The August primary election is over, and one thing is clear: women! All over Pierce County and Washington State, women from both major parties succeeded in almost every race we entered.
Women ran in 18 of the 26 races for the legislature and for local offices here in Pierce County. And we advanced to the general election in 17 of the 18. Not too shabby.
The national pattern is similar. As Denise Lu recently reported in the New York Times, “This year has already produced the largest number of House primary victories by female candidates in the nation’s history.” Women don’t just run, Lu continues; they win. “So far, more than half the women running have won. The number of victories by women is only expected to grow [with primaries left in six states].”
At the risk of jinxing a good thing, my friends and I are asking “why?” It’s important to know why things go well, after all. We’ve come up with several possible answers, and I’d love to hear yours.
The most important reason women win is the quality of the candidates. Candidates who aren’t qualified or don’t work hard don’t win. But in a way this just re-frames the question: Why are so many qualified, hard-working women winning?
For one thing, when incumbent women run for re-election, they work harder than men. That insight comes from “Gendered Vulnerability,” a new book based on research by Jeffrey Lazarus and Amy Steigerwalt (University of Michigan Press, 2018). Women see themselves – and are seen by others – as more vulnerable to defeat, and so compared with men we tend to be more responsive to our constituents, we communicate with voters more frequently, and we bring more money back to our districts.
Or perhaps the answer is men behaving badly. Don’t get me wrong; I have some really great male friends. But in the past few years we’ve been awash in bullying behavior and news of powerful men preying on women and children. These men come from every walk of life: medicine, religion, the arts. And government. Sure, women abuse power too, but for a lot of us, voting for women is a way to say, “Enough!”
Another reason for women’s political success may be our growing financial power. Like it or not, money is important in elections. According to Marketwatch, women will control two-thirds of all private wealth in the U.S. by the year 2020. Locally we see that power in political action committees like South Sound Women’s Leadership and Win With Women, and in growing campaign contributions by women. Women also support men, of course; but we certainly take a close look at women running for office.
The profile of female candidates is changing, too. We see more women experienced in business, the professions, labor, and the military. And increasingly, these candidates can talk about tough issues without talking tough. That’s a high art in politics, and voters respond to candidates who master it.
Finally, women candidates benefit from a couple of widely-held beliefs among voters. One is that women get more done, because we’re more collaborative. “Women share their power more; men guard their power,” writes Michael Genovese, president of the Global Policy Institute at Loyola Marymount University.
A second belief is women care more about “people issues” like health care, education, and services for the vulnerable. Decades of research around the world show women do introduce more legislation on these issues. This doesn’t mean that women actually care more than men, but research from the Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University found that the more women present in a policy-making body resulted in policies more supportive of children, families and women. Both the belief and truism give female candidates an edge among a lot of voters.
So why women? We have several possible answers: women incumbents work harder; men have been behaving badly; women have more money to support candidates; women have new kinds of profiles; and women setting different priorities – help female candidates.
Whatever the reasons, I will be happy to have more women and other diverse candidates join the tables of power. In my mind, there’s no doubt that including more diverse voices at any decision-making table makes for better decisions. We’re in a time of change. I’ll keep working with my legislative colleagues from both parties, and with the people of Tacoma, to make it change for the better.
Laurie Jinkins is a public health official from Tacoma who serves as a member of the Washington House of Representatives from the 27th district.