As we well know by now, Tuesday’s midterm elections were a major day for women on the ballot.
Female candidates across the country shattered ceilings and broke down barriers with history-making wins. For the first time, the longtime (old, white) boy’s club in Washington will likely include women who are Korean American, Native American, Muslim, and under 30. That’s not even counting all the “firsts” scored on state levels.
But even with those wins, some key questions about the future of women in American politics remain (and not just when it comes to a number of big races that are too close to call or potentially heading to a runoff.). One of the biggest unknowns: will the oft-described “pink wave” of women running for and winning elected office in 2018 continue beyond this election cycle?
Early signs indicate the answer is: hell yes.
She Should Run, a nonpartisan group dedicated to supporting more women in office, saw a 900% increase in inquiries from potential candidates week over week after the midterms. Erin Loos Cutraro, the group’s founder and CEO, said that she and her colleagues were “holding our breath” ahead of the midterms, knowing that “whenever there is a big gain and a series of gains, there is potential for people to feel like we can let off the gas.” But she has been thrilled to see the opposite is true: women seem more revved up than ever about running in years to come.
She Should Run saw a 900% increase in inquiries from potential women candidates week over week after the midterms.
“Going into Tuesday, we weren’t sure what to expect. We weren’t sure if we would see this pause or fatigue after so many people had worked so hard to get women they cared about elected,” she said. “[But] what we’re seeing is that women are continuing to show up in ways they hadn’t prior to 2016. And the message from that is women aren't going anywhere.”
It’s not just She Should Run fielding fresh inquiries. Emily’s List, the pro-choice Democratic PAC that was instrumental in both getting more women elected and flipping the U.S. House of Representatives this year, is seeing a post-vote bump, too. While the numbers don’t yet match the resounding 42,000 could-be female candidates the group heard from in the 2018 cycle (a ginormous increase from the 920 who reached out ahead of 2016), scores of women are already calling about their future campaign aspirations.
"As we expected, we've seen an explosion of enthusiasm from women since Tuesday,” Emily’s List president Stephanie Schriock told Refinery29 in a statement. “Fifty-six women on Wednesday alone reached out to us about running for office — they're inspired by the historic number of victorious women who will be serving come January. This was never about one year; we're in this for the long run."
The long run is, of course, what’s really going to make a difference when it comes to closing the gender gap in politics. Even with this year’s record-setting gains, women will hold just 23% of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives come January and the number of women in the GOP caucus will likely drop by double digits. (Put another way, more than 75% of the people in Congress will still be men!) And despite some historic firsts, the election won’t increase from the previous highs for women serving in the Senate and governor’s mansions. Those figures, especially when it comes to setbacks and stagnation for female candidates on the right, highlight the challenges ahead.
What we’re seeing is that women are continuing to show up in ways they hadn’t prior to 2016. And the message from that is women aren't going anywhere.
Erin Loos Cutraro, She Should Run Founder & CEO
"We've seen important breakthroughs, particularly in the U.S. House,” Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women in Politics, said in a statement. “But deepening disparities between the parties in women's representation will continue to hobble us on the path to parity. We need women elected on both sides of the aisle."
That’s a message that hits close to home to Cutraro, whose organization has set a goal of getting 250,000 women to run for office by 2030. She knows that in order to hit that number, women of all backgrounds and political affiliations need to step up. Cutraro is cautiously optimistic on that front. She Should Run has received inquiries from women from both sides of the aisle, as well as independents, since Election Day and senses that the “call for action for Republican women is stronger than it’s ever been.” But she acknowledges that paving the way for true gender parity is going to take concerted effort and time.
“I think we will see a historic number of women come out of this election cycle and put their names in the hat. It’s not going to come without work and it’s not [going to happen] without institutional players stepping up and doing something too. Now is the moment to show things have to be different and they can be different,” she said. “I’m very hopeful we will see a change, but we have a long way to go to really flood the system with more and more women.”
One thing Cutraro is sure about? That the masses of women motivated by the midterms won’t give up until they’ve hit their goals.
“They’re going to push forward. They are going to continue to be the story,” she said. “It’s not the year or the years of the women. Every year is going to be that year until we close the gap of women serving in elected office.”