Gender Watch 2018’s expert contributors include scholars and practitioners with expertise and experience related to gender and American politics. Whether on-the-ground or in the academy, they have investigated and analyzed the ways in which gender shapes political campaigns. They will serve as regular contributors throughout the election season, providing their insights and diverse perspectives through analyses, activities, and social media. To begin this conversation, we asked our expert contributors what stories, races, and dynamics they’ll be watching in the 2018 election. Here’s what they told us.
Sayu Bhojwani, Founder & President of New American Leaders
The 2018 elections shows clear signs that conventional wisdom may not apply, for example, will the many first-time candidates running for Congressional races do better than their counterparts in earlier years? And is the new energy we’re seeing among the public going to play out in “conventional” political settings? Specifically, I’ll be focused on whether women of color who come from outside the political establishment will get the kind of support that can make or break campaigns — endorsements from political parties, unions and other endorsing institutions—or whether that support will continue to go to political insiders who have been “waiting their turn.”
Erin C. Cassese, Associate Professor of Political Science at West Virginia University
I will focus on gubernatorial races for Gender Watch 2018, because these races are poised to bring record-breaking gains for women’s representation in executive office. There are currently 79 female gubernatorial candidates running in 34 states – many of which have never previously elected a woman to this office. Prior research shows that voters tend to view women candidates differently when they run for executive office rather than legislative office, and I will be on the lookout for gender dynamics in these races. In particular, I will be watching for the use of gender stereotypes and gender-based attacks in negative campaigning. My research shows that attacks on female candidates’ stereotypic traits and policy strengths can be particularly damaging to their electoral fortunes. To follow these gubernatorial races as they unfold, subscribe to our Governors’ Races Watch List!
I will also be offering some insights into key political races in West Virginia. Female representation in the WV statehouse has been declining since the 1990s, and the state currently ranks 48th in terms of presence of women in the legislature. This tracks with women’s underrepresentation in political office throughout Appalachia, and I will watch women candidates in this region closely to see what new insights can be gained about their paths to office.
Wendy Smooth, Associate Professor of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and Political Science
This midterm cycle, I am profoundly interested in voter turnout among all groups, but especially interested in voter turnout among women and women of color in particular as well as younger voters, new immigrant, and men of color who all make up what we have come to know as the New American Electorate who first showed their political heft during the 2008 presidential election cycle. Traditionally, midterm election years generate far less attention from voters than presidential election years, but there are some indications that voters are more engaged than usual. Partisans on both sides of the aisle are highly incentivized to either extend their power or limit the power of the opposing party and are poised to mobilize their base. I am particularly interested in how the Democrats will invest in mobilizing communities of color and women of color in particular. In the first elections in the era of the Trump Presidency, high voter turnout among women of color in states like Virginia and Florida gave rise to heightened interests in investing in women of color-centered voter mobilization campaigns. I am watching to see whether this level of interest remains.
I am also watching the May gubernatorial primary in Georgia in which former House Minority Leader, Stacey Abrams, an African American woman is running. If Abrams is successful in the primary she becomes the first African American woman to run for the governor’s seat in Georgia representing a major party and could become the first African American woman to ever hold that office in any state. Given the challenges African American women experience in running successful bids for statewide office, this race is at the top of my list to watch. Abrams has significant momentum including a nationwide following and an early endorsement from EMILY’s List. Georgia will have my attention.
Melissa Deckman, Louis L. Goldstein Professor of Public Affairs at Washington College
I’ll be looking at 3 things. First, how will Republican women vote in the midterms? Will attitudes about Trump combined with the #MeToo movement lead at least some Republican women to peel away from GOP candidates this fall — or will GOP women be more likely to stay home? Second, will the #MeToo movement enhance women’s turnout overall and result in more women voting for Democratic candidates? Lastly, will young people, particularly young women, be more motivated to vote in this midterm election over past midterms given both the #MeToo movement and recent events regarding gun violence? Some data suggest that young women are getting more involved in politics than young men. Will this also extend to the ballot box?
Christine Jahnke, President of Positive Communications
With a record number of women running for office, how are their voices impacting the public dialogue? What are they saying? How are they saying it? Are they effectively reaching voters, dealing with opponents, and managing media coverage? As a speech and debate coach, I will provide commentary on the obstacles and opportunities women face in speaking forums from town hall meetings to televised debates, as well as provide skill-building insights and best practices for women on the campaign trail.
