Women made history in the 2018 election, but the story of women’s political success is more complex than the records broken. This report analyzes women’s success in 2018, both by and beyond the numbers. In this section, we detail the numeric gains (and lack thereof) for women, with particular attention to differences with men, between parties, and among women of different racial and ethnic groups. The numbers show historic successes for women in election 2018, but also reveal the limits of that success for particular groups of women and for women at different levels of elected office. They also demonstrate that work toward gender parity in political leadership remains unfinished as we approach the 2020 election.
Women broke records, but have not achieved parity with men in electoral politics.
- A record number of women ran for congressional and gubernatorial posts in 2018, but women remained less than 25% of candidates on primary ballots across these levels.
- Despite a record number of women nominated for congressional, gubernatorial, statewide elected executive, and state legislative offices in 2019, women remained less than one-third of candidates on general election ballots across these levels.
- A record number of women serve in Congress and in state legislatures in 2019, and women of color serve in record numbers in Congress, in statewide elected executive offices, and in state legislatures nationwide. However, while women are over 50% of the population, they remain less than one-third of elected officials at and above the state legislative level.
- Three states elected their first woman governors in 2018 (ME, SD, and IA), but 20 states have still never had a woman governor as of 2019.
Women of color made historic gains, but they are still achieving firsts that reveal the persistence of past and present underrepresentation.
- The first Democratic woman of color governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), was elected in 2018, and four states (CT, KS, MA, MN) elected their first women of color to Congress in 2018.
- As a result of the 2018 election, the 116th Congress is the first to include Native American women and Muslim women.
Women were winners in 2018, outperforming men among non-incumbents at nearly every level in both primary and general elections.
- Non-incumbent women candidates for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, and statewide elected executive offices (other than governor) won primary elections at higher rates than non-incumbent men overall and in both major parties.
- Non-incumbent women won general election contests at higher rates than men for the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, governor, and other statewide elected executive offices, but non-incumbent Republican women outperformed their male counterparts only in general election contests for governor and other statewide elected executive offices.
- Women candidates won the majority of U.S. House seats that flipped from Republican to Democrat in election 2018, thereby playing a key role in changing partisan control of the chamber in 2019. Women also flipped 4 of 7 governorships from Republican to Democrat.
Women’s electoral success was concentrated in the Democratic Party.
- The gains for women in election 2018 were concentrated among Democratic women at every level of office; the number of Republican women declined in the U.S. House, among governors and statewide elected executive officials, and in state legislatures nationwide from 2018 to 2019.
In addition to the data presented here, see our full bank of data visualizations.
A record number of women filed for, won nomination, and were elected to the U.S. House and Senate in 2018.1 Moreover, the number of female candidates who filed for the U.S. House from 2016 to 2018 increased by 74%, while the number of male candidates increased by less than 20%.2
But the story of women’s “surge” and success belonged to the Democratic Party. While a record number of Democratic women filed as candidates for the U.S. House and Senate, the number of Republican women candidates for the U.S. House fell short of the previous high. Moreover, the number of Democratic women who filed to run for the U.S. House doubled from 2016 to 2018, while the number of Republican women House candidates increased by about 26%.
Across parties, women still fell short of parity with men as congressional candidates, nominees, and winners in 2018. Women were less than 25% of candidates who filed to run for the U.S. House or Senate in 2018, and fewer than one-third of all nominees. Women were 23.5% of House winners and 40% of Senate winners in fall 2018.3 Republican women made up a smaller proportion of their party’s candidates, nominees, and winners for the U.S. House and Senate than did Democratic women in 2018, with partisan disparities were greatest among winners.
The freshman class of women in the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress (2019-2021) is the largest ever, with 36 (35D, 1R) non-incumbent women elected. The previous high was 24, set in 1992. This outcome is due to the particular success of non-incumbent Democratic women House candidates. Of the 39 House seats that Democrats flipped from Republican to Democrat in the 2018 election, women won 21 – or 53.8% – and men won 18.4 Across all contests, Democratic non-incumbent women nominees for the U.S. House outperformed non-incumbent Democratic men, Republican men, and Republican women.5 Republican women fared worst of all 4 groups, and all 5 women House incumbents who were defeated in the 2018 election were Republicans: Barbara Comstock (R-VA), Karen Handel (R-GA), Mia Love (R-UT), Claudia Tenney (R-NY), and Mimi Walters (R-CA).
