Women scored some firsts in this month’s elections but fell short of making much new history. Compared with those elections dubbed “year of the woman,” the 2022 vote was more of a “meh” for gender gains.
With a few races still too close to call, the Center for American Women and Politics expects the number of women serving in Congress to fall from 147 to 145 or 27.1 percent. That remains a rather shabby percentage considering that women make up more than 50 percent of the U.S. population.
Women also remain far from parity among those elected governor, holding only a quarter of the offices. However, the 12 women that will be serving as governor in 2023 is a record high (eight Democrats and four Republicans). The last high mark was nine in 2004, according to CAWP.
Making history this election, Maura Healey becomes the first woman elected governor of Massachusetts. Healy and Governor-elect Tina Kotek (D) of Oregon also are the first out lesbian governors in the country. In Vermont, voters for the first time elected a woman to represent the state in Congress. Democrat Becca Balint will also be the first out LGBTQ person to represent the state. In Pennsylvania, Democrat Summer Lee will be the first Black woman to represent the state in Congress. In Alabama, Republican Katie Britt will be the first woman representing the state in the U.S. Senate.
The Senate will remain without a Black woman. The last to serve was Vice President Kamala Harris in 2020. There were high hopes this election for Democrats Val Demings of Florida and Cheri Beasley of North Carolina, but both lost their races last week (Beasley by only 3.6 percent.)
All the incumbent women Senators facing reelection won their races, including several tight ones like Democrats Patty Murray in Washington and Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada.
Thanks to victory of Democrat Marie Glusenkamp Perez in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, women will continue to outnumber men in the state’s congressional delegation (6-4). It had been a safe Republican seat for incumbent Jaime Herrera Beutler until she voted to impeach Trump and lost her primary to Trump loyalist Joe Kent. By flipping the seat, Glusenkamp Perez gave the Democrats eight of Washington’s congressional seats with Republicans holding on to two.
Mirroring Glusenkamp Perez, Michigan Democrat Hillary Scholten flipped a seat long held by Republicans by also defeating a Trumpist candidate. The Grand Rapids seat opened up after incumbent Rep. Peter Meijer (R) lost the GOP primary after voting to impeach Trump.
At the state level as at the federal, fewer women will be seated in 2023. CAWP reported a total of 2235 women who will be serving in state legislatures in 2023 or 30.3 percent of seats, down from the record of 2307 or 31.2 percent in 2022. The total reflects about twice as many Democrats as Republicans. In Washington State, women Democrats hold an even wider margin over elected women Republicans, outnumbering them by about three to one. Again, regardless of party breakdowns, women remain considerably short of parity.
Research has shown repeatedly that when women run, they can win, so the ongoing problem might be getting more women to run. According to CAWP, women were 31.1 percent of all candidates for the U.S. House in 2022, down from 35.2 percent in 2020. That leaves some heavy lifting for the number of organizations that have been working to empower women politically and motivate more to run for office.
It’s not difficult, however, to understand why women may shy away from a run for office. Research shows time and again that they face more blowback and nastiness on the campaign trail and in office. A recent newsletter from the Women & Politics Institute at American University noted studies finding that women get characterized as too emotional and the label is used to undermine their credibility.
The Institute also cited a new national database created by Princeton University’s Anti-Defamation League which found that women political leaders in the U.S. are three times more likely to be the target of threats and harassment than their male colleagues.
Marie Perez Glusenkamp faced this reality when she began campaigning in Southwest Washington. “I’ve had people say mean stuff,” she told me when we spoke in September. She also said she knew as the campaign heated up toward election day “it will get uglier.” But she added that she was used to holding her own working in the trades in an auto repair shop and wouldn’t let the attacks deter her. She didn’t, and she pulled off one of the nation’s biggest wins on November 8.
Your article was most interesting, but I personally was cheering for some women to lose. Being a woman isn’t enough. What women believe and how they vote is more important to me then gender.
Some more good news: Colorado will become the second state in American history with a majority-women legislature with 51 (44D, 7R) of 100 total seats held by women.
Nevada, the first state to reach this milestone, will retain its majority-women status following the 2022 midterms.
That’s heartening news, Linda. Thank you for this. Everything always seems a trade, doesn’t it? That Stacey Abrams did not win a seat in Congress was disappointing, but Marie Perez Glusenkamp, though! Ran a good campaign, despite that nastiness hurled at her, and won.
There is also good news for women in the governors’ races. Twelve isn’t a large percentage, but it’s an all-time high and a sign that administrative rather than just legislative positions are achievable. Worth celebrating also is Karen Bass’ victory in Los Angeles.
Hooray for Colorado and Nevada!
Thanks for an interesting and insightful article, especially about the difficulties women face as candidates and as elected officials — because they are female. Subtle, but effective, biases that fail to recognize women as competent people often make it a sensible decision for women to choose to not run for office. I know that there are organizations working hard to recruit women to run for office and to support them, but it will take changes to attitudes about women and actions, as well, to make a difference in women’s representation in all levels of governance in this country. That means all of us — not just women.
While have a long way to go for full representation of women and BIPOC, each “first” paves the way for more, like Bass becoming first woman mayor of Los Angeles. Good point Carol that the subtle and not so subtle biases women face will require women and men working as allies to change attitudes and perceptions.
Back when we voted in person, as I was leaving the room, I overheard one woman voter remark to another, with great satisfaction, “I voted for all women!”
She helped elect one of those women as Superior Court judge, who would become somewhat notorious for hassling women lawyers for wearing trousers. Jeanette Burrage. Property rights advocate (back when that was a back woods conservative thing, before they made common cause with progressives over deregulation of the real estate development industry.)
Burrage benefited from that uncritical woman voter, as she benefited from the name familiarity she had from a previous (absurd) run for state Supreme Court. I’m looking forward to the Year of the Voters Who Look Into Who They’re Voting For – can’t happen too soon.
While I want to see more women’s names on my ballot, I agree with Joyce that gender alone shouldn’t determine how to vote. For example, consider Marjorie Taylor Green or Lauren Boebert in Colorado whose re-election race remains too close to call and may face a recount. I’m still hoping Democrat Adam Frisch will overtake Boebert.
Are you talking about gender? or sex?
And you claim that one of them — gender or sex — should not be a determinant for voting but that’s what you seem to be doing.
I think if Democrats want to become a long-term majority party, it has to stop with this identity politics stuff.
It will take all of us to ‘get over’ the notion that women, and women alone, are responsible for, and can ‘fix,’ the gender bias against women. It is insufficient to say ‘just look at the record’ of someone running for office or ‘look at the qualifications,’ when looking at records of women still shows that they may lose, even with better records and qualifications. That’s a generalization and I know full well it doesn’t always hold, but it’s important to consider. I think that ‘we’re not ready for a woman as . . .(fill in the blank)’ attitude, which is part and parcel of the subtle and not-so-subtle biases mentioned in previous posts, deserves consideration, too.
Update: Oregon set a record high for women in its congressional delegation. Women won four of the state’s six congressional seats . Three of the women are Democrats and one is Republican.