Rosalyn Cooperman, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Mary Washington
For 2018, my focus is two-fold. First, as a resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia, I am particularly interested in “the rest of the story” regarding how the eleven Democratic women candidates who won seats in the Virginia House of Delegates fared in the 2018 legislative session. As Virginia was one of only two states to hold off-year elections, these women candidates, many of whom achieved a “first” status because of various qualities, received a tremendous amount of media attention. Still, these women now serve in a General Assembly where their party is the minority party, and these women are freshman members who lack seniority. Here I am interested in how women’s electoral victory translates into their establishing institutional presence and clout.
Second, at the national level I am interested in the campaign finance of women candidates and women’s PACs. 2018 has seen significant increase in the number of women running for elected office. I am tracking campaign finance data to determine whether the 2018 “year of the woman” is also the 2018 “year of the woman donor,” and whether Democratic and Republican women candidates and women’s PACs benefit equally in the campaign finance equation component of increased women’s candidacy.
Anna Sampaio, Director and Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies and Political Science, Santa Clara University
I will be watching for the intersections of race, immigration, gender throughout the course of the 2018 elections and am particularly interested in the role of Latina/o candidates and voters (both their public opinion and policy preferences) in statewide and national races in Arizona, California, Nevada, and Texas. I will also be watching for the involvement of both national parties and other groups such as Latino Victory Fund or Mi Familia Vota in the outreach, registration, and mobilization of Latina/o voters in those contests.
Christine Matthews, President at Bellwether Research & Consulting
The 2018 election cycle will be fascinating in ways we may not yet be able to anticipate. So many dynamics make this midterm more highly charged than normal and the ways that it will impact candidates and voter turnout are still to be determined. Some of the key things I will be interested in related to gender:
With a record number of women candidates running, how will #meToo stories be part of their campaign agenda/message? We have seen a few women already choose to tell very personal stories as part of their campaign message (Sol Flores (IL), Lindsey Davis Stover (VA), Mary Barzee Flores (FL)). What impact will these stories – or more generally, this issue – have on female and male voters especially in races with a female candidate vs. a male candidate? How will partisanship of the candidates interplay with #metoo? Will a Republican man facing a Democratic woman face an additional burden because of Trump’s toxicity on this issue? What about a female Republican candidate? (VA 10 will be one race to watch on this)
Of course I’ll be watching the engagement and enthusiasm of younger women whose mid-term participation typically declines significantly from presidential years. I’ll be watching the percentage who say “absolutely certain to vote” in polls. I think the really interesting players this year could be midlife suburban college educated women (PTA moms, working moms, empty nesters) especially those with a Republican or independent voting background. These are the women who voted against Roy Moore in Alabama and, in Virginia, helped sweep in a wave of women candidates to the state General Assembly. They may not be making headlines like super energized Democratic women, but these women are not happy in Trump’s version of America either and will have to make decisions that may be a departure from their past voting patterns or belief structure.
Pearl Dowe, Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Arkansas
In the state of Arkansas, women from both parties are seeking electoral victories this year. Female Republican candidates are running for governor, attorney general and secretary of state. However, the most interesting race to watch is on the state level: two Democratic women are vying for the nomination to face State Representative Charlie Collins. This race is representative of the increased efforts by women to seek office as a result of a polarizing issue — in this case, guns. Representative Collins was successful in passing legislation that allows for concealed-carry, meaning gun license holders can bring their weapons onto college campuses. This policy change has motivated opposition to Collins among voters and candidates, with women leading the charge.
Whitney Smith, Founder at W.T. Smith Consulting
Time’s up, I am ready to bring my leadership, experience and energy to the Gender Watch 2018 team. I bring the leadership of having been a political candidate in battleground Ohio, and consulting on more than 300 races across the country. Let me tell you what the experience of being a woman on the trail is today. From the pressures a first-time candidate faces, to the very real injustices female candidates and consultants face in every avenue of a campaign – from media coverage to fundraising and even treatment by one’s own political party – I won’t hold back.
What you can expect from me? Energy. I am a politically right-leaning millennial and part of the LGBTQ community so questioning the status quo isn’t what I do – it’s who I am. On the ground, real-world experience and empathy is what I hope to share with my colleagues at Gender Watch. Together, let’s walk in the shoes of female candidates, as they bravely change the political landscape.