Research

Midterm Milestones for Women

What’s the future for women in US politics?



The US midterms made history this week with records set by women from both the Republican and the Democratic Parties. What are the key milestones that stand out? And what do they mean for women’s place in the future of American politics?

History is Made During the Midterms

Voting in the midterms marked a series of milestones for women across the United States. Here are some of the highlights:

  • A record number of women won seats in the House of Representatives (96 vs. previous record of 85)
  • Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland become the first Native American women elected to Congress
  • Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar become the first Muslim women elected to Congress
  • As a Somali American, Ilhan Omar becomes the first refugee to be elected to Congress
  • Marsha Blackburn and Martha McSally/Kyrsten Sinema (race still ongoing) become the first female senators to represent Tennessee and Arizona, respectively
  • Young Kim becomes the first Korean-American woman elected to Congress
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez becomes the youngest woman elected to Congress, at the age of 29

These victories mean that the proportion of women with significant political power in the United States has risen to approximately 22%. Women have now won nearly a quarter of the contested positions during the midterms.

It’s Not Over Yet: Georgia Candidate Refuses to Concede

Stacey Abrams is vying to become the first female African-American governor in the history of the United States, and she hasn’t given up yet. At the time of writing, Georgia is locked in a symbolic battle that reflects the deep racial and political divisions of the state. Republican Brian Kemp, a long-time Trump advocate and self-proclaimed ‘politically incorrect conservative‘, is Abrams’ opponent. Controversially, as Georgia’s Secretary of State, he also happens to be Georgia’s top election officer, and in charge of overseeing Georgia’s (and his own) voting process.

Kemp has been accused of voter suppression by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), voting rights groups, and Abrams’ camp. These allegations come as Georgia experienced widespread voting issues during the midterms, including long waiting times, voter machine breakdowns, and the recent introduction of stricter rules for voting eligibility. On Thursday, Kemp announced his resignation as Secretary of State, but most believe that the damage to Georgia’s election has already been done. Although votes are still being counted in Georgia, Kemp still leads, and unless Abrams receives enough votes to trigger a runoff election, she will have to use legal action to stop Kemp becoming Georgia’s next governor.

To find out more, we recommend The Guardian’s video on the Georgia elections here.

What Should We Expect From an Increased Proportion of Women in Power?

News outlets are hailing the midterm results as a landmark for women in politics. Despite this, the 22% female distribution of those in power still do not represent the 50-50 gender distribution in the United States. It remains to be seen whether the midterm results are the sign of a changing tide in favour of female representation (mostly Democratic, it should be noted), or part of US politics’ to-ing and fro-ing polarisation cycle.

Amidst the unpredictable future of American politics, Vox remains optimistic about the meaning of the 2018 midterms. In his article, Danush Parvaneh outlines a number of positive consequences of having more women in office:

  • Women tend to spend more time than men speaking about issues like education, climate change, and minimum wage
  • Women lawmakers bring in 9% more federal spending for their consistuents than their male counterparts
  • Women lawmakers sponsor more bills than male legislators
  • If a state elects a woman senator/governor, an average of 7 additional women will run for the state government in the following election cycle

How these women wield their new power in 2019 will provide an interesting counterpoint to the ongoing chaos of the Trump administration. With new authority to block Republican bills, the Democrats will surely make their presence in Congress known. And will it mean the end of Trump’s dream for a border wall with Mexico, or possibly even the end of Trump himself? Ironically, with the increased female representation in Congress, this may be at the behest of women.