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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Women in Politics and the "Pink Wave"

Dr. Kelly Dittmar, Center For American Women And Politics, Rutgers University
Washington, DC
November 1, 2018

Date: 11/01/2018 Location: NY FPC Description: Dr. Kelly Dittmar - State Dept Image


MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. Good afternoon. We’re very pleased to have Dr. Kelly Dittmar here today. She’s an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University and a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics.

Just a few housekeeping items before we start. Please take a moment to silence your cell phones, and at the conclusion of Dr. Dittmar’s remarks, we’ll open the floor to questions. Please wait for me to call on you. Just raise your hand to be recognized; if you can state your name and media affiliation for Dr. Dittmar. And just as a reminder, she’s speaking in her personal capacity and does not represent the official views of the U.S. Government.

And with that, it’s an on-the-record briefing and I’ll turn it over to Dr. Dittmar. Thank you.

MS DITTMAR: Thanks for having me. Thanks for all coming to learn a little bit more about what’s happening in terms of gender, specifically women in politics this cycle in the election that is just five days away. We are all counting down.

So I thought I would give sort of some baselines of where we are in the U.S. in terms of women’s representation and what this election might mean for women, and also go through some of the questions we have been getting commonly this cycle. Hopefully that hits some of the things you all might already be interested in. And then I’ll look forward to taking questions.

So just to start with a baseline of where we’re at, women are 20 percent of members of our U.S. Congress, they’re 23 percent of the members of the U.S. Senate, and 19.3 percent of the U.S. House, members of the U.S. House. At our statewide executive level, so our governors, attorneys general, secretaries of state, we have 312 of those offices across our states. Women hold about 23.4 percent of those seats. They are six of 50 governors and they are just over 25 percent of our state legislators, so we have over 7,000 state legislators throughout the country and women are about a quarter of them.

So will that change this year? And the likelihood is that it will and that those numbers will increase at least at some of our levels of government in part because we’ve seen record numbers of women candidates and record numbers of women nominees. So we at the Center for American Women and Politics, which is based at Rutgers University, we keep track of women candidates, those who file for office, for the House, for the Senate – so congressional office – and governor. And at all of those levels, we had a significant jump in the number of women who filed for office this year compared to previous records. And we have all of the specific numbers of those on the website. I’ll give you some examples.

We also then had a record number who won their primaries, right, so who are nominees on the ballot next week. And at that level, we can also say we have a record number of state legislative nominees because at that point, we start keeping those numbers of women as well, so thousands of women across the country, now a record number who will be on the ballots for state legislative office.

Just to give you – I said I would give you a couple of examples of the jump in women’s representation here – or, excuse me, women’s candidacy: For the U.S. House, 476 women in total filed to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. The previous high before this year was 298. So you can see that that jump is not just by one or two. Another example is that for women running for governor, our previous high was 34 women, and this year we had 61 women file. So again, significant jumps in the number of women running.

Among nominees this year, we have 16 nominees for governor – women nominees for governor. The previous high was 10. And we have 235 women who won nominations for the U.S. House. The previous high was 167. Again, all these numbers are nice and handy on our website, which is just

But one thing that’s sometimes gotten lost in talking about the record number of women running this cycle is that they are still under-represented in both the candidate pool and the nominee pool. So when we were looking at the number of filed women for the U.S. House, for example, even though it was a high record number, they still represented less than a quarter of all of the candidates who filed for the U.S. House, and now even when we’re talking about nominees, women are 28 percent of the nominees that’ll be on the ballot for the U.S. House on Tuesday. So we still have a lot of work to do beyond this year to get closer to parity in the number of men and women – or women on the ballot.

There’s also significant partisan differences. So of our two main parties, the Democrats already have much higher levels of representation of women at all – across nearly all levels of office, particularly the congressional level today. And even – and that continues to be true among our nominees. So if you look at House nominees on Tuesday, 43 percent of Democratic House nominees are women, so much closer to parity, whereas just 13 percent of Republican nominees are women. So that partisan gap is significant among the candidates and it will continue to be significant when we look at how many women will win.

So this is the part that we’re not – we don’t make many forecasts at the center about how women are going to fare, but we have some sense of it based on these numbers as well as we use ratings from the Cook Political Report – it’s one of our forecasting organizations – to try to get a sense of where women will be. And when I was talking about the partisan gap, what’s important there to note is that for the U.S. House, it is possible – it’s quite possible based on forecasts that we’ll actually see the number of Republican women decline in the next Congress, particularly in the U.S. House. We’re unsure what will happen in the Senate. We might see some actually gains there for Republican women. But in the House, likely to perhaps see a drop of Republican women – not by a lot, but enough that in a year when we’re talking about breaking records, that’s pretty significant.

