Three Cheers for a Record Number of Women Running for Political Offices in 2018

In 2002, Michele Swers published The Difference Women Make, arguing that women in public offices best represent women’s interests. By incorporating a quantitative analysis of legislative bills and interviews of female and male legislators, Swers found that women in public offices pursue women’s issues more than men in public offices. While men can represent women’s interest, it is quantitatively proven that women best represent women, a remark even championed by Elizabeth Stanton back in 1848.

The slogan “Representation matters” still rings true in American politics. However, women have never in the course of American history been able to represent men and women in public office at the rates that men do.   

According to the Center of American Women and Politics (CAWP), only 19.8% of elected seats in Congress are held by women this year. State legislatures indicate marginally better representation for women by having 25.3% of their elected officials be women. Even though historically these numbers are better than they have been, such little representation of women and women’s interests are alarming

Yet, contrary to what countless political commentators have suggested during and after Hillary Clinton’s presidential run in 2016, women have not been excluded from public offices by any external bias against female leadership. Since the 1990s, women have no disadvantage when running for office. In fact, a 2001  survey study performed by Eric Smith and Richard Fox revealed that in addition to there being no bias against female Senate candidates, women vying for a House seat actually have an advantage over some male candidates.

As the data indicates, biases against women are not keeping them from taking office. Why won’t they run, though?

Low representation of women in public offices reflects internal impediments when a woman decides to run for office. Richard Fox in “Gender, Political Ambition and the Decision Not to Run for Office” concluded that a woman is less likely to run for a public office than an equally-qualified man. The same woman is also more likely than a man to run for a local seat when she does decide to run. Reduced political ambitions of women tend to be attributed to lower personal income, household obligations, feelings of being unqualified, and lack of external support for a candidacy.

Fox notes, “the findings presented in this report point to the importance recruitment processes and the manner in which women and men in contemporary society come to be socialized about politics and the acquisition of political power.” Teach a women that she is a qualified and good candidate, and she’ll be more likely to run with the proper candidate support system.

However, Fox’s study also reveals that women are equally optimistic as men about running “someday” for a political office. Give women the right stimulus to run, and socialize them so that they believe they can win, and the American population should expect more representation of women in political offices. This is why organizations like the Political Institute for Women, She Should Run, and Ignite are so important for the political arena; they teach women that they can and should run for offices.

2018 is set to be an exciting year for women taking office. More women are running for office this year more than ever, making 2018 the year that broke records. After all, if women only need to confront an internal hurdle that discourages them to run for office, then more women are expected to be voted into office.

Unfortunately, Republican women have not been running for office in as large numbers as democrats, meaning that Republican women representation will suffer. According to a NPR report, Deborah Walsh, the director of the CAWP, claimed that the increase in women candidates is clearly party-specific. “I think it’s really being driven on the Democratic side,” Walsh said. “I think the energy and the excitement and the determination, not just to run but also in terms of who’s going to show up to vote, right now, that’s on the side of the Democrats.”

Texas feels this surge of female candidates, too. With dozens of women running for state and local offices, many predict that Texas will send the first female freshman in 22 years to a full term in Congress.

Due to the drought of women involved in Texas politics over the last couple of decades, vacancies of seats from retirements, and inspirations due to opposition to Donald Trump’s administration, women, even Republican women, are also running more than ever.

However, some caution should be advised for female candidates. The Texas Tribune states, “the stakes for the Republican Party to send some of these women to Congress are high, from a national perspective. The House GOP conference is bleeding female members due to retirement and women who are vacating their seats to run statewide. [However], other Republican women represent some of the most vulnerable districts on the 2018 map.” Even though these women are needed in terms of preserving current representation numbers, maintaining those female seats is difficult for current races.

The Tribune continues, “even if some of these women run the best campaigns possible, many are likely to come up short anyway. Some are running in the wrong party to win their seat. In other cases, open seats and Trump ire have similarly attracted talented male candidates as well. And for the women hoping to take on Session, Culberson and Hurd - three Republican incumbents drawing strong attention from Democrats this year - it’s worth remembering that incumbents keep returning to Congress year in, year out for a reason: They know how to win in their districts.”

Even though the reality of the Texas political scene might discourage female candidates, other considerations should also encourage them. Although the incumbency retention rate has been 93% on average since 1992, a decrease in the number of incumbents running for office gives women a better shot at winning an election and increasing representation numbers. Additionally, Smith and Fox’s study revealed that women vying for a House seat have an unknown advantage over men vying for the same seat, meaning that this unknown advantage cannot be replicated in favor of male candidates. As long as women decide to run, they stand just as much as a decent chance at winning as an equally qualified man.

Overall, the more women that run, the better chance women have for representation. Even more imperative, the more that minority women run, the minority women have for representation, as their numbers of representation are worse than the number of women represented in general. Democracy is contingent on representation and collaboration. So, the more that our country encourages women to run for office, the better chance we have obtaining fair and just policies that affect women. I am excited that more women are running for public offices, because it’s a better guarantee that the future includes females.

 

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