News / A record number of women ran for U.S. office in 2018



A record number of women ran for U.S. office in 2018


Women soared in the U.S. primary elections this year, pulling out victories all across the country and setting the stage for the November midterms. More women than ever before won major party primaries for governor, U.S. Senate and House in 2018. Of the 524 women who ran, almost half – 256 – won their primary.

Equally encouraging is the spectrum of women candidates. Women of color increased 75 percent since 2012 –including among Republicans. There are nearly 50 black women running for Congress in 2018, including Democrat Lucy McBath in Georgia and Republican Rep. Mia Love who is bidding for a third term in Utah. In Idaho, Paulette Jordan has a chance to become the first Native American governor in U.S. history. And Michigan will likely send the nation’s first Muslim–American woman to Congress, after Rashida Tlaib beat a crowded field of Democrats for the 13th Congressional District. Beyond gender, these women are ushering in a new wave of diversity in American politics.

Most of the gains are among Democrats. Most (three-fourths) female congressional candidates are Democrats who say their motivation to run sprang from President Donald Trump’s election. Only 66 Republican women won their primaries compared to 185 Democrat women. This means that while it is likely there will be more women in Congress overall after the 2018 midterms, the gap between Republican and Democrat women will also likely widen.

Republican women are already a minority in Congress. Of the 84 women in the House of Representatives (out of 435 men and women), just 23 are Republicans. Nearly one-fourth of sitting Republican women are this year retiring or leaving the House to seek higher office. This includes retiring Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who is in a tight Senate race against Democrat Kyrsten Sinema.

All of this is to say that the story is about party in addition to gender.

Republicans are aware of the disparity. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R–NY), the youngest woman to be elected to Congress, is in charge of Republican women candidate recruitment for 2018, a position that she pitched herself. This year she brought on 120 women to run, and intends to increase the number in the future.

But it will be difficult for Republicans to compete with the infrastructure dedicated to electing Democrat women. Winning for Women, a new group aimed at getting conservative women elected, fundraised around $465,000 according to Federal Election Commission fillings through October. Maggie’s List, another group dedicated to electing Republican women, raised just under $150,000. By comparison, Emily’s List – the Democrat equivalent – has upward of $40 million. This suggests the gulf between the parties’ gender gaps may be a long-term structural phenomenon.

Still, perhaps the bigger question is whether this year’s bump in the total number of women candidates is just a one-off or a sign of more women in future elections. In 1992, the so-called ‘Year of the Woman,’ the number of women in Congress climbed by two-thirds. Those numbers then slowed or even stagnated in the following years. Unlike then, however, there is now more infrastructure to help women get elected. Women’s leadership is more broadly accepted, and more women overall already fill seats at the highest levels of state. The potential is certainly there.

Currently, women account for just a fifth of 535 U.S. representatives and senators, and one-in-four state lawmakers. Six of the nation’s 50 governors are female. Meanwhile, women comprise slightly more than half the U.S. population.


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