And then overall, we do think we’ll see a record level of women serving in Congress after this cycle. The question really becomes how much of a break are we going to see, what is the magnitude of the increase of women’s representation. And I would say, and what I have been saying on the record, is that it is – it seems that it is going to be hard to get to 25 percent in Congress. It’s possible, but that’s going to be a reach. So when we’re thinking about the Year of the Woman, as people have been calling it, we have to remember that we’re still probably going to end this cycle with less than or about a quarter of those members of Congress being women. So a lot more to do after this year.

That’s also why I’ve been pushing back, by the way, on the term “Year of the Woman,” because I think it’s problematic for a number of reasons. One is because it doesn’t pay attention to all this other context, right. Women are still under-represented across these levels. There are different stories for Republican women and Democratic women. And there are also different stories and narratives that we should be paying attention to for women of color.

And then finally – and I’ll talk a little bit about women of color specifically – but then finally, in – when we were talking about the, quote/unquote, “Year of the Woman,” the other concern there is that we’re making the idea of women’s political success appear as if it’s an anomaly, right? That it just happens every once in a while, every two-plus decades we have a year where women could be successful and then we just go back to normal. So I think thinking about it more broadly and thinking about multiple measures of success for women this year is important.

So just to stay online with maybe what we’re watching for, the other thing to think about is how this compares to 1992, which was a year – the previous Year of the Woman that many people talked about. In that year we sent 28 nonincumbent women to the U.S. Congress. That’s the highest – or the largest class of new women members of Congress. Since 1992 we haven’t broken that record.

This year we do have, again, the possibility of having the largest freshman class of women after the election, so it’s just another number to watch. Will we have more than 28 new members? If so, then we break a record that’s been – that hasn’t been broken for over – for about 26 years.

So beyond the numbers, other measures of success that we should be watching for women are some of the milestones. So of our women gubernatorial nominees, five of them are women of color, and they have the possibility to – we have the possibility this cycle to elect the first black woman governor ever in the country as well as the first Democratic woman of color governor. So our gubernatorial numbers are pretty low overall. They’re particularly low for women of color. We’ve only ever elected two women of color governor in this country. Both were Republicans.

There is also among all of the House – U.S. House nominees this cycle about 34 percent, so about a third are women of color. Also notable because we saw in the last election cycle nine of 14 of the new women who were elected to Congress in 2016 were women of color. So will we see a high proportion again of the newcomer women of the women who are winning who represent racial and ethnic minorities in this country, therefore diversifying the pool of women who are in office? That’s a really important sort of measure of how representative our system is becoming or is.

For example, we’ll have the first Latinas ever elected to Congress from Texas, which should be surprising to most; the first women of color to represent states like Connecticut, possibly Kansas, Massachusetts, and Minnesota, so states that have never sent a woman of color to Congress; the first Muslim women in Congress from Michigan and Minnesota are very likely. Flip side of this is that in the Senate we are unlikely to elect any new women of color. Incumbent Senator Mazie Hirono is the only woman of color on the ballot for the U.S. Senate this cycle for a major party.

There’s also increasing LGBTQ diversity among candidates. We don’t keep those numbers specifically, but among the women who identify in this way we’ve nominated the first transgender woman for governor. We also have a openly bisexual candidate for the Senate from Arizona and lesbian candidates who are competitive, for example, so not limited to these women, but in Texas, Kansas, and Florida for the U.S. House.

The other measure of success beyond these milestones is thinking about the ways women are pushing the institution of campaigns and of American politics to change our – both the image of leadership as well as the expectations we have about political leaders – how they act, how they behave, what are their policy priorities. And so you hear or see a lot of people talking about women running more authentically as themselves this cycle, not feeling like they have to adapt to the male model of political leadership. And you can see this in campaign advertisements, in the messages that woman are using on the campaign trail.

Part of this is also women saying that their gender and their race are electoral assets; they’re things that should be valued, instead of seeing those identities as hurdles they have to overcome in order to be successful in a white-male-dominated institution of politics in the U.S. I think that’s really notable for long term, right? So even if some of these women don’t win this cycle, how are they changing our expectations, collective expectations, as an electorate of what we should expect and what we should deem as normal or appropriate in our elected leaders. And I’m happy to share some stories of that if it’d be helpful.

Lastly, does it matter? So at the end of the day we count the numbers and we keep track of how many women run, how many women win. The question then becomes: Will this make a difference? We recently wrote a book – my colleagues and I at the Center for American Women and Politics – called A Seat at the Table: Congresswomen’s Perspectives on Why Their Presence Matters. And it’s based on interviews we did in the last Congress with 83 congresswomen. So over three-quarters of the women who were serving in Congress spoke with us directly about this question: What difference does it make that we’re here?

