2018 is the year of Democratic women, but not only candidates (UPDATE)

The millions of people who took part in the Women’s Marches in 2017 and 2018 are among those who will have the most important roles of all in the midterms: Voters.

The elections in 2018 are turning out to be the Year of the Woman, but it’s not just women candidates running as Democrats. It’s women voting in big numbers. It’s women donating money to candidates — lots of money. More than anything else, it’s about women having their voices heard.

No longer are women candidates afraid to speak out on all issues. They’re proud of touting their military service. And they’re also not afraid to talk about a double standard for women candidates.

Suddenly the media are full of stories about the number of Democratic women running and winning primaries. About how the midterms could feature a record gender gap between men and women voters. About how women are establishing “giving circles” to make sure candidates are funded and to give more interested women a way to get involved.

Philip Bump of The Washington Post suspects that the driving force for this year’s predicted Blue Wave might turn out to be pink.

It was women who launched the first massive protest of the Trump era, marching the day after his inauguration in the millions to express opposition to his election. It was women who led the anti-Trump effort at the outset; it’s women who lead it still. Even the advent of the #MeToo movement has roots in opposition to Trump, both given the outstanding accusations against him and given the fuel that his triumph in 2016 added to the push to hold powerful men accountable.

Perhaps because this has been a constant undercurrent since early last year, it often goes unremarked upon. But it shouldn’t, particularly in the context of electoral politics. As the midterms near, there are signs that an energized base of women will play a significant — and probably defining — role in the outcome.

What factors are contributing to all of this predicted success for a Blue Wave?

Democratic turnout is up — bigly. Turnout in this year’s primaries is high on both sides, but particularly on the Democratic side. According to new figures from the Pew Research Center:

Turnout has surged in the 31 states that already have held their congressional primaries — particularly among Democrats.

In those states, nearly 13.6 million people — or 10.1% of registered voters — have voted in Democratic primaries for the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of state election returns. By this point in the 2014 midterm election cycle, fewer than 7.4 million people — or 6% of registered voters — had cast ballots in Democratic House primaries. (The same 31 states have held primaries as by this date in 2014.)

The total number of votes cast in Democratic House primaries so far this year is 84% higher than the total for the equivalent point in 2014.

Pew adds that Republican turnout in House primaries also is up, from a combined 8.6 million votes at this point in 2014 (7 percent of registered voters) to 10.7 million (7.9 percent) so far this year. But the increase is smaller, and the total number of votes cast in Democratic House primaries is considerably higher.

Women are donating money in record numbers to Democrats and to women candidates. An NBC News story reported on the surge of money fueling Democratic women’s chances. It described “giving circles,” informal organizations in which mostly upscale members pledge a minimum amount of cash toward candidates for an election cycle.

As of July 23, 329,000 women had donated at least $200 to a federal campaign or PAC in the 2018 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, far outpacing the 198,000 women who donated similar amounts over the entire 2014 midterms.

Men still make up close to two-thirds of donors, with women’s share up slightly from 2014, but women’s contributions are becoming more concentrated on one side: 61 percent of donations to candidates or parties have gone to Democrats this cycle. In the last midterms, a 51 percent majority went to Republicans.

The data suggests these Democratic women are more eager to support women with their dollars as well. As of March, 44 percent of contributions to Democratic women running for Congress came from women, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the highest share yet and a five-point jump from 2014. By comparison, they made up 34 percent of contributions to male Democratic House candidates, which also was a new high.

When good and viable candidates run, dollars will follow. Especially, it seems, for a candidate with two X chromosomes.

Women vets are running — and winning. Some of the women running in the fall are military veterans — and they’re putting their service front and center in their races, often running ads with photos or video of them in uniform, in the pilot’s seat of a fighter jet, or at the helm of a Navy helicopter. At least 28 female veterans filed to run as candidates in U.S. House races, and four ran for the Senate. Most of them — 24 — are Democrats, and many have been winning their primary contests. Four female veterans currently serve in Congress.

One such candidate is Amy McGrath, running in Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District. The retired marine lieutenant colonel launched her campaign with a video that quickly went viral and has been described as one of the most effective campaign launch ads ever.

But as much as I love this ad, I also love what McGrath tweeted in response to a story (that also went viral) about author Lauren Groff. In an interview with the Harvard Gazette about her latest story collection, called Florida, Groff was asked a sexist question about work-life balance. Here’s that exchange, as run on ABC News:

GAZETTE: You are a mother of two. In 10 years you have produced three novels and two short-story collections. Can you talk about your process and how you manage work and family?

GROFF: I understand that this is a question of vital importance to many people, particularly to other mothers who are artists trying to get their work done, and know that I feel for everyone in the struggle. But until I see a male writer asked this question, I’m going to respectfully decline to answer it.

That’s the way to shut them down — politely, yet. Here’s what McGrath said in her tweet: “Bold answer. I like it. When I’m asked how I’d manage as a congresswoman with small children, I respond by reminding the person asking that my opponent (the current congressman), a man, also has small children the same ages as mine. Does he get asked that same question?”

Indeed, no one is surprised that male candidates don’t get this question, even as they love to use their adorable offspring as props in campaign ads.

Women voters are voting for Democrats and Democratic women. There’s usually a gender gap in voting, with more women voting for Democrats and more men voting for Republicans. But the gap this year could be historic. According to a CNN story:

In the average poll since June, Democrats are leading among women by an average 20-percentage point margin compared to trailing among men by 6 points. If this holds, this would be the largest margin that Democrats would win women by in a midterm election since at least 1958. …

One clear advantage of doing better among women voters though is that they almost always represent a larger percentage of the electorate than men do. Historically that hasn’t made much of a difference because the gender gap hasn’t been as large as it is today. With a gender gap of 26 points, however, it could matter.

A recent Washington Post-Schar School of Government poll also showed that women voters have an edge in voting enthusiasm. Even more important, Democratic women have an edge over Republican women voters.

There are wide differences by party, though. Democratic women are more likely to say that it’s “extremely” or “very” important to vote than are Republican men — and much more so than Republican women. This may help explain that campaign-contributions graphic: Republican women aren’t as energized as Democrats.

You want to see a stark gap? According to the same poll, there’s a 47-point gap in favor of Democrats among white women with college degrees. “Support for the Republicans among white women with a college degree drops off a cliff after 2016,” wrote Philip Bump in another Washington Post analysis.

It wasn’t until 2011 that a single women’s restroom was finally installed near the Speaker’s Lobby in the U.S. House of Representatives (a woman’s restroom was installed near the Senate floor in 1993). Before that, congresswomen had to walk a long way past tourists in Statuary Hall to find available facilities.

After this fall’s midterm elections, the House may have to install at least one more women’s room. Maybe it’s time that the House chamber should be considered an inclusive kind of women’s room, all by itself.

UPDATE: A record number of women have now advanced through primaries and will be on the ballot in November. At least 185 women have captured a Democratic or Republican nomination for the House (most of them are Democrats). Women also have won 11 primaries for governor.

And there are a dozen more primaries to go.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 6, 2018.

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