In U.S. Senate contests, 2 of 4 Democratic non-incumbent women candidates were successful while none of the 7 Democratic non-incumbent men were elected. However, both incumbent women senators defeated in the 2018 election were Democrats: Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Among Republicans, Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) was the only non-incumbent woman to win in 2018, becoming the first woman senator from Tennessee. No Republican women Senate incumbents were defeated.
As a result of the 2018 election, the number of Republican women in the U.S. House dropped by 10 (from 23 to 13), while the number of Democratic women increased by 28 (from 61 to 89).6 In contrast, the number of Republican women in the U.S. Senate increased by 2 (from 6 to 8) from 2018 to 2019 and the number of Democratic women stayed the same at 17.7 As of October 2019, women are 23.7% of the members of the 116th Congress, including 102 (89D, 13R) women in the U.S. House and 25 (17D, 8R) women in the U.S. Senate.8
Racial and Ethnic Diversity
As a result of the 2018 election, there are a record number of women of color in Congress. While the number of women of color senators remained the same (4) from 2018 to 2019, the number of women of color in the U.S. House increased to a record 43. Women of color are nearly 50% of Democratic women and close to 40% of all members of color serving in U.S. House, but a smaller proportion of senators and Republicans in 2019.9
Women of color were 34% of women U.S. House nominees, but just one of 23 (4.3%) women nominees for the U.S. Senate in 2018. Incumbent Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), who was re-elected in 2018, was the only woman of color nominee for the U.S. Senate. One incumbent woman of color congresswoman was unsuccessful in her bid for re-election: Representative Mia Love (R-UT), the first and only Black Republican woman in Congress. Among the 49 non-incumbent women of color nominees for the U.S. House, 13 (26.5%) were successful, 35 (71.4%) were defeated, and one withdrew before Election Day.
The number of non-incumbent women of color elected in 2018 was also a record high; 13 new women of color, all Democrats, joined the U.S. House, up from a previous record of 6 (first set in 2012). They represent more than one-third of the freshman class of women representatives in the 116th Congress. Of the 13 new women of color elected to the 116th Congress, 5 (38.5%) were elected in majority-White districts.10 By comparison, 4 of 30 (13.3%) incumbent women of color who won in 2018 were elected in majority-White districts. This indicates growth in the diversity of districts where women of color run and win and counters biased notions that women of color cannot win in majority-White electorates.
Included among the 13 new women of color members of the U.S. House are:
- 5 Latinas
- 5 Black women, including the first women of color sent to Congress from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Minnesota
- The first 2 Native American women to ever serve in Congress, including the first woman of color sent to Congress from Kansas
- The first Middle Eastern/North African woman to serve in Congress
- The first 2 Muslim women elected to Congress
As of 2019, 26 states have never sent a woman of color to Congress, including 46 states that have never sent a woman of color to the U.S. Senate and 27 states that have never sent a woman of color to the U.S. House.
Differences by State
The number of women in states’ congressional delegations (U.S. House and Senate) went up in 17 states, went down in 7 states, and stayed the same in 26 states as a result of the 2018 election.11 While Democratic women gained seats in 19 states’ congressional delegations from 2018 to 2019, just 1 state increased its number of Republican women in Congress as a result of election 2018. In 2019, women are 50% or more of all members of Congress in 7 states (up from 5 in 2018), while 12 states have no women representing them in Congress in 2019 (up from 11 in 2018). Vermont remains the only state that has never sent a woman to Congress.
In the House alone, 15 state delegations saw an increase, 6 states saw a drop, and 29 states saw no change in women’s representation. Democratic women’s House representation increased in 17 House delegations from 2018 to 2019, while Republican women’s House representation decreased in 10 states as a result of the 2018 election. Women are 50% or more of House delegations in 9 states (up from 7 in 2018), while 16 states have no women representing them in the U.S. House in 2019 (down from 17 in 2018). In 2018, Iowa elected women to the U.S. House for the first time in its history.
Women made gains in 3 of 33 states with U.S. Senate elections in 2018. Both Tennessee and Arizona elected their first women senators – Republican Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona. The defeat of 2 incumbent Democratic women senators meant that Missouri and North Dakota lost their representation of women in the Senate.
With the appointment of Martha McSally (R) in 2019, Arizona became 1 of 6 states with all-female Senate delegations.12 Nevada, which gained women’s Senate representation as a result of the 2018 election, also now has an all-female Senate delegation. With the election of Cindy Hyde-Smith in 2018 to a seat she had previously been appointed to, Mississippi also elected its first woman to a U.S. Senate seat.