According to them, it does make a difference. They very much do believe that having more women in office is a good thing. In fact, they almost universally said one of the things we need most is more of us. And they spoke to and made a strong case for why their representation matters, noting how their presence helps the culture, the priorities, processes, debates, and even outcomes within Congress, within the institution.

More specifically, they pointed to three major types of influence. One, that they felt both honored and felt like they had an effect, an influence, of being role models to younger generations who can see themselves in government or in Congress thanks to them being there, right? So it’s this idea that you can’t be what you can’t see, right? Symbolic representation matters.

Secondly, they recognized that the institution has a long way to go in better accommodating women and women’s lives in rules and structures, and so they themselves have made efforts to make Congress a friendlier place to women. So you may have heard last year Senator Tammy Duckworth changing the rules so that she could bring her newborn baby to the Senate floor or women who talked about their efforts to push to get a bathroom, a women’s bathroom, off of the House floor, which hadn’t been there because these were institutions and rules created without women in mind. When they were building the Capitol, they weren’t thinking women were going to be serving in this office, right?

So these all may seem trivial, these sort of structural things, right, or changing dress codes may seem like a small thing, but in reality they’re really reflective of the ways in which, again, this institution is adapting to recognize a fuller diversity of representation.

Lastly, perhaps most importantly, the women spoke with us about the distinct perspectives and priorities they bring to policy conversations and agendas that are rooted in their lived experiences as women, as women of color, as caregivers, as veterans, right, with these multiple identities and experiences that really interact with each other. And they shared with us many examples of how that influences their engagement with policy in their role as representatives in Congress. So whether it be asking questions that might not have been raised, whether it be bringing new issues to the table that wouldn’t have come to the table had they not been there, or being sure that when we’re talking about something like health care you’re not only thinking about women generally but you’re looking at the distinct health challenges of black women. So all sorts of ways in which being sure that you not only have women but a diversity of women at the table ensures better representation of our constituencies and our public.

One thing that often gets asked is if you have more women in office, will it make it more bipartisan, right? We look at Congress and we see this, like, broken institution or folks never work together. It’s increasingly polarized. Will women save the day? And I think it’s unfair to sort of put that on women. Women are partisan beings like their male counterparts. They operate with many of the same constraints, but interestingly, when we asked women do you think women are more bipartisan, they almost universally – a high majority of them said yeah, we actually think they’re more willing to be bipartisan at least, right. They still have these constraints, but they’re more likely to be collaborative.

And there were two reasons they gave for that. One was we establish personal relationships with each other. There’s a bond among us in part because there are so few of us, and we share some of the same challenges in getting here as well as in our service, some of the same life experiences, et cetera. So that – those personal relationships may make it more likely that we can come together on policy issues.

And secondly, they also said, look, we come here to get things done. We’re very results-oriented. We didn’t go through these tough campaigns in order to come here and not make policy change. This is consistent with other research that we’ve done at the state legislative level, which showed a difference in the motivation to run for office for women, which was again policy-oriented, whereas when we surveyed some of the male state legislators, they said that their top – the most common answer for why they ran for office was a longstanding desire to be an elected official. And so if your goal is to get the office, you’re less concerned, right, about that bipartisanship, the possible risk of working across party lines, and so it feed a little bit into what the women told us, which is we’re here for achievement over ego.

And so will that make a difference if we elect more women this year? Possibly, right. There’s opportunities perhaps for women to be coming together, for them to bring different perspectives as well as different – possibly different styles of leadership.

So I’m – I’ll talk just very briefly about women voters, but happy to talk more about this. So just a reminder: Here women outnumber and outvote men. They have done so since 1980. So the idea that this is sort of the year of the women, they’re going to vote at high numbers – well, they’ve always voted at high numbers, so the question is do we see any growth in that gap in terms of women’s turnout. There is certainly more enthusiasm if you look at the polling, particularly among Democratic women. You see that in the candidate numbers but also in voter numbers.

Two groups to watch for in terms of women voters particularly: women of color voters generally, black women specifically, who are essential to the Democratic base. So if you’re looking at states where Democrats are trying to win, whether it be in Texas or in Georgia, you’re going to be looking at Latina voters in Texas, black women voters in Georgia who could really make the difference at the end of the day in shifting some of these races. Ninety-six percent of black women voted Democratic in the last presidential, so you’re really talking about an effect on the Democratic successes based on those voters. And I should say black women voted at the highest rates of any race and gender subgroup in both 2008 and 2012, so they’re reliably Democratic voters.

