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.