2017 was a year of the woman. It started with the Women’s March and ended with the defeat of prominent men implicated in sexual harassment and assault in the fields of entertainment, business, politics and beyond.
The original “year of the woman” came in 1992, after senators grilled Anita Hill about her allegations that Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her — hearings that ushered an unprecedented wave of women into Congress.
Here’s how the midterms look for female candidates right now:
As of this week, the Center for American Women and Politics had identified 390 women who have filed or are likely to file as U.S. House candidates.
- 49 women likely to run for the U.S. Senate
- Among House candidates, the vast majority—82 percent—are not incumbents. If those numbers hold up, it would constitute the largest pool of female congressional candidates in history.
While men — Democratic and Republican alike — in Lawless and Fox’s survey were on average more likely than women to say they were considering a run for office, female Democrats appeared particularly exercised about Trump. Among the Democrats who said they had thought about running, 28 percent of women said it had first occurred to them since the election, compared with 11 percent of Democratic men.
Because most women run as Democrats, a boom in Democratic candidates also means a boom in female candidates, and vice versa. In 2016, for instance, 70 percent of female Senate candidates and 65 percent of female House candidates were Democrats, according to primary and general election data from the Center for American Women and Politics. This year, among the women likely to run, about 80 percent are Democratic.
Thus, it’s likely that the surge in female candidates is a result of both the activism of the women’s movement and the more general strategic calculations by Democrats, many of whom are women. Either way, it’s all about Trump.
Women win their races just as often as men — so more women on the ballot will probably mean more women winning seats.
Some research suggests that women’s fortunes might also depend on the extent to which stories about sexual harassment and misconduct continue to dominate the news. In that way, 2018 could be like 1992, when anger about sexual harassment helped female candidates win women’s votes.
That’s no small task. Despite the conventional wisdom, it’s not easy for women to win over female voters. A large body of research finds only limited evidence that women are disproportionately inclined to vote for female candidates, once you account for things such as partisanship and ideology. That was true even in 1992’s year of the woman, when political scientist Philip Paolino found that women were not on average more likely than men to vote for female Senate candidates such as Patty Murray and Barbara Boxer.
Paolino did find, however, that women who believed sexual harassment was a serious problem in the workplace were more likely to vote for female candidates in states where women were running for the Senate. Attitudes about sexual harassment were not correlated with vote choice in races where women were not running — nor did they influence men’s votes.
“Women will support female candidates not based on simple in-group preference,” Paolino concluded, “but because of a concern that the descriptive underrepresentation of women in Congress increases the possibility that gender-salient issues are overlooked.” In other words, female candidates may be able to galvanize women’s votes when women feel that a male-dominated political system is neglecting their issues.
With the news media heavily covering sexual harassment and predation recently, voters may very well be thinking about the subject quite a bit.