Also watching – there’s a lot of talk about white women and what they’re going to do, particularly conservative white women. I would say one thing to watch is college-educated white women, because that is the group that we’ve seen the most shift in. So that has shifted from Democratic orientation to voting in the last election for Hillary Clinton, so the question in the midterm election is does that continue or was it just a Trump effect. From all the polling, it looks like it continues, but that’s a question.

And then lastly, women voters are not monolithic, obviously, so we also should not be ignoring the fact that there are many Republican women voters who feel strongly in support of both the President and Republican policies of today, and I think often they get missed in the conversation because they are still the minority of women. But we could talk more about sort of where they’re standing on this, but when we think about Me Too and some of the other dynamics like the Kavanaugh hearings, there are certainly a lot of Republican women who are actually aligned much more closely to Republican men than they are to Democratic women when it comes to their perspectives on these issues, particularly gendered issues.

So I will leave it there because I know you have questions.

MODERATOR: So if you do have a question, raise your hand and please wait for the mike and state your name and media affiliation.

QUESTION: Hello, thank you. My name is Javier Ansorena. I work for ABC Spain. I’d like to know if you have any data from the relationship of number of candidates or nominees and turnout, even if like in past elections there’s like a relation there, even women being a bigger group and if there’s any – also that – in that – also in that in the implication for both parties.

MS DITTMAR: So it’s a great question. There’s not a lot of research – and are you asking specifically about gender, so women – turnout among women?

QUESTION: Yeah, so more women candidate, more turnout in – among women.

MS DITTMAR: Among – yeah. So there has been some research done. It’s pretty dated at this point. Sort of – I think it was out in the early 2000s – that was looking at this across states. Is there what we would call a gender affinity effect of having more women on the ballot? And they found that there was limited evidence that this happened, that if you had more women on the ballot, women might show some signs of increased engagement. So it’s not just voting, but are they volunteering, are they engaged in the election. But they found that it had to be women who shared your partisan identity, right, so in this case you would be looking at the energy among Democratic women in the electorate. So sharing ideology, as well as it had more of an effect when women were in competitive races, so that when voters knew they were on the ballot, because that’s the other challenge, right?

So this year it’s hard to deny that women in the electorate know more women are on the ballot because it’s the main story of the cycle. So I would be curious to sort of redo those studies this year because the effects could be greater in a moment where one of the most salient stories is the increase in women’s candidacies. We really haven’t had that before. The only other year where we got close was in 1992, and there wasn’t studies done at that time about how that – not directly – how that influenced turnout.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Danielle. I’m from Folha Sao Paolo, Brazil. Actually, I would like to ask you about this partisan gap. So could you give me a historical – when was this smaller, and why is it widening now?

MS DITTMAR: Yeah. So if you go back to even into the 1980s you’ll see a smaller gap, and then it grows. In 1992, the Year of the Woman, you did see even more Democratic women successful that year. So that starts as a more significant gap than we’ve seen, and then it’s just grown since then.

So part of it is in those early days we had just far fewer women in office, so that explains a little bit of it, right? So as you see growth in one party, you’re not seeing growth in the other. But also there are – there was a greater ability to be successful for moderate Republican women, so women who were pro-choice, for example. We used to have pro-choice Republican women in Congress. That doesn’t happen anymore.

Part of that is because it’s increasingly hard for Republican women who are moderate – or honestly, moderate Democratic women – to get through their partisan primaries because those electorates have polarized so much. So that helps to explain part of it because it’s a different type of Republican woman that can get into office at this point.

But still there are certainly plenty of women who would share that ideology and could run for office, so I think the other piece of it is to look at the change in the support infrastructure – is often how I talk about it – between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party when it comes to women’s recruitment and support of women candidates. So on the Democratic side you have many more organizations that directly target women candidates, recruit and try to get them to run for office in the first place and then provide, like, campaign trainings and those sorts of services to try to make it easier for them to be successful.

You also have EMILY’s List, which is – gives millions of dollars every cycle only to pro-choice Democratic women candidates. There is no equivalent of that on the Republican side. There are PACs and organizations that do some fundraising for Republican women, but they don’t give nearly as much money, and I don’t even know if any of them spend any money in what is our independent expenditures, which is where you can spend unlimited amounts of money. And so there’s not an equivalent to boost just Republican women.

And then the last piece tied to that is that part of the reason why you don’t see that comparable support infrastructure, I would argue, is also because the Republican Party has said quite openly and commonly we are not the party of identity politics. And so it makes it difficult if you are rejecting identity politics, right, to then say but here’s our program for women candidates and here’s how we’re going to try to get more women, because they would say it’s not about demographics, it’s about getting the best possible candidate.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Bukola Shonuga with Global Media Productions. Would you say the Me Too movement in this election cycle, would you say it will make any impact at all in turnout, not just in relation to gender affinity but just voting on issues?

