A century after most women won the right to vote and 148 years after the first woman ran for president, women voters turned out in unprecedented numbers and helped to elect the first woman, and woman of color, as vice president-elect, and record numbers of women candidates up and down the ballot.
The 117th Congress will include at least 36 Republican women – up from a previous high of 30 in 2006 – and 51 women of color – three more than have ever served before. New Mexico elected the state’s first all-woman of color House delegation, which includes Deb Haaland, Yvette Herrell and Teresa Leger Fernandez. Additionally, Yvette Herrell, a member of the Cherokee Nation joins Deb Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo Nation, and Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation as the third Native American woman elected to the House. Rep.-elect Cori Bush (D-Mo.) is the first Black woman to represent the state of Missouri in Congress; Rep.-elect Marilyn Strickland (D-Wash.) is the first Black woman in Washington’s congressional delegation.
Women candidates led the seat-gains for both the Democratic and Republican parties this cycle. All three of the House seats flipped by the Democratic Party were won by women candidates; this comes as several seats gained in 2018 were lost to the Republican Party. On the Republican side, the highest number of non-incumbent Republican women, 18, were elected this year; and, Republican women candidates flipped seven of the nine seats gained by the Republican Party this cycle.
Down the ballot, while there were a number of “firsts” for women candidates, as a whole little has changed for women’s representation. Women continue to only hold roughly a third of state legislative seats; 94 women will serve in statewide executive positions in 2021, just a 1 percent increase from 2020; and only nine states have women governors, a number which may go down if Biden nominates one or more to his Cabinet.
Commentary during the lead up to the election heralded the record 322 women running for Congress who made it to the general election. But these historic numbers of women in the pipeline, and the avalanche of money spent in this election cycle, failed to substantially increase the number of women actually elected to Congress.
A common refrain is that when women run, women win; and, while this can be true in some cases, it is highly dependent on the type of race in which women are running. In the 2020 general election, 107 incumbent women ran, 97 won, with a success rate of 91 percent; 44 women ran in open seats and 17 won, a success rate of 39 percent; but, the vast majority of women, 171, ran as challengers, only ten have won, a success rate of just 6 percent. Our antiquated winner take all electoral system limits competition and inherently favors incumbents resulting in minimal