One of the biggest questions of the midterm elections is if we will see a record number of women elected to Congress or governor’s offices in November. Now that the primaries are over, it’s starting to look as if the answer could be that we will.
Women currently hold 84 seats in the House, 23 in the Senate, and six governor’s offices. They are likely to hold more seats in the House next year, according to a Washington Post analysis that combined primary winners with the Cook Political Report’s race ratings to show whether each candidate was guaranteed, favored, competitive, or not favored to win. (For more on how we use Cook ratings to create these categories, click here.)
“The current ratings in U.S. House contests indicate that a new record number of women is likely, but that reaching even 25 percent would require favorable breaks for women across the board,” said Kelly Dittmar of the Center for American Women in Politics.
In the Senate and in governor’s races, there is a chance for progress, but a best-case scenario requires all or most of the women in very competitive races, some of whom are incumbents, to win. Those races, by their nature, are hard to predict.
In the House races, 40 women are running unopposed or against a female opponent, meaning the race is guaranteed to result in a female representative. In the Senate, 10 women are not up for re-election, and six are running against female opponents, which means a woman is guaranteed to win. Since all current female governors are either up for reelection or term-limited, and none of this year’s races feature two women, there are no guaranteed female governors next year. But several women have a good chance of returning or ascending to the governor’s mansion.
Even in the most favorable of outcomes, women would not achieve equal representation, or anything close to it.
Despite the potential for gains for women in this election cycle, they comprise just 20 percent of Congress overall, 19 percent of the House and 23 percent of the Senate. Despite the records being broken by women in this election cycle, they make up a relatively small fraction of overall nominees for House and Senate.
There are more caveats. “Democratic women nominees for the House are more likely than their male counterparts to be running as challengers in November,” Dittmar wrote in her analysis of primary results. Incumbency is a powerful obstacle for candidates to overcome in general elections. Many of the women running are Democrats in red states or districts, meaning a general election victory will be a greater challenge than in a primary against fellow Democrats.
A lot can change between now and November, of course. But with a little over 50 days until the election, women are strongly positioned to make progress this year. The question is: how much?
Amber Phillips contributed to this report.