Wednesday, October 26, 2016

When Will Women Hit 50%?

Sec. (and possible President) Hillary Clinton (D-NY)
2016 has been an historic year for women in American politics, thanks largely to Hillary Clinton.  She has now won more votes than any American woman running for president in history, she's the first woman to be a major party's nominee and to participate in a presidential debate, she's near-certain to best Sarah Palin and receive the most votes of any woman in a single election in American history, and there is a great, great likelihood (if polls and conventional wisdom are to be believed) that she will become the 45h president of the United States, and our first female president.

As a result of this historic moment in American history, I was curious what that means for women down-ballot in the White House, particularly for the Democrats.  Looking at governors, Senate, House, and the cabinet, I was curious-what is it going to take for Democrats to get to 50% of their elected officials being women?  I ask specifically for Democrats because, while there are certainly female Republicans in office that have won in recent years (Sens. Deb Fischer, Joni Ernst, and Kelly Ayotte come to mind), with the exception of governors' mansions, they haven't really kept up with the extraordinary pace that the Democrats have maintained, thanks in no small part to Emily's List, which has been a godsend for Democratic women, and Democrats in general.  Let's take a look at where the Democrats are today, how much their numbers might improve in 2016, and if we will see 50% in the near future:

State Treasurer Sue Minter (D-VT)
Governors Races:

Current Percentage of Dem. Governors Who Are Women: 16.7% (3/18 governors)
How are the Republicans Doing by Comparison: 9.6%
State Headed Into 2016: The biggest issue for the Democrats here may not just be a lack of female governors (16.7% is going to be their worst number, so it's slightly disheartening to start there but it's just going to get better); the biggest issue is simply that the Democrats have done abysmally in terms of winning governors' races in recent years.  Look at 2014, for example: the Democrats actually saw a net loss of three seats that cycle, despite going into the year with a huge advantage (Republicans had to defend 22 seats, the Democrats, 14, and yet they still managed to lose three open seats and saw an incumbent go down).  The Democrats ran some solid Democratic challengers that lost that cycle in Martha Coakley, Wendy Davis, and Mary Burke (and, it's worth noting, did elect one new woman in Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo), but a weak season for Democrats is pretty universal when it comes to gender.
What's to Gain in 2016: The reality is that in 2016, the Democrats have kind of sucked in terms of recruiting women for the statehouse, as this appears to be an intensely good season for the Democrats in governor's races (despite it being an off-year election, they could well net two seats, which would nearly recoup their losses in 2014).  The Democrats lose one of their three female governors with Maggie Hassan switching to the Senate (and with her Democratic successor being male), but they could make up the difference if neighboring state Vermont elects State Treasurer Sue Minter, one of the closest races in the country.  Otherwise, it's a likely a net loss of one headed into the next couple of cycles.
Where We Could See Gains in the Future: The big question here is how well the Democrats can do in terms of both recruitment and success in 2018.  The Democrats will be enduring, more-than-likely, a third straight midterm where they hold the White House, which is almost always a recipe for disaster, but they will also have a number of term-limited Republican and Democratic governors, and in some cases it might be more an indictment of "wanting change" on a statewide level than about punishing Hillary Clinton.  The question then is around recruitment, as Democrats haven't been as solid at the DGA of recruiting a 50/50 split of women for competitive races like the DSCC and DCCC have (perhaps intentionally, perhaps inadvertantly) done.  Some women that seem like solid bets to both run in theoretically competitive races and that have the resum├ęs to win are: State Rep. Connie Pillich (OH), Attorney General Lisa Madigan (IL), Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (Minnesota), Rep. Gwen Graham (FL), and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM).  Additionally, Democrats have relatively open fields in Maine, Kansas, Georgia, Michigan, and Nevada, all of which have the potential to be competitive and could theoretically feature female candidaates.  I will say that 2018, in a similar fashion to 2016 for the White House, poses a unique opportunity for groups like Emily's List; it's unlikely the Democrats will have this many pickup and open seats again for at least a decade, if not several decades.  Therefore, Democratic recruitment could go a long way to getting this to 50/50 in the caucus.

Attorney General Kamala Harris (D-CA)
Senate

Current Percentage of Dem. Senators Who Are Women: 30.4% (14/46 senators)
How are the Republicans Doing by Comparison: 11.1%
State Headed Into 2016: Looking at 2014, the Democrats actually saw their numbers go down, again thanks to the Republicans simply doing well nationally.  While the Democrats had historically strong numbers in 2012 (electing women in HI, ND, WI, and MA), Democrats saw incumbent Sens. Mary Landrieu and Kay Hagan lose in 2014, as well as high-profile challengers Alison Lundergan Grimes and Michelle Nunn.  As a result, the Republicans actually gained in the amount of women in their caucus, but the Democrats dropped for the first time in years.
What's to Gain in 2016: Those losses, however, could easily be made up in 2016 if the Democrats do well.  While the Democrats technically start out November 8th (in the morning) down one (there Safe Democrat, Mikulski's seat will go to Chris van Hollen while Boxer's will go to a woman, likely Kamala Harris), they can make up for it as the night progresses.  The DSCC has done an outstanding job in recruiting women across the country, including Deborah Ross (NC), Maggie Hassan (NH), Catherine Cortez Masto (NV), Katie McGinty (PA), and Tammy Duckworth (IL), all of whom are in tossup or better seats, as well as more long-shot contenders like Patty Judge (IA) and Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ).  In fact, of the candidates highlighted by the DSCC for open seats and challengers, women make up 40%, which I believe is an all-time high.  While it won't get them to 50%, if most of these women win, it's definitely going to be good for a 3-4% lift in the caucus.
Where We Could See Gains in the Future: While Democrats will play defense most of 2018, there's still a possibility that the few challengers in potentially competitive states (Arizona, Nevada), and the open seat elections (I would imagine that Dianne Feinstein, for example, may consider retirement) could have a 50% or greater list of challengers for seats.  I think that's kind of where you're going to see the slow win for women in the Democratic Senate caucus, since there aren't term limits like with most gubernatorial races you'll see more and more freshmen come in as retirements/open seats/successful challenges happen.  But this seems near certain to be the case within a decade, potentially by the end of a President Clinton's second term.