MS DITTMAR: Yeah, I think that Me Too – so the timing is interesting, right, because you had a lot of the women in terms of candidacy, a lot of these women had made the decision to run before we saw Me Too sort of hit the national sort of agenda and dialogue. But it certainly has engaged women in the electorate and sort of added yet another point on which women are speaking out about the need to disrupt the balance of power in our institutions. And politics is another one of those institutions. So as we’re encouraging women to speak, use their voice, speak their truth, challenge the status quo, that energizes, right? You can’t help but energize then the folks, the women who are trying to challenge that status quo in the political system.

So in that way I think you’ve seen it benefit the women who’ve been running in that they can talk about this as yet another issue on which we need women’s representation in office and women’s energy in order to combat those imbalances of gender power that have led to a lot of the abuses that are coming out through Me Too.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Stefanie Dodt from National German TV. Can you talk a bit more about white women voting? You mentioned college-educated women are more likely to shift from Republican voting to Democrat. What – can you – like, you mentioned the Kavanaugh effect, but what is the dynamic behind that? What’s changed compared to 2016?

MS DITTMAR: Well, so in 2016 – so the – specifically around college-educated white women, the better comparison is 2012 to 2016. So in 2012 that is a piece of the electorate that voted for Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, for president. By 2016 – so they had gone 6 points to the advantage of Mitt Romney. In 2016 they went 6 points to the advantage of Hillary Clinton, that group. And the question was sort of: What is it? Is it just Trump? Is it that it’s the sort of explicit misogyny that they’ve seen in this candidate that they can’t stomach, or is it an actual sort of ideological shift, the Republican Party has moved more to the right and they are more moderate, which has historically been true among that group of voters anyway, that there were – as I mentioned about the candidates, that there are these sort of moderate Republican women who can’t find a home when the parties have polarized to either side.

So part of the shift I think is explained just by a longer shift in partisan agendas and ideology, but also Trump perhaps sort of catalyzing that further because of the overt sort of rejection of some of his rhetoric in politics in 2016. That’s why even when we talk about white women voting for Trump overall, if you split it by education it’s non-college-educated white women who voted in majority. That hasn’t changed. That – those electorates, at least according to the recent polls, haven’t changed much since the 2016 election in that college-educated white women still seem to be siding now with the Democrats, and non-college-educated white women still seem to be supporting the President and Republicans.

And so the explanation when people say, well, I can’t – there are certain people, right, who say I don’t understand why women or how women could associate with him or with some of the issues that have been – have around Kavanaugh. When we look at the research on gender and political psychology, my colleagues have done this work and they have again shown that gendered attitudes, attitudes around Me Too or around the problem of sexual harassment, are much more aligned on party lines than they are on gender lines. And so Republican women are also more likely to say look, false accusations might be more of a problem, or what about the – what about our boys? What does this do for – they’re more likely to say that than they are to side with the Democratic women on these types of issues. And so it’s accepting that there is that diversity even among women in those gendered beliefs.

MODERATOR: So let’s go to Washington for a question.

QUESTION: You actually already answered part of my question, which is how the Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation would impact the turnouts of women voters. And my second question is, so if the turnouts of women voters will be much larger than before, would women voter actually decide the outcome of this midterm elections?

MS DITTMAR: Yeah, so the Kavanaugh stuff is a bit of a wild card. I mean, we – in that we don’t know if the effect – so the immediate effects of the Kavanaugh hearings you did see higher levels, at least in polling, of sort of engagement, perhaps anger, on both sides. So Republican women feeling sort of energized in support of the President and of Kavanaugh, Democratic women energized against Kavanaugh and in support of Democrats. So again, not a universal effect there.

The question is: Does that sustain itself through next week? As you all know better than anybody the news cycle, things are happening quite quickly, so I’m not sure how much Kavanaugh is even still on the minds of a lot of voters. And I’ve been trying to pay attention to the extent to which it’s being used in campaigns. I think there are some – there are some campaigns on both sides that are still trying to use it in messaging, right? So the Democrats say look, this is a party that doesn’t listen to women’s voices, here’s an example in the Kavanaugh hearing. But on the Republican side they’re saying this President promised to get us members on the Supreme Court within his first two years, he got two justices, so he has made good on his promises and therefore we should be sure to back him and be sure his party is in power in Congress. So I think it can energize on both sides.

My guess is it doesn’t actually change much about the break, the party break in outcome. Where you would look for it is in turnout. Does it energize some people who weren’t engaged in the campaign already to turn out? Again though, I think that can happen perhaps to the same amount on the Democratic side than on the Republican side, so it may sort of wash out the effect of Kavanaugh.

