissatisfied with the men in charge and wanting to see change. Similarly, many women today have been spurred on to political endeavors due to controversial men being elected or appointed into office. Just as after Clarence Thomas’s confirmation in ’91, many believe that President Trump’s win in 2016 sparked a desire in many women to seek elected office. In May 2017, Loyola Marymount University’s Richard Fox and American University’s Jennifer Lawless put together a survey and found that Democratic women, in particular, were much more likely than other groups to say they first started thinking about running since his election. In addition, Emily’s List, a political action group which recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office, has had more than 26,000 women inquire about launching a campaign since President Trump’s inauguration.

Pew Research asked in an open-ended format why Americans think more women are running for U.S. Congress this year than in the past. In the results, one-in-five respondents said it is because it’s time for a change because the people who have been in charge, particularly men, haven’t done a good job, and others more generally attribute it to long-term societal changes that have led to more opportunities for women. Debora Walsh, director of Rutger’s University Center for American Women and Politics also points to a cultural shift where women are taking more initiative.

“We don’t know if this is a one-off or if this may be the beginning of a new norm. But it’s fascinating to watch women who are not necessarily waiting to be asked, not waiting to be asked to the dance,” she said.  “They’re just stepping up and engaging as candidates.”

Many argue that other societal advances for women, such as more conversation surrounding equal pay, corporate leadership, etc. have allowed them to take more initiative and run for elected office.

What will change if more women are elected?

Figure 2
Source: Pew Research Center

According to Pew Research, most Americans agree that more women running for office is a generally good thing. About six-in-ten say it’s a positive thing that more women are running for U.S. Congress this year than in the past, while a third say this is neither good nor bad. Just five percent see this movement as a bad thing. Maybe to no surprise, women are more likely than men to view female candidates running favorably, as are Democrats.

However, there is little public consensus on whether or not much would actually change once they are in office. Less than half of respondents said Congress would do a better job of dealing with the country’s problems (39%); that there would be more transparency in government (34%); or that the tone of debate in Washington would be more respectful (36%) if more women were in office. Many came to the conclusion that gender really has little to do with these areas of governance, but that women can help support a move towards diversity in overall representation.

In addition, a more diversity governing body encourages the country to consider what makes a good politician in a new light. With more women in office, there will be more room for women to advance to positions of leadership, and frame agendas from the female perspective.

Figure 3
Source: Pew Research Center

In the historical novel, Queen Margot, author Alexandre Dumas wrote, “Women are never so strong as after their defeat.” So when the former female Secretary of State lost to a male businessman who had no political background, it led to a nationwide outcry about politics and gender.

Women have grown tired of waiting around for others to represent them well. These women have marched by the millions, started activist groups, and are running some of the most successful campaigns in the country. So call it revenge, call it a revolution, or call it the pink wave. Win or lose in November, this movement is showing that women are being heard in a large way in the political arena, and the representation they have will, most likely, continue to grow. I believe that this movement in the 2018 election can be summed up well in this poem by Rupi Kaur:

“I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther.”

The women of tomorrow will be able to stand taller because of the women running today, and for that, there is much to celebrate.