The US midterm elections, which is just days away, marks two years since the presidential elections. A record number of women are running for office increasing their chances of a win and offering a welcome break from the status quo.
The US midterm election on November 6 is fast approaching, and everyone is abuzz about the record number of female candidates that are running for office this year – and the potential they have to change the outcome of the elections.
A record 476 women have filed as candidates for the 2018 US midterm elections. In comparison, in 2012, the most recent time that a record number of women had filed for the elections, the number of female candidates stood at 298. In terms of nominees who won primaries, the number has gone from 167 in 2016 to 235 according to recent data from Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP).
According to recent research, voters in America are currently quite open to women candidates “because voters are fed up with the status quo and see a vote for a woman as a vote for change,” Amanda Hunter, Communications Director of Barbara Lee Family Foundation, a nonpartisan organisation, tells TRT World.
“Aside from women just running for office there’s also an unprecedented enthusiasm around women’s political involvement,” Hunter observes.
“We’re not just breaking these records – we’re blowing through them,” says Debbie Walsh, Director of CAWP, in a phone interview with TRT World.
It has been two years since Donald Trump, notorious for his nonchalant attitude towards women that many consider misogynist, was elected president, and less than a month since Brett Kavanaugh, a privileged white man accused of rape, was confirmed to the US Supreme Court.
Trump is not the cause but the symptom of a way of thinking that has taken hold of the Republican Party for the last 20 or 30 years, a flawed view that’s like “a 1950s black-and-white view of what ‘traditional America’ was,” Ross Morales Rocketto, co-founder of Run for Something, a progressive political action committee (PAC), tells TRT World.
So the question is, is this a reaction to the status quo? Is this an effort to clear the stink of sexual misconduct and disrupt the old boys’ network in politics?
It might not be that simple or straightforward. While questions of sexual violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment have come to the forefront, they are not the only issues that women run on.
“What we’re seeing among the women candidates is that many of them are being much more open, transparent, authentic about all aspects of their life – whether it’s the fact they’re mothers of young children or that they have student loan debt or they come from a home where their mother was a drug addict,” Debbie Walsh of CAWP tells TRT World.
Walsh believes that in addition to all those honest conversations women are having about their lives, they’re talking about their own #MeToo experiences, and that cuts across party lines.
Rocketto is also reticent to name Trump as the sole motivator for women candidates, careful to stress the nuances. He says their candidates are running to solve problems, and Trump just happens to be “one factor” that pushes people to step up.
“Women run for office because they want to solve problems,” declares Hunter, echoing Rocketto’s words, “not for fame and fortune.”
The advantage of being a female candidate extends to both parties, Hunter affirms.
“We know that women on both sides of the aisle currently have advantages with voters, Democrats and Republicans.”
Asked whether Republican women would vote Democrat for female candidates, Hunter has her doubts. However Hunter does believe that the midterm elections will bring out millennial women who “feel so strongly about this [#MeToo] issue it has the potential to energise them and send them to the polls.”
Hunter says that while they haven’t done polling on that specific issue, generally partisanship outweighs other factors, so women tend to vote along party lines.
Debbie Walsh gives the example of Hillary Clinton, who, she says, while doing better than Barack Obama and John Kerry with married white college-educated Republican female voters, still didn’t win.
“it’s a misunderstanding of voting to think that people are voting the gender of the candidate,” Walsh says, “I think if they are dissatisfied Republican women voters they may vote Democratic but it won’t be necessarily that they’re coming out in droves for women candidates.”
Walsh says that on election night “traditionally Republican women within Trump’s orbit” with whom he has lost ground with in polls – where will they end up will be the big question.
Rocketto begins laughing while contemplating whether Republican women would vote across party lines in the midterms. He says that in all honesty, he doesn’t know, and doesn’t think anyone else really does, either.
“The only conventional wisdom that still exists in US politics today is that there is no conventional wisdom anymore,” he adds.
It is partly thanks to to the old rules going out of style that so many women have been able to run for office in the midterm elections. Women who have been frustrated by whom Rocketto calls “mediocre white men” on ballots have decided to step up and demand equal representation in office.
One thing that Walsh, Hunter and Rocketto all agree on is that it would be a different landscape with more women in positions of power in the United States.
Walsh says CAWP research shows women in office tend to prioritise issues that affect women, families and children; that childcare, healthcare or education might be brought to the forefront.
Rocketto says having voices at the table that “haven’t typically been there” means tackling issues that traditionally white men haven’t been interested in tackling.
Hunter says “We know that women work across the aisle to get things done,” with a nonpartisan approach to focus on issues rather than politics, “and women tend to create better policy for families because they’re in touch with voters’ lives.”