QUESTION: Manik Mehta. I’m a syndicated journalist. Besides the gender issue, are there any other issues, substantive issues, that could interest women voters and also women in politics?

MS DITTMAR: Mm-hmm. Yeah, so actually the top issues for women voters consistently across elections, not just in this one, is usually the economy. And then in this cycle there was a recent poll showing that health care was higher on the list then even normal for women. It’s always been high on the list but particularly around the repeal of the ACA, as well as environmental issues and regulation because of the – a lot of the efforts of this administration that are seen as pulling back on some of those environmental regulations. But at the end of day it’s first sort of the economy. How does this economy affect me and my family? And that’s true for men and women voters alike.

When you look at issues like abortion, right, or some of the more controversial issues that are considered gendered issues, they tend to be more mobilizing issues, right? So you can mobilize voters to come out on those issues, but they don’t necessarily guide your vote, if that makes sense, right? So there’s a difference in what’s your number one important issue, my economic security. What might a candidate use to try to mobilize you to come and volunteer for them and all of that? Then they might sort of try to appeal to you on some of these more specifically gendered issues. But women voters, just like men, are really at the end of the day caring about can they support their families and how well are they doing in this economy.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Petra Engelke. I’m a – sorry – a freelance journalist from Germany. I would like to know if you have any data about the influence of the Women’s March Movement concerning campaign finance and volunteers and also maybe targeted ads

MS DITTMAR: It’s a great question. I don’t have any data that I know of. The closest I can come to that is to say that there has been some research being done by Theda Skocpol at Harvard about grassroots organizing in women and so sort of the role of women in organizing, for example, our Indivisible groups. You’ve seen these crop up throughout the country. They’re not directly tied to the Women’s March, but they are of the same like, right? So part of the resistance to this administration.

And she’s shown in her research in doing some sort of anthropological working directly with and surveying some of these organizations that women are at the forefront in sort of leading many of these grassroots organizations that have really been mobilizing on the left, on the political left. So that’s somewhat tied to that.

When it comes to campaign finance, it’s unclear. There hasn’t been really much progress made on that. And I also think it’s tricky, right, because women know that in order to gain representation in this system, they need to play by the existing rules of the game in order to even want to change them in the first place. So they have to get into office in order to help change the campaign finance system, and I haven’t seen that be a significant issue for the women candidates on the campaign trail either.

QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thank you. I’m Victoria Kupchinetsky. I’m with Voice of America. So if you look at the – on the surface we have more and more women in politics, and this, of course, looks like great progress. But if we look inside, my question is: Has this served the progress of this society? Has – have the women who actually entered the government, have they worked on policy change? Because especially in the areas that are considered traditionally, quote/unquote, “women’s” areas – education, health care – because all those areas are steadily deteriorating in this country. We still don’t have paid family leave. I work for the Federal Government. We don’t have one single day of paid family leave, and that’s mind-boggling to me compared to other developed countries. So has it become just kind of identity politics, women in politics check, other things check, and does this actually work, in essence, for this society?

MS DITTMAR: Yeah, so I mentioned the book that we wrote this cycle earlier where we interviewed women and we asked these questions. We have a lot of stories in the book about the ways in which and the policies on which they do feel like they have moved things forward. So I’ll talk about a couple of those.

But also we have to remember that they are working within a system in which they are the strong minority, so they’re still only 20 percent and there’s a diversity of opinions and ideologies among them. So we can’t assume just because you get an X number of women in office that all of a sudden every X policy or Z policy passes, right? They don’t all think alike. They don’t all bring the same priorities to the table. But are they changing those conversations in ways that may yield policy outcomes that wouldn’t have already been there?

So you were talking about paid leave. It took the Women’s Caucus in the early 1990s in Congress to help push for the Family and Medical Leave Act. So the Women’s Caucus, a bipartisan group of women, actually were some of the most strong advocates in those debates. They also ensured at that time – so this is much before now – that studies at the National Institutes of Health were also done on women because they hadn’t been testing anything on women and nobody was paying attention to that, right? So it took women coming together and doing that.

More recently some of the stories we have in the book about policy are particularly work on sexual assault in the military and higher education, so legislation that’s been brought forward and committee hearings that have been held because women on the Senate Armed Services Committee have decided that this is an issue that they’re not going to back down on. So they had one – there was only one woman on the Senate Armed Services Committee in the 113th – or, excuse me, 112th Congress. When we got the 113th we had seven women on that committee – a huge jump for women’s representation – and it was at that point that you saw a high number of those committee hearings bringing the military to the table and saying we have to address this issue.