Angie Craig (D-MN)
House

Current Percentage of Dem. House Members Who Are Women: 33% (62/188 House members)
How are the Republicans Doing by Comparison: 8.87%
State Headed Into 2016: The Democrats, despite doing abysmally nationally (they lost 13 despite already being deep in the minority), actually stayed net neutral in terms of women in their House caucus in 2014, with women leaving the House (whether through their own choice or the voters) such as Carol Shea-Porter, Allyson Schwartz, and Gloria Negrete McLeod being replaced by open seat primary victories of women such as Norma Torres, Debbie Dingell, and Gwen Graham, who was one of only two Democrats to defeat an incumbent GOP congressman last cycle.  As a result, since the overall share of the Democratic caucus went down, the percentage of women actually increased.
What's to Gain in 2016: A lot, actually.  Recruiting women has been a critical component of the strategies of Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC, as well as Emily's List.  The thought being (and it's one that's been paying off so far) that women, enthused about electing the first female president, might also respond positively to Democratic women downballot.  As a result, women are poised to make enormous gains overall this year, potentially even hitting 100 House members (regardless of party) for the first time in history.  While open seats actually led to Democratic women being down one in terms of overall makeup (due in large part to Corrine Brown losing her primary), they made up for it in challengers; of the 42 seats that are remotely competitive and currently held by Republicans, the Democrats have recruited twenty women to run against the GOP, or about 45%.  It's likely that a number of these women win (names like Angie Craig, Val Demings, and Carol Shea-Porter, trying to regain her seat, stand out in particular as ones you'll hear in the next Congress), getting the Democratic caucus closer to 50% in terms of gender equity.
Where We Could See Gains in the Future: I think this is threefold-you still need to see lists like 2016, where the competitive seats are challenged equally by men and women, which is a step in the right direction, but you also need to see more support for female challengers in primaries for open seats.  This is also, for the record, where the GOP sometimes drops the baton in terms of opportunity for diversity-safe seats with retiring incumbents are generally male, and getting more women through races where the primary is more competitive (which is a key goal of Emily's List) is critical in that regard.  The final step is, however, that Democrats need to work to get a more women in lower office, such as state legislatures, mayoral seats, and county-level offices.  This is something Emily's List has trumpeted, but something the Democrats in general need to do (our bench at a state legislative level, thanks in part to gerrymandering and in part to Republicans being better at this than the left, is not strong), and something that I suspect Clinton (who is already out trumpeting state legislative races, alongside President Obama, on the campaign trail), would make a central focus of her position as leader of the Democratic Party.

Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard (D-DC)
White House

Current Percentage of Dem. Cabinet Members Who are Women: For sake of ease, I'm going to count the president, vice president, and the fifteen cabinet secretaries in the line of presidential succession (the "official" cabinet) here rather than quibble about Chief of Staff or EPA administrator, in which case it's 24% (4/17 members)
How the Republican Doing by Comparison: While they're obviously currently at 0%, George W. Bush averaged about the same actually during his administration, where he did tend to put a number of women and persons-of-color in his Cabinet, certainly more than any previous Republican administration.
State Headed into 2016: President Obama has not, in his time in office, mirrored that of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who made 50% of his cabinet women.  Despite some people thinking he'd select Hillary Clinton as his running-mate in 2016, he didn't name the first female vice president that year, and has only picked women for a spattering of positions, though he did name Janet Napolitano the first female Secretary of Homeland Security in his first-term, and has four women in his cabinet currently (Penny Pritzker, Sylvia Matthews Burwell, Loretta Lynch, and Sally Jewell).
What's to Gain in 2016: Obviously, the big question mark is if Hillary Clinton can win the White House.  It's obvious to us all, but it bears repeating: "no woman has ever been president of the United States."  Clinton has stated that half of her cabinet will be women, and so if we take her on her word there, it's likely that this is attained by January, provided Clinton wins.
Where We Could See Gains in the Future: I suspect that gender equity will play a sharper focus if Clinton does, indeed, make 50% of her cabinet women in January, as it's likely that future Democratic administrations will make that a priority (potentially even Republicans will as well).  Additionally, I think that, while she didn't pick the first female Vice President, Clinton will have a special eye on the positions of Secretary of Defense, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, the only three cabinet positions that have never gone to a woman.  Names like Michelle Fluornoy, Sheryl Sandberg, and Lael Brainard may soon become household ones if Clinton pursues this path.

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