“Where are all the Republican women?” Politico’s David Bernstein asked in a 2016 article.
The number of Republican women in the U.S. House has decreased from 25 in the 109th Congress (2005–2007) to 21 in the 115th Congress (2017–2019). The number of Democratic women, in contrast, has gone from 46 to 62 in that same period.
According to The Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, this partisan disparity has been growing at all levels of government, with Democrats electing more women and the Republicans fewer.
How could the party of U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and Iowa Senator Joni Ernst and New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez let this happen?
Three explanations have generally been offered to explain the dearth of elected Republican women:
(1) The Democrats are viewed as the party of women’s rights and, as a matter of policy, have prioritized getting women elected.
(2) There are more Democratic women with the backgrounds typically associated with political careers. Political scientists Melody Crowder-Meyer and Benjamin E. Lauderdale found in their 2014 study that “the proportion of women in the Democratic pool of potential candidates is now two to three times larger than in the Republican pool of potential candidates.”
(3) The money is more likely to flow to Democratic women running for office than it is to Republican women. Why? The Democratic Party is focused on identity politics, while the Republicans are ideological. According to a 2017 analysis by Washington Post reporters Michele L. Swers and Danielle M. Thomsen: “In the Democratic Party, female donors disproportionately make it a priority to boost female candidates, giving to Democratic women running for office. That’s not so for Republicans, where both male and female donors make ideology a priority and pay no attention to candidates’ gender.”
All three explanations are likely valid.
So what should the Republicans do about it, if anything?
Well, what they can’t do is nothing. As evidenced in the special elections that have occurred in the past year, women are voting for the Democratic candidates at a higher rate than normal percentage.
In the 2017 Virginia Gubernatorial race, for example, Democrat Ralph Northam won women by 22 percentage points over Republican Ed Gillespie. Former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe won women by just nine points in his 2013 run for Virginia governor.
If this trend continues in the 2018 midterm elections, the Republicans are in even bigger trouble than otherwise expected. Midterm term elections rarely go well for the president’s party and since 1950 the president’s party loses, on average, 24 seats in the U.S. House. With many women energized to vote against the Republicans and Donald Trump, those losses could be even larger in 2018.
The state of the economy and presidential approval will be the major drivers of the GOP’s fortunes in the midterms, but there is one additional effort the Republicans can make to potentially stave off a complete electoral meltdown: Nominate more women for the 2018 congressional races.
If the GOP wants to have a slugger’s chance at keeping control of the House, it is imperative to field more women candidates. And though recent opinion trends have brought some tentative optimism to Republicans, the majority of analysts still believe the Republicans will lose control of the U.S. House after the midterm elections.
PredictIt, a prediction market, gives the Democrats a 63 percent chance of taking control of the House in 2018.
Even more indicative of the GOP’s problems, 22 Republican House members have announced their retirements prior to the midterms, many because of their dimming re-election chances. In contrast, only 9 House Democrats are retiring (as of February 9, 2018).
While Democrats’ Trump-dementia may wear thin by November, leading voters to recoil back into the arms of Republicans, the GOP can’t rest their chances on that thin hope. Instead, the Republicans need to acknowledge the seriousness of the public’s mood right now and, in particular, the anger many women feel towards the current president.
If the GOP adopts Laura Ingraham’s argument that “women have never had it this good,” keeping control of the House and Senate is a lost cause. As Ingraham certainly knows, when it comes to voting, facts often aren’t as important as just raw, gut feelings.
Many women are angry right now at a president they see as an unrepentant serial abuser of women.
“The average difference in Trump’s approval rating between men and women was 12 percentage points in 2017, roughly double the differences for the three presidents who served immediately before him,” according to Megan Brenan from the Gallup Organization. “Trump’s annual average approval rating for his first year in office was 45 percent among men and 33 percent among women. These sub-50% ratings for a president’s first year in office are unprecedented, as is the 12-point gender difference.”
The Atlantic and the Gallup Poll recently completed extensive polling in 13 battleground states and found Trump’s job approval among college-educated white women, the vanguard of the anti-Trump movement, exceeded 34 percent in only four of those states.
But even among white women without college degrees, one of Trump’s core voting blocs in 2016, his approval ratings have dropped precipitously.
In the 2016 election, Trump carried 61 percent of white women without a college degree. But in a yearlong 2017 study, SurveyMonkey found this group evenly split, with 49 percent approving and 49 percent disapproving of Trump’s performance as president.
Why this drop in Trump’s approval among white women without college degrees? Beyond the overwhelmingly negative news coverage given to the Trump presidency, in general, there is also evidence pointing to the rise of the #MeToo movement and society’s heightened sensitivities to sexual harassment and abuse issues.
In a January 2018 Washington Post-ABC News Poll, 79 percent of white women without college degrees believe sexual harassment is a nationwide problem, and this was before Trump’s tone deaf defense of former top aide Rob Porter, who is accused of abusing his two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend.
Does Trump’s deficit with women necessarily transfer to congressional Republicans?
Perhaps not as much as many pundits assume.
As NPR’s political reporter Danielle Kurtzleben observantly points out, the current Republican gender gap is not unusually large compared to recent congressional election polls (see chart below).
Nonetheless, Kurtzleben’s same data shows 2018 shaping up to be similar to the 2006 midterms when the Republicans lost 30 House and six Senate seats.
Accordingly, congressional Republicans are keeping a close eye on the mood in their districts. According to The Cook Political Report (as of February 8th), six open House seats, previously held by the Republicans, are ‘leaning’ Democratic and 18 incumbent Republicans are in toss-up races.
Furthermore, despite Kurtzleben’s accurate observation, congressional Republicans should be looking for ways to reduce the gender gap.
“The future is female,” writes Alan Jude Ryland of SecondNexus.com.