At the end of they day they rely on the votes of men as well in order to push things through, and they have to deal with the partisan polarization that we’re seeing. But they are pushing a lot of these issues forward in ways that might not have been there and they not been there. And I mentioned earlier sort of women of color talking about black women’s health issues to the table, including that in the ACA discussions; maternity care – something that women actually fought and preventative services in the ACA would have stayed in the ACA had women not been at the table. There were men who were willing to sort of sell it off and be like, it’s okay, we just need to compromise this away. And it took Nancy Pelosi and a number of the Democratic women to say we won’t vote on this if you don’t keep it in.

So there are certainly policy results that we see, but there’s also a lot more work to do. And we can’t put it only on the shoulders of women, but I think having more women there will keep it – keep some of these issues high on the agenda.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Fernando Arias with the Swedish National Public Radio. I would like to ask you about the reasons for this happening in the first place. I mean, it seems like to me like the main media narrative is that this is a Trump effect.


QUESTION: Are there any other drivers for this happening, and can we be sure that this had not happened if Trump hadn’t happened?

MS DITTMAR: Yeah, yeah. I’m always sort of averse to giving him all the credit on this. So the real answer is we can’t know why 476 women all decided to run for office this year. We actually tried to survey them, so we actually have a survey out in the field to all of the men and women candidates for Congress this cycle to ask them much more specifically about what motivated them to run. I will tell you that getting candidates to answer a survey in an election year is hard, so we don’t have data from that that we can sort of empirically give you to say here’s the overwhelming thing that they said.

One way we can get at this is we started to look at – obviously, we’re hearing all the same stories that you’re all hearing, but then look more specifically at public statements made from these candidates – and here I’m talking specifically about women candidates – as well as look at what they’ve written up on their websites, how they’re presenting themselves, why they said they ran.

When we did that analysis for nonincumbent congressional candidates, women, to me, sort of my characterization of the findings there was it’s not a universal reason, so it’s not all Trump. But there is a commonality in that the 2016 election broadly for the Democratic women who are running this year – and that’s important as well, by the way – but that the 2016 election did seem to serve as a catalyst for many women, that if they had been thinking about it or they had been engaged in politics in other ways, that the results of the election and the concern about a pullback on some of the policy progress that had been made in the previous eight years under the Obama administration served to them as motivation to try to make their voices heard and to see the importance of them not just advocating from the outside but translating their activism into candidacy.

So I think it’s fair to say that about the 2016 election, which certainly includes Donald Trump and the election of Donald Trump, but not just tied to the fact of the things he said about women, more about the policy agenda that he put forth and if there was a particular concern. So you see women doctors running saying look, I was concerned about the ACA, I’m a doctor, and I decided I couldn’t sit on the sidelines anymore, I actually had to speak up. I think to the conversation earlier about Women’s March and Me Too, that also encourages those women, right, to say, you know what, yeah, it is my time to stand up and take my seat at the table.

So I would tie it to 2016 election being some sort of a – it certainly created energy among women. Some women channeled that energy into protests. Some women channeled it into financial giving. This is – we’re seeing somewhat of an increase in women’s – the donations that they’re making to candidates this cycle. And then some other women translated that energy into actually running for office, which is a positive sign hopefully going forward. But we don’t want to assume that it’s only Donald Trump and that’s the only way we increase women’s candidacies. I think a lot of these women had been engaged. It was just this created a sense of urgency.

QUESTION: Hello. My name is Momoe Ban. I’m with Nikkei newspaper, Japanese business newspaper. I’d like to ask about the women’s candidate and campaign financing. Do women tend to get less money than men in general? And also, they could be elected with a very small amount of money, like Ocasio-Cortez phenomena.

MS DITTMAR: Mm-hmm. Yeah. This is a great question and there was just a piece in the New York Time this week about how – the challenges for women in fundraising. This is one of those questions, though, it’s sort of how you cut the data. So if you look at the end results and you just look at gender differences about who raises – can women raise and the same levels of money as their male counterparts? Most of the research today on congressional candidates shows that women and men reach that same end point in terms of how much money they can raise.

And you can understand this if you start looking at like – so Elizabeth Warren or Nancy Pelosi who raise crazy amounts of money, right, so they level out the pool for other women who maybe struggle. And that’s true of men too; there’s a real great range. So if you start to control for competitiveness, what seats they’re running, where they’re running, at the end of the day most of the data shows they can raise as much. But women always tell us, both in surveys and in interviews, that it’s harder for them.