A record number of women filed for, won nomination for, and were elected governor in election 2018, though the total number of women serving as governors in 2019 matches the previous high of 9. The number of women who filed as candidates for governor more than doubled from 2014 (30) to 2018 (61), the last year in which a comparable number of gubernatorial races were contested, and far exceeded the previous record for filed women gubernatorial candidates for governor (34), which was set in 1994. While Democratic women broke another record for their number of gubernatorial nominees (12) in 2018, Republican women’s nominations (4) did not reach a record high.
Across parties, women were less than one quarter of all filed candidates, nominees, and winners in the 36 races that were contested in the fall of 2018. While still not reaching parity with men, Democratic women were a larger proportion of their party’s candidates and winners than were Republican women.
Non-incumbent women candidates for governor (Democrat and Republican) fared slightly better than their male counterparts in election 2018, but were still only one-quarter (5 of 20) of all non-incumbent winners. Among the 5 women winners are the first women governors of Maine (Democrat Janet Mills) and South Dakota (Republican Kristi Noem).13 They also include 4 Democratic women who flipped governor’s offices from Republican to Democrat in 2018; Democrats flipped 7 gubernatorial seats in total.14
With 2 Republican women governors term-limited out in 2018, the party division among women governors shifted from majority-Republican to majority-Democrat between 2018 and 2019. Two Republican women governors were term-limited in 2018. While the current number of Democratic women governors (6) and women governors overall (9) matches record highs, Republican women governors are one short of their all-time record (4).
Women remain just 18% of all governors in 2019 and 20 states have still never had a woman governor.
Racial and Ethnic Diversity
Prior to 2019, just two women of color – both Republicans – had ever served as governors in the United States. Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC), who is South Asian, and Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM), a Latina, were both elected for the first time in 2010.
In 2018, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) became the first Democratic woman of color elected governor of any state. She is also the only woman of color currently serving in gubernatorial office. She is 1 of 2 Democratic governors of color serving in 2019. No Black or Native American woman has ever served as governor in the United States.
Women of color were 13 of 61 (21.3%) women gubernatorial candidates and 5 of 16 (31.3%) gubernatorial nominees in 2018, with partisan differences greater among filed candidates and winners. Though both were unsuccessful in the general election, included among the 5 (4D, 1R) women of color gubernatorial nominees were the first Native American woman (Idaho Democrat Paulette Jordan) and first Black woman (Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams) nominees for governor in U.S. history.
Statewide Elected Executive Offices Other than Governor
In addition to 50 governorships, there are 261 other statewide elected executive offices nationwide. Of these, 171 positions were in contention in the 2018 election. The number of women nominees and winners for these offices marked a new record in any single election cycle, and the number of women who filed as candidates for these contests increased by about 32% from 2014 (143) to 2018 (188), when a comparable number of races were contested.
Women were just under one-third (32%) of all filed candidates and 35% of all nominees to run for statewide elected executive offices (other than governor) in 2018, though Democratic women neared parity with men among nominees and winners. Republican women were one of four Republican candidates, nominees, and winners in 2018. They were 42% of all women candidates and 36.8% of women nominees for these offices in 2018.
Both Democratic and Republican non-incumbent women nominees for statewide elective executive offices (other than governor) outperformed their male counterparts in the general election in rates of success. Still, though, women were 42% of all non-incumbent winners of 2018 contests and 6 women incumbents (all Republicans) lost their statewide elected executive seats.
Democratic women were responsible for flipping 15 of 26 (57.7%) statewide elected executive offices (other than governor) from Republican to Democrat-held as a result of election 2018. Just one Republican man flipped a statewide elected executive seat from Democrat to Republican-held in election 2018.
In 2019, 91 women hold statewide elected executive offices (29.3% of all officeholders), including 9 women governors and 82 women holding other offices (31.4% of all officeholders).15 The record high for women serving simultaneously in statewide elected executive offices other than governor is 89, set in 2000.
The party division among women statewide elected executive officeholders shifted from majority-Republican to majority-Democrat between 2018 and 2019.16 Other than governor, women are 31.4% of all, 42.3% of Democratic, and 23.9% of Republican statewide elected executive officeholders as of September 2019.
Racial and Ethnic Diversity
The underrepresentation of women of color as both candidates and officeholders has been historically stark at the statewide executive level. In 2018, there was some advancement in the racial and ethnic diversity among women running for and winning these offices. 34 (25D, 9R) women of color won nominations for statewide elected executive offices (other than governor) and 12 (10D, 2R) women of color were successful on Election Day 2018. They were about 30% of all women nominees and 20.7% of women winners.
