Analysis: What the 2018 Midterm Results Mean for Women

November 13, 2018
A woman at the 2018 Women’s March in Phoenix, Arizona, wear an American flag over her back and shoulders. Photo taken from behind the woman.

Credit: Photo by Josh Johnson on Unsplash

The midterm elections ushered in changes at all levels of government: Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Republicans will likely increase their ranks in the U.S. Senate. At the state level, Democrats flipped seven state legislative chambers and picked up at least seven of 26 previously Republican controlled gubernatorial seats.

But the dominant story of this election is the power of women. So far, polling suggests over 52 percent of voters in this election were female, matching their previous turnout record in the 2010 midterms. And not only did a record number of women run for office, a record number of those women will now serve, even as we await more election results. Beating the former high of 112 women set by the current Congress, at least 102 women will be sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives and at least 23 women will serve in the U.S. Senate. Additionally, at least nine women will lead their states as governors.

 

Breaking Down Barriers

 

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The country also notched several notable firsts: Nevada elected a female-majority federal delegation, a female-majority state Supreme Court, and, depending on the outcome of some yet-to-be-decided races, may seat the first female-majority state legislature.  Here are some examples of a few more firsts:

  • Sharice Davids (D-KS) and Deb Haaland (D-NM) were elected as the first two Native American women in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Tennessee will send Marsha Blackburn (R) to the Senate as its state’s first woman senator.

These firsts are a reminder that while the number of women in elected positions has increased, we remain far from parity.  This progress is critical, but the work is far from over.

 

Ballot Initiative Victories

Voters also weighed in on several ballot initiatives across the country. Ballot measures play an important role in establishing policies that support women and their families. Thanks in part to the advocacy of AAUW members, several ballot measures tied to AAUW’s public policy priorities had a successful night.

  • Massachusetts voters approved Question 3, which preserves the state’s law protecting transgender people from discrimination in public places.
  • Oregon’s Measure 106, which proposed prohibiting publicly funded health care programs from covering abortions, was voted down.
  • Florida voters approved Amendment 4, automatically restoring voting rights for people with prior felony convictions after completion of their sentences, giving voting rights back to approximately 1.5 million people.

These ballot initiatives make it clear that it’s not only candidates that matter on the ballot each election cycle — each election, AAUW policy priorities are at issue too.

 

The Problem of Voter Suppression

While Florida voted to restore voting rights to 1.5 million people, measures stifling the voices of many voters are proliferating. Voter suppression tactics can change the outcomes of elections, especially as we are seeing elections increasingly decided so narrowly. Arkansas and North Carolina approved ballot initiatives requiring government issued photo identification to cast a ballot, known to disproportionately disfranchise women, voters of color, and low-income voters.

In Georgia, the Secretary of State’s office suspended the voter registrations of over 50,000 voters, over 70% of whom were African American, and technical errors created multi-hour delays at the polls. In North Dakota, new voter requirements mandating voters show their current residential address to vote disfranchised thousands of Native Americans, because many reservations use P.O. boxes instead of residential addresses. These tactics, and others, combine to suppress the voices of millions of voters.  AAUW will continue to fight these measures to make sure all voices matter and all votes count.

AFGE joined community advocates and labor unions for the #ProtectMyVote rally on the steps of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on an important case brought by Demos and the ACLU on behalf of the A. Philip Randolph Institute and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. The case is a challenge to Ohio’s voter purge practices vis-à-vis the National Voter Registration Act (Motor Voter).

Credit: AFGE Joins Groups for #ProtectMyVote Rally at the Supreme Court by AFGE. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

 

Next Steps

Many members of the U.S. House of Representatives have been sent to Washington with a renewed charge from the voters who elected them to stop the erosion of rights we’ve seen in the past two years. Gender equity was a winning campaign message, and we see real potential that the agenda for the 116th Congress will reflect that work, including championing policies that help to close the gender pay gap, making workplaces and schools safer for women and girls, and ensuring all families can succeed.

For example, AAUW will be working with the new Congress to move key priorities, like the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier for women who face pay discrimination to seek justice, to urge them to act as a check on efforts to weaken health care and reproductive rights, and to see where there is room for positive, bipartisan efforts in other areas.

While the prior Congress had stalled on many crucial issues, states have moved forward, advancing pay equity, paid leave, and reproductive rights in many places. We also hope that the newly elected state officials will carry forward the policies of importance to women and families, which they campaigned on and which ushered them into office.

However, single-party control has consolidated in statehouses.  After the midterm elections, only one state — Minnesota — will have legislative chambers that are controlled by different parties. And at least 36 states will have government trifectas, with the same party controlling both chambers and the governor’s mansion. This polarization means that it will be easier to advance legislation at the state level, but AAUW will have to continue our work to ensure that those policies are advantageous to women.

 

A Call to Action

Women shattered historic glass ceilings in the 2018 midterm elections, but now we must hold all elected officials accountable to ensure these policymakers are representing your interests and working to enact policies in line with AAUW’s public policy priorities.  Help us do that by becoming a member of the AAUW Action Network. Then urge your member of Congress to support women by protecting voting rights, fighting for fair pay, passing paid leave, and more!

Deborah J. Vagins By:   |   November 13, 2018

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