So we also want to sort of give some credence to the fact that their experience of fundraising may well be different than their male counterparts. There’s some empirical evidence that helps to make this case. There’s some evidence that they might get smaller donations, right, so that it takes them more work to get to that same level. There may be more scrutiny. They have to prove themselves as qualified to get that donor to give them that donation. That came up in the New York Times piece with Rashida Tlaib saying my – Keith Ellison got the max donation from the same donor that I got a thousand dollars from, why was that.

So there are questions like that that are still raised about – if it’s harder for women to get to that point than their male counterparts, and I think most women, if you talk to them, will say, “I still think that’s true,” and women of color even more specifically. And the other piece to look at there is who are the – what are the networks that they are a part of and how sort of moneyed are those networks. And so it has traditionally been the case that to be a white man means you have access to some of those more moneyed networks in this country. That might be changing. Stacey Abrams is raising crazy amounts of money in Georgia. But is it historically harder? It has been for women and women of color.

QUESTION: Karlijn. I’m from the Netherlands. I wanted to ask you about voters and specifically male voters, because women are moving to the Democratic Party but men are not.

MS DITTMAR: Yeah. Right.

QUESTION: Why do you think they stick to the Republican Party? What do they see that women don’t see?

MS DITTMAR: So actually, it’s a great point, because we talk about the gender gap in American politics, so what is the difference between men and women either for partisan identification or who’s supporting the leading candidate. We often measure it by the candidate who won. Actually, over time what explains the gap – some people would argue that actually it’s men’s movements more to sort of Republican ideology and the Republican Party that helps to explain that gap more so, like that women were just staying where they were and men were moving further to the right. So there’s some evidence of that if you look at the empirical data over history.

Why that is is less of my area of research, quite frankly. I spend a lot of time investigating women. And so, I mean, I think part of it is looking at – so to give you the contrast, for women staying with the Democratic Party and staying with Democratic ideology has a lot to do with, for example, perceptions of size of government. So women are – tend to be more reliant on government, so – from basic sort of services that government provides as well as the fact that actually women are majority of government employees. So there are many ways in which women engage with the government, so they tend to be more supportive of having more governments. And that’s just one issue, but it’s one the main issue that we’ve looked at and the gender gap research that drives it, whereas men have been more likely to look at and support less government, which aligns more with the Republican Party. But that doesn’t give you a great explanation, but on some of those issues we’ve seen that shift.

MODERATOR: I think we have time for one last question.

QUESTION: Is there any lesson from 1992, I mean, like why it didn’t lead to a different thing?

MS DITTMAR: Partly because we called it the Year of the Woman. So, I mean, I think that is one of the lessons, is that if we tell a story – so I’ve been saying this whole cycle that me reminding everybody that, look, they’re still only 25 percent and our numbers are still going to be low and we’re still not going to have this many women in politics, yadda yadda, that’s not just being a sort of wet blanket. It’s not me just trying to be a downer on things. It’s also because the concern is that we get the story wrong on Election Day or after Election Day. So if you all write a story today saying there’s going to be unprecedented levels of women in American politics, and then you write this story after Election Day that says, well, women are still 24 percent, people will say women failed, right. It’s – what happened?

And so – and they might get despondent and they might sort of give up, like, look, we did all that work and there was all that energy and still women didn’t gain representation. So then you move on, right. And we don’t want women to lose the enthusiasm and momentum to change those numbers.

The other concern – the flip side of the story is you tell a story that look, so many women ran; we reached 100 women in Congress. There’s 535 members, right – sorry, 100 women in the House out of 435, which is possible. I’ve seen that headline this cycle – still a minority. But if you frame it that way people think also, on the flip side, the job is done. And I think in ’92 there was a little bit of that, like, oh my gosh, we nearly doubled the number of women in Congress. Look at that; we’ve done it; check the box, right. And so we needed sustained energy going forward.

The last piece about ’92 that I think obviously played a role is that, if you recall, after ’92, in 1994, we had a pushback in terms of Republican leadership and control. As I was talking about the partisan gap earlier, after ’92 specifically is when you see that decline in terms of Republican women’s gains in politics. So there’s also a partisan story that’s happening here. And so in order for us to not see those same sort of leveling out or plateau in women’s representation, we also have to figure out what’s going on on the Republican side and how we also improve representation of women in the Republican Party, both as candidates and office holders, because we aren’t going to get to 50 percent of women in office if we only elect Democratic women. It’s going to be quite hard to do numerically. So we have to think about and sort of tackle the issue of what’s going on among the Republican Party to see gains there as well.

MODERATOR: And with that, today’s briefing is concluded. Thank you very much for coming, Dr. Dittmar. Just as a reminder, Dr. Dittmar’s remarks are her own and do not represent those of the U.S. Government. The transcript will be out and we will share it with you as soon as it’s available. Thank you.

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