How Did Women Candidates Fare in 2014 U.S. House Races?
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There has been a lot of attention to how women did in major statewide races – with the bottom line being that women will remain stuck at holding only 10% of governorships and 20% of the Senate (unless Mary Landrieu pulls of an upset in the December runoff in Louisiana). But how about the House of Representatives, where there may be as many as 11 new Members?
Two weeks ago, I published a blog post on projections for women candidates in U.S. House races. FairVote’s Monopoly Politics 2014 report, and other political commentators, had projected that women candidates would face several key patterns: incumbents would generally win, challengers would generally lose, and women would be underrepresented in open seats. Turns out, we were right.
Monopoly Politics 2014 offered projections for 132 women candidates’ outcomes, or 81.5% out of the total 162 women candidates running. The projected outcomes were correct for at least 131 women candidates, with one candidate still awaiting the results of a race that was too close to call (Louise Slaughter, Democrat, New York District 25). At the very least, our projected outcomes were correct for 99% of women candidates.
Monopoly Politics 2014 correctly projected that most women incumbents would win. Indeed, 71 incumbents won, one lost (Carol Shea-Porter, Democrat, New Hampshire District 1), and one race is too close to call (Slaughter).
Monopoly Politics 2014 correctly projected that most challengers would lose. And indeed, 69 challengers to incumbents lost, while only one won (Gwen Graham, Democrat, Florida District 2), and one is in a race that is too close to call (Martha McSally, Republican, Arizona District 2 – only ahead by 36 votes).
Finally, Monopoly Politics 2014 correctly projected outcomes for most of the open seats, generally showing that women would win slightly more often than they would lose. In open seat races, ten women won and eight lost, meaning women won 22.2% of the 45 open seats in 2014 – not much better than their overall 18.5% share of the House in the 113th U.S. Congress.
What do the 2014 election results mean for the struggle to reach gender parity? They show that women are still not winning enough open seats, Republicans in particular are not nominating many women in viable races, and the pace of change leaves us many decades, if not centuries, from achieving parity.
First, the 2014 U.S. House elections have led to a total of 11 new women being elected into office. For the first time in U.S. history, more than 100 women will serve in Congress out of a 535 seats (not counting delegates from Washington, D.C. and the territories. This is an important mile marker to pass on the path to gender parity. Nonetheless, with only 80 women in the U.S. House, we still find ourselves ranked 85th worldwide for the percentage of women in our national legislature. Furthermore, there remain 11 states with all-male delegations to Congress, and New Hampshire lost its briefly-held status as the only state ever to have an all-female delegation.
Second, both parties could be doing better in recruiting more women for the House and other races. Democrats certainly could and should find ways to elect more women, especially for statewide executive offices, considering only two of the five women governors are Democrats.
Republican women had a better year than usual with several winning historic “firsts.” Senator-elect Joni Ernst became the first-ever woman elected to Congress from Iowa, Elise Stefanik became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress when winning an open seat in New York, and Utah’s Mia Love became the first Republican, African American woman elected to Congress. Still, Republicans are falling short overall. Democrats lead Republicans in nominating women candidates for Congress by large margins. Of 21 new Republicans definitively elected to Congress (as of this writing), only six are women.
Finally, and most importantly, the election results reveal that we are not moving toward gender parity in the U.S. House fast enough. It will still be decades, if not centuries, until women are just as likely as men to represent a majority of the House.
The fact that Monopoly Politics 2014 projections were so accurate, even when based on data from 2012, demonstrates that the vast majority of races are not competitive. The parties that control House districts tend to continue to control them, making any change in the makeup of the House slow. Incumbents, who are mostly male and mostly serving in districts that support their respective parties, will tend to hold onto their seats. Women candidates, especially women challengers, running in districts not supported by their respective parties will tend to lose. In other words, the U.S. electoral system keeps things the same, and that means ongoing gender disparity in the U.S. House.
For real change to happen, we need to go beyond current reforms. Representation 2020 supports several structural reforms to reach gender parity. First, political parties, influential leaders, donors, and other gatekeepers should expand current efforts to recruit more women, especially in open seat races. Second, the U.S. should enact structural reforms to the winner-take-all, single-member district systems, making our electoral system more representative. Third, the U.S. Congress should adopt legislative practices that allow women to lead effectively.
The 2014 U.S. House elections saw many positive outcomes for women candidates, but not enough. Representation 2020’s reforms will accelerate changes to women’s representation in elected office.
For excellent information on the 2014 elections and representation of women in general, visit the website of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University.