Supporting Ryland’s broad assertion, my own research on the 2016 Iowa state legislative elections found that among candidates challenging incumbents, on average, women outperformed men, after controlling for other factors such as party affiliation and campaign expenditures. The candidate gender effect was small, perhaps no more than 3 percentage points; but in a close election, that is the difference between winning and losing.
My research also found that perceptions of candidate ‘honesty’ and ‘trust’ were major factors with undecided and swing voters at the presidential level in 2016 (though those factors worked against the woman at the top of the Democratic ticket in that election). Regardless, research consistently shows that women are viewed as more trustworthy than men (recent examples of this research can be found here and here) and thought leaders in both parties are increasingly convinced voters, all else equal, prefer women candidates over men.
In a controlled 2009 study, summarized in The Atlantic, where the subjects were introduced to two hypothetical candidates, an inexperienced female candidate was viewed as stronger, more honest, and more compassionate than an inexperienced male candidate. “One potential explanation is that, as members of a group who have traditionally been underrepresented in Congress and elsewhere, women new to politics get an ‘outsider bump’ when they run that is not accorded to men,” hypothesized the study’s principal investigator, Deborah Jordan Brooks.
In a 2014 Pew Research Center study, researchers found that most Americans view men or women as no different on characteristics commonly associated with political and business leadership.
However, in the context of politics, for many Americans women are viewed as better than men at “working out compromises” (34 percent to 9 percent, respectively), “being honest and ethical” (34 percent to 3 percent, respectively), and “working to improve U.S. quality of life” (26 percent to 5 percent, respectively).
It is beyond mere conjecture that women may have a distinct advantage as political candidates with American voters.
The Clock is Ticking on the 2018 Midterm Elections
It may be too late for national and state Republican leaders to significantly impact the number of women nominees for the 2018 midterm elections. The candidate decisions on whether to run or not have been made. At this late hour, therefore, it will be Republican primary voters that can push the GOP into the modern age of gender politics.
Ideally, Republicans need to nominate as many women as possible for the 17 open House races considered ‘leaning’ or ‘toss-ups’ by the Cook Political Report. If that gender-based strategy tips the balance in just half of those races, it could prevent the Republicans from losing control of the House.
In the small, unrepresentative sample of New Jersey Republicans I’ve talked to about this strategy, their responses can be summarized as: “We are not Democrats, we don’t believe in identity politics.”
On principal, that’s great. Republicans are welcome to repeat those principles to themselves as they collectively jump off the electoral cliff in November.
For those Republicans with a stronger survival instinct, it is not too late to change course.
The Blue Wave is Coming — but the GOP can still Minimize its Impact
The Trump presidency has energized millions of women (and men) in this country, not just to march and organize voter registration drives, but to also run for elective office.
As of now, 2018 is shaping up to be another 1992, billed then as “The Year of the Woman.” In that election, the number of women in Congress doubled when 27 new women were elected to Congress. Women have not seen gains like that since, and while 2018 probably won’t double the number of women in Congress, we will see a significant percentage increase from the current 19.4 percent.
Are the Republicans prepared for this? What do you think?
It is hard to say they are given they just ran creepy virgin chaser Roy Moore for the Senate seat in Alabama. If the Republicans continue to nominate people like Roy Moore, they won’t only lose both chambers of Congress, they’ll have a hard time winning statewide offices in Alabama.
Politics isn’t complicated. Party registration advantages may set the foundation, but winning and losing often comes down to simple marketing. The better brand wins. And the brand is represented by the people running under the party’s banner.
The GOP needs more Nikki Haleys and Joni Ernsts. Unfortunately for the GOP, however, Haley and Ernst can’t run in all 435 House and 33 Senate races.
Its not that the Republicans aren’t represented by other strong women. The past 10 years has seen the influx of younger female Republicans, a good sign for the party’s future:
Martha McSally (Arizona — 2nd District), Mimi Walters (California — 45th District), Jackie Walorski (Indiana — 2nd District), Susan Brooks (Indiana — 5th District), Lynn Jenkins (Kansas — 2nd District), Vicky Hartzler (Missouri — 4th District), Elise Stefanik (New York — 21st District), Claudia Tenney (New York, 22nd District)*, Kristi Noem (South Dakota — At Large), Mia Love (Utah — 4th District), Barbara Comstock (Virginia — 10th District)*, Jaime Herrera Beutler (Washington — 3rd District), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Washington — 5th District)
[* denotes incumbents in toss-up races, according to The Cook Political Report]
But the Republicans need more candidates like these women. They should clone them if they know how. Women need to start filling the GOP’s new candidate training pipelines on a scale never before seen. Their opponent, the Democrats, are recruiting women candidates at hyper-drive speeds right now and will reap the benefits, not just in 2018, but well into the future if left unchallenged.
The U.S. is going to see a surge in elected women
As with many other social equity trends, the U.S. trails Europe in the advancement of women in the political arena. You won’t read any new Bild or Der Spiegel articles on whether the Germans are ready for a female Chancellor. Women politicians are so established in the United Kingdom that when Prime Minister Theresa May is routinely criticized for being “weak, indecisive, and vacillating” nobody screams “misogyny” or “sexism” in her defense.
At least 30 percent of lower house members are women in most European countries, the exceptions being Ireland (22 percent), Poland (28 percent), and Luxembourg (28 percent). In comparison, 19 percent of U.S. House members are women. At current trends, however, these percentages will approach 50 percent in the next 20 years.
That trend is of course slower but equally definitive in the U.S.
In the not-so-distant future, when 50 percent of all U.S. House and Senate members are women, that will mean the electorates in 134 House districts and for 28 Senate seats, now represented by men, will have elected a woman.
Republican Party, are you prepared for that?
That is your challenge.