How women won the midterms

Joe Oakes

November 8, 2018

In the buildup to the midterms, the Democrats were quietly confident. Politicians and commentators alike were anticipating a turnaround in their recent electoral misfortunes – something which they phrased as the “blue wave”. Unfortunately for the Democrats, the wave turned out to be more of a gentle ripple, stroking your feet as it crawls up the shore. The Democrats gained 29 seats, winning over the House, but they failed to take back the Senate.

The most outstanding nature of this wave was not its velocity, but its colour. Not its size, but its nature. If this wave has any colour, it’s rainbow. The unforeseen representation of minorities swept across US headlines, as many states experienced new firsts.

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar became the first Muslim women in Congress, Young Kim became the first Korean American in Congress, and Tennessee saw its first female senator in Marsha Blackburn. These are just a few examples in a string of firsts which have created a new atmosphere in American democracy. 

The common denominator in the most covered cases has been gender. Since Donald Trump’s inauguration and the subsequent women’s march that took place, there has been a powerful surge in applications for female representatives – 26,000 women have reached out about launching a campaign. The outpouring of female activism has been overwhelmingly blue, as the Democrats have sought to benefit from their female supporters’ views on Trump’s treatment of women. 

Understandably, these women are angry about Trump’s presidency. His approval rating is about 15 per cent lower among women than it is with men. This anger has, however, appeared to manifest itself in a struggle against the patriarchy. The #MeToo movement first surfaced as Harvey Weinstein received allegations of sexual assault, and it has since attempted to steer much of the social discourse on what feminism means. 

This movement has had a huge impact on college-educated suburban women, who are 20 points more likely to vote for a Democratic candidate than for Trump. This feeling intensified with the Supreme Court confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh. Once again, the outrage has created an outlet for Democrat women to show their disgust at Trump and everything he represents. 

This creates fertile soil for female success. A vote for a female Democrat is no longer just that – it is a vote against Trump. The GOP is now seen as Trump’s party, and it represents all the connotations that the man himself seems to ignite for those on the left. Subsequently, moderate Republicans – and any right wing views they hold – are painted with the Trump brush. They become the losers, and female Democrat first-timers emerge as the winners. 

The Democrats are very aware of this. The galvanisation of the anti-patriarchal movement is their ace of spades in the two years leading up to 2020. Democrats’ main coverage across mass media was dominated by women: Nancy Pelosi making a speech about keeping Trump in check and Alexandria Ocasia Cortez becoming the youngest ever congresswoman at the tender age of 29.  All this followed Elizabeth Warren’s recent announcement that she self-identifies as Native American. The simple message to the voter base is this: we are not Donald Trump, nor do we represent his white nationalism, and that is why you should elect us. 

The most important figure worth discussing in this context is undoubtedly Kanye West (or should I say “Ye”). Divisive though he is, his recent flurry of tweets and political commentary has offered some profound electoral insight. Ye felt as though his supporters were placing him in a Democrat African-American box, which compelled him to vote in that direction. His response was to show his support for the president publicly, which resulted in Trump inviting him to a meeting in the Oval Office. 

Despite what those involved may think, the #MeToo movement does not represent all women. Many Republican women find the movement abhorrent and think that it demonises men. These are sentiments relayed publicly by the president. However, despite Trump’s female following, the Democrats are now heading in the direction of taking ownership of political feminism. 

What the Republicans must do now, as they have attempted with Kanye, is convince the public that your identity does not provide you with a prerogative to vote in a certain way. This would be a noble cause, but to disassociate the Republican’s electoral success with identity politics is laughable. Both parties are now utilising this tactic as their key message. Democrats have entered the playing field of divisive identity politics in the same way that Donald Trump has, they are just targeting different demographics. 

Despite only holding a majority in the House of Representatives, the Democrats have set themselves a precedent for 2020 and stated their intent by successfully preying on the social climate. These midterms were a huge battle for women and minorities – a battle that they won, but the real war has only just begun. We can expect to see the Democrats continue on their path of keeping Republican candidates on their toes by playing Trump at his own game. But for feminism to be truly progressive, it must shake off the idea that a woman must be a Democrat – only then can women achieve true empowerment of self-realisation and individuality.

Nonetheless, these midterms are reflective of an ability for women to be electorally successful. Despite the woeful lack of economic discussion from both sides and a largely rhetorical campaign, the electoral difficulties for women have been worn down. In fact, women – especially Democrats – for the first time are enjoying the electoral benefits of their gender, as opposed to it being a hurdle to jump over. Moreover, there is no doubt now that women don’t need diversity quotas or a helping hand from sympathetic self-righteous men to get elected, only a belief in what they are able to achieve and the determination to see they achieve it.


Written by Joe Oakes

Joe Oakes is Communications Officer at 1828.


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