A record-breaking number of women have been re-elected to Congress, thanks in part to a new source: Republican Women.
At least 141 women were elected to legislature in 2020, surpassing the previous record of 127, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics.
Those gains so far have been almost entirely due to the tremendous growth of a tiny conference of Republican women: the number of Republican women elected to Congress has increased from 22 to 36, while the number of female Democrats has remained relatively constant so far at 105. (There is always another handful of house races too close to be called so these numbers could change.)
These victories set a new record for Republican women in Congress, breaking the previous one of 30.
There are also a historic number of women of color elected to Congress: according to the CAWP, newly elected black women, Latina women, as well as women from Asia, America and the Pacific have broken home records. Some outlets have also noted that Rep. Yvette Herrell – a member of the Cherokee Nation – is also increasing the number of Native American women in Congress, despite Herrell telling CAWP that she identifies as white.
To be clear, Congress is still predominantly male: nearly three-quarters of the people sworn into the House and Senate in January will be men. However, the success of female candidates this year shows that progress on the road to gender equality in Congress is likely to continue. GOP-side gains also suggest that Republican representation is at least improving somewhat, although the party is still far behind the Democrats.
“In 2018, we were quite cautious in claiming it was the year of women because we didn’t want women’s perceptions of political progress to be viewed as an anomaly,” said Kelly Dittmar, Professor of Political Science at Rutgers. “The positive trend this year shows that [it isn’t anomalous]. ”
Why Republican Women had such a tough year
The Republican victories that year stood out, especially after the number of GOP women in the House of Representatives fell dramatically in 2018. That year, the number of Republican women in the lower chamber rose from 23 to 13, while that of Democrats grew from 64 to 89. Republicans will have at least 27 in the new term.)
At the time, MP Elise Stefanik (R-NY) said Republicans had reached “crisis levels” for women in the house.
This “crisis” has since led more GOP groups – including Stefan’s Elevate PAC – to promote female candidates, particularly at primary level, where historically there has not been as much support. On the Democratic side, Emily’s List was an integral part of supporting candidates in the primary stage of the race, and Republican organizations are increasingly working to replicate this model.
According to Kodiak Hill-Davis, founder and political director of Republican Women for Progress, a group dedicated to educating GOP candidates, those efforts have stepped up this year. “Without getting these women through the primaries, you can’t get them through the general election,” she told Vox.
A growing number of organizations – including Winning for Women, VIEW Pac, and E-PAC – are committed to this effort, including financial investment and endorsements that highlight female candidates. “In addition to the funds they were able to provide, they are also sending a signal,” said Dittmar.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, E-PAC donated $ 425,000 to federal candidates in October 2020, up from $ 118,000 in 2018. PAC earnings for women added $ 125,000 that year, compared to $ 143,000 in Year 2018, and VIEW Pac contributed $ 530,000 to $ 410,000. At least eleven of the E-PAC-endorsed candidates won their primary elections, with several winning the general election, including Ashley Hinson, Iowa First District and Nancy Mace, South Carolina First District.
The growing support and recruitment of GOP candidates has also been accompanied by an increase in the number of Republicans who wanted to run. After seeing the Democrats’ success in 2018, more Republican women turned to Congress. 227 Republican candidates competed for house seats in this cycle. “In 2018, GOP women watched from the sidelines as a wave of democratic women was elected,” said Olivia Perez-Cubas, spokeswoman for Winning for Women, in a statement. “The GOP promised to make a difference and invested in women like never before.”
Overall, the Republicans also had a stronger-than-expected vote, which narrowed their margins in the House of Representatives and retained important seats in the Senate. Republican women benefited from this energy and were instrumental in the party’s success. They flipped at least seven districts that the Democrats won in 2018, including Florida’s 27th district and California’s 48th district. They also won seats in Republican strongholds such as the First Ward of Tennessee and the 14th Ward of Georgia.
These victories could encourage the Republican Party to promote more gender diversity among its elected officials – something it has long avoided, in part out of an aversion to so-called identity politics. “Republicans, we really shy away from traditional identity politics. I firmly believe that this is not an identity politics. It’s all about finding the best candidates, the strongest candidates who are also Republican women, and making those investments early, ”Stefanik said in a post-election interview with CBS News.
Congress is still a long way from achieving gender equality, but this year’s results show that women continue to build on current achievements
Gender equality statistics in Congress are still grim: despite the success they saw in the recent elections, women make up just over a quarter of all lawmakers.
However, these successes help bring both chambers closer to parity – and add new perspectives to the political decision-making process.
“After this election season, the face of our politics will change to improve our communities and our government,” Glynda Carr, CEO of Higher Heights, said in a statement. Make no mistake: the energy, work, and commitment of black women to building true democracy continues to diversify and enhance America’s leadership.
This year’s new class of lawmakers also includes several notable novelties: Former Tacoma, Washington Mayor Marilyn Strickland is the first black and Korean woman to be elected to the house, and organizer Cori Bush is the first black woman who voted Missouri to Congress. Both Strickland and California-based Michelle Steel are the first Korean-American women to be elected to the house.
After the record was broken again this year, even more women were able to vote in the parliamentary elections.
Are you helping keep Vox free for everyone?
Millions of people rely on Vox to understand how Washington policy choices, from health care to unemployment to housing, can affect their lives. Our work is well-sourced, research-oriented, and thorough. And that kind of work requires resources. Even after the economy recovers, advertising alone will never be enough to support it. If you’ve already contributed to Vox, thank you. If not, help us keep our journalism free for everyone by contributing as little as $ 3 today.