Women Winning About Half of Major Democratic Primaries So Far This Year

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Stacey Abrams, and Gretchen Whitmer are among the Democratic women who have won highly competitive primaries this year.
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Is it really the “Year of the Democratic Woman”? To answer that question, FiveThirtyEight did a comprehensive analysis of Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate, governor, and U.S. House this year. And yes, women are doing very well, if not in any way out of proportion to their share of the electorate (and particularly the Democratic electorate).

Women make up 48 percent (114 out of 2384) of the Democratic nominees in primaries that have been decided so far even though only 32 percent (263 of 811) of the candidates we analyzed were women. So, women are clearly having greater success than men.

If you take out incumbents and only focus on open races, Democratic women are doing even better:

[W]omen have won 65 percent (90 of 138) of decided open Democratic primary races featuring at least one man and one woman. About 46 percent of all women who ran for office won the nomination — a stat we’ll call “win rate.” Men’s win rate has been just 23 percent.

Some of that last number reflects the many dude-versus-dude primary contests, but still, the success rate for Democratic women running for high office this year is impressive, particularly if you consider the historical record:

Although women’s representation in Congress has almost doubled since 1992, the House and Senate combined have never been more than 20 percent women. But this year’s surge in the number of female candidates could change that, because studies have found that a major hurdle to women’s equal representation is that women are just less likely to run. But with women competing in 69 percent of open Democratic primaries this year, according to our data, that hurdle seems lower.

All else being equal, it’s good for women if this does shape up to be a Democratic “wave” election. FiveThirtyEight has not (so far at least) conducted a parallel analysis of Republican women running for high office. But there is evidence that among GOP congressional candidates (a) a record number of women are running (one calculation is that 123 Republican women have run or are running for Congress) but that (b) they aren’t winning primaries at the same clip as Democratic women. As of early August, according to Tara Golshen, their win percentages were not impressive:

Just 35 Republican women have won their primaries, and there are only 79 Republican women still in the running. One female Republican incumbent, Alabama’s Rep. Martha Roby, was forced into a runoff election, which she won in mid-July.

Some Republican women who are incumbents are in serious trouble, too:

California Rep. Mimi Walters will face off against UC Irvine law professor Katie Porter, a progressive who has endorsed Medicare-for-all and has the support of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Kamala Harris (CA). In Virginia, Democrat Jennifer Wexton wants to pick off Rep. Barbara Comstock, who is one of a handful of Republicans representing a district Hillary Clinton won in 2016. And in New York, Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney, who has been known for embracing President Donald Trump, is in a toss-up district.

Other Republican women are far from a guaranteed loss — but they all represent districts that could be swept up in a blue wave. A June poll found Utah Rep. Mia Love in a tight race with her Democratic challenger, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams. Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the only Republican woman in House leadership, is also facing a tough reelection bid this year as her Democratic opponent, state Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, has been working to tie Rodgers to Trump.

And Republican women as a whole have not necessarily done well by running for higher office. Tennessee has two women (Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black) in their House delegation. Black lost her gubernatorial primary, and Blackburn is in a tough Senate race. Both were replaced by men in House primaries in their districts.

We obviously won’t be able to determine the overall impact of the midterms on representation of women in governors’ offices and Congress until November. But among Democrats, at least, expectations have been heightened to the point where women will either have a breakthrough year or will enter 2020 vowing to break the glass ceiling once and for all.