Nine (7D, 2R) women of color were elected to statewide elected executive offices (other than governor) for the first time. Among these newly-elected women are officeholders making history:
- Peggy Flanagan (D-MN), elected as Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota, is the first woman of color elected to statewide executive office in Minnesota as well as just the second Native American woman ever elected to statewide executive office nationwide.
- With her election to the New York Attorney General’s office, Letitia James is the first woman of color elected statewide in New York.
- Kimberly Yee, elected state treasurer, is the first Republican woman of color serving statewide in Arizona.
- Jeanette Núñez is the first Latina elected to statewide office in Florida, following her election as lieutenant governor.
Since the 2018 election, two more women of color have been selected to fill vacancies in statewide elected executive offices. In January 2019, Carolyn Stanford Taylor (D-WI) became Superintendent of Public Instruction of Wisconsin upon the inauguration of Governor Tony Evers (D), who previously held the position. Lea Márquez Peterson (R-AZ), a Latina, was selected by Governor Ducey to fill a vacancy on the Arizona Corporation Commission in May 2019.
As of September 2019, 17 (13D, 4R) women of color serve in statewide elected executive offices, including 1 (1D) Latina governor. They represent 18.7% of all women in statewide elected executive offices and 19.5% of women in offices other than governor.
Prior to 2019, just 38 (28D, 9R, 1NP) women of color had ever served in statewide elected executive offices. As of September 2019, 50 (37D, 12R, 1NP) women of color have held these posts, including 3 (2R, 1D) women of color who have served as governors. When viewed in this historical context, the gains for women of color from 2018 to 2019 are particularly notable. But the small numbers overall evidence the persistent and significant underrepresentation of women in statewide elected executive offices.
A record number of women won nomination and were elected to state legislatures in 2018. The number of women nominees for state legislative office increased by 29% from 2016 to 2018, the largest percentage increase in women’s state legislative nominations for at least two decades. In fact, between 1992 and 2018, the number of major party women state legislative nominees never increased by more than 10% from one election year to the next.
While the number of Democratic women state legislative nominees rose by 39% compared to 2016, Republican women’s nominations rose by just 10%. From 2018 to 2019, women in the Democratic Party increased their overall representation in state legislatures by about 300 seats. Republican women, by contrast, saw their representation in state legislatures decline by just over 40 seats from 2018 to 2019.
The number of women in state legislatures (House and Senate) went up in 36 states, down in 6 states, and stayed the same in 8 states between 2018 and 2019.17 While Democratic women’s representation increased in 40 state legislatures from 2018 to 2019, Republican women gained seats in only 15 states, while their representation dropped in 22 states.18
1,839 of 3,418 (53.8%) women state legislative nominees won seats in 2018, including 29.9% of non-incumbent women nominees. Republican and Democratic non-incumbent women state legislative nominees fared equally well, but incumbent Republican women state legislators lost at a slightly higher rate than Democratic women incumbents.
In 2019, a state legislature reached parity in women’s and men’s representation for the first time in U.S. history. Following the 2018 election and a series of vacancy appointments, women hold 52.4% of seats in the Nevada legislature as of September 2019. Colorado, which ranks second for women’s state legislative representation with 47% women overall, has a majority-woman chamber in its state house. Only one state legislative chamber had ever reached or surpassed parity before 2019; from 2009-2010, women held 13 of 24 seats in the New Hampshire State Senate.
As of September 2019, women were 28.9% of all state legislators nationwide, including 17.3% of Republican and 42% of Democratic state legislators.19 This is a record high for women’s state legislative representation.
Of all women serving in state legislatures as of September 2019, 68% are Democrats and 31% are Republicans, representing a growing partisan gap in women’s state legislative representation; before election 2018, 61% of women state legislators were Democrats and 38% were Republicans.
Racial and Ethnic Diversity
As of September 2019, women of color are 25.5% of all women state legislators and 7.4% of all state legislators, up from 24.3% and 6.1%, respectively, in 2018.
The number of women of color serving in state legislatures nationwide increased from 456 (429D, 26R, 1P) in 2018 to 543 (523D, 19R, 1P) in 2019. The number of Democratic women of color in state legislatures rose by nearly 100, while the number of Republican women of color declined by almost one-third between 2018 and 2019. Black women accounted for about half of the net increase in women of color state legislators in this time period.