Breaking Barriers: Women Win Big in U.S. Midterm Election

The United States Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the nation’s highest court amid multiple sexual assault allegations has left many American women feeling uncertain about their legal security. President Donald Trump’s verbal attacks against women’s rights have caused anxiety for women from the executive branch as well. The concern is that these men’s gender biases may influence their decisions regarding women’s rights. Not to mention, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent short stint in the hospital following a fall resulting in three broken ribs reminded the nation how fragile one of the last remaining voices for women is on the Supreme Court (GP-DATA-6).

In the midst of women’s legal insecurity in the judicial and executive branches, the legislative branch holds hope for American women. The 2018 midterm elections saw more women running for office and winning than ever before. At least 123 women will be a part of the 116th Congress: over 100 for the House of Representatives and 12 for the Senate (LBHO-DATA-1). 33 congressional races had two female candidates competing against each other.[1]

English_2Of those Congressional winners, 40 women of color are headed to the House of Representatives. Prior to the midterms, there were 38 such representatives in the House. The midterm election wins were especially important for women of color. The midterm results included the election of the first two Native American women (Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland); the first Muslim women, including a Somali refugee (Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar); and some of the youngest members of Congress (Abby Finkenauer and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).

The state of Tennessee elected their first female senator Marsha Blackburn and South Dakota elected their first female governor. Massachusetts and Connecticut both elected their first black woman to Congress. Texas also elected the first Hispanic women from their state to Congress.[2],[3]

These wins may be indicative that tides are changing in regard to how women are seen as leaders and decision-makers.

A Pew Research Center survey said that most Americans agree that having more women running for office than before is good, although they are unsure if anything will change with more women in office.[4]

However, there is strong evidence that things in government will change.


Women legislators are more likely than men to introduce legislation specifically benefitting women, on issues such as paid maternity leave or prosecuting violence against women. In the last Congressional session, women legislators passed on average twice as many bills as male Congressmen. They also send more funding home to their districts.[5] They are more likely to work across the aisle with other women as well.

What could the election of more women legislators to national Congress mean for female legal security? It could mean that women will feel more responsible to focus on economic and legal security for women and their families including gender pay equity, minimum wage laws, laws against sexual harassment, and reproductive rights.[6]

More important than the way the American public views women in leadership roles is how women see themselves.

Although women are legally allowed to run for office (LBHO-LAW-1), they still face many logistical and societal barriers. Female candidates are 15 times more likely to be responsible for the childcare at home and six times more likely to do the majority of housework. They also have less support – women are less likely to receive encouragement from others to run for office, either from a party member or even a close loved one (LBHO-PRACTICE-3).

There is a growing recognition of the “Jill Robinson effect” for women in politics. This term is named after Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player in America, who had to be overqualified in his baseball skill to overcome prejudice regarding his race. Similarly, women chronically underestimate their qualifications concerning political office, which leads to fewer women choosing to run.[7]

The midterm elections however have shown that this mindset is changing.

Women have historically been left out of the decision making process in politics (LBHO-PRACTICE-2), and people are realizing how damaging this is to democratic institutions. Representation of gender is important to the concept of representation in a democratic institution, especially representation by a diverse set of women that more accurately reflect the diverse women within America.

Not only in the realm of representation, but also in a polarized government, it is crucial that government still works. Female politicians delivering results by representing their constituents well, funding programs in their districts, or reaching across the political aisle for bipartisan legislation helps to rally public support in a time when so many are losing faith in government and government processes.

Combating gender norms about decision-making and leadership in the political sphere is crucial to strengthening democracy and its effectiveness. In an era of political turbulence that seems threatening to women, there is a glimmer of hope in these new Congressional appointees (SEGI-PRACTICE-1).

-by KM


Image Sources:

Image 1 – Illustration by Joan Wong of The New Yorker


Image 2- Ilhan Omar is interviewed by The Associated Press Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, in Minneapolis after winning Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District race in Tuesday’s election. She will be the first Somali American to serve in Congress and one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress. AP Photo/Jim Mone.



[1]Eli Watkins. 2018. “Women and LGBT candidates make history in 2018 midterms.” CNN, November 7. (November 9, 2018).

[2]Margaret Talbot. 2018. “How Women Won Big In The Midterms.” The New Yorker, November 7. (November 9, 2018).

[3]Alexi McCammond. 2018. “2018 midterm elections sets record for women in Congress.” Axios, November 7. (November 9, 2018).

[4]Arit John and Jennifer Epstein. 2018. “U.S. Elects Record Number of Women to House of Representatives.” Bloomberg, November 7. (November 9, 2018).

[5]Sarah Kliff. 2017. “The research is clear: electing more women changes how government works.” Vox, March 8. (November 9, 2018).

[6]Tanya Tarr. 2018. “How The 2018 Midterm Elections Could Help Women And Boost Equal Pay Laws.” Forbes, November 7. (November 9, 2018).

[7]Sarah Kliff. 2017. “The research is clear: electing more women changes how government works.” Vox, March 8. (November 9, 2018).

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