Meet the 2,000 women about to storm into state capitals across the US

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderState Senate candidate Alessandra Biaggi at a campaign event in July.
  • Much attention has been paid to the wave of women elected to go to Washington this fall, but women are also storming politics at the local levels.
  • More than 2,000 women will serve in state legislatures next year – growing the number of women in local chambers by several hundred and breaking previous records for female representation.
  • But the work of the so-called “pink wave” isn’t done. Men will continue to make up just over three quarters of state lawmakers across the country.

Much attention has been paid to the wave of women elected to go to Washington this fall, but women are also storming politics at the local levels.

More than 2,000 women will serve in state legislatures next year – growing the number of women in local chambers by several hundred and breaking previous records for female representation, according to new reports from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University (CAWP).

And these numbers could grow even larger, as the Associated Press has yet to call 216 state legislative races, which include about 185 female candidates. While women remain small minorities in the vast majority of bodies, they could end up making up majorities in the Colorado House and Nevada Assembly.

“We are very encouraged by these results. This is the largest increase in women’s representation in state legislatures we’ve seen in some time, after more than a decade of relative stagnation,” Debbie Walsh, director of the Rutgers center, told the AP. “The only question that remains is whether 2018 was a one-off or a new norm.”

Right now, 1,875 of the country’s 7,383 state lawmakers are women. Sixty-one per cent of these women are Democrats, while about 37% are Republicans. Experts have pointed out that as long as women struggle to gain a foothold in the Republican Party, their overall numbers won’t rise much above the 25% mark.

The last surge of women winning state legislative seats was in the 1970s and 1980s, but in the decades since, female representation in these bodies has remained relatively stagnant. This year’s enthusiasm among female candidates, voters, volunteers, and donors was in part fuelled by deep-seated anti-Trump sentiment and the #MeToo movement, which have grown the gender gap between Democrats and Republicans to historic highs.

While more women than ever before will sit in the US Congress next year, women didn’t manage to break records in the Senate or in governors’ mansions.

Experts say there is a host of reasons why female candidates are running in larger numbers, including anger at the current administration and frustration with the imbalance in power at every level of politics. There’s also evidence that women, particularly when running in Democratic primaries, can use their gender to their advantage.

“I think we’re getting closer to a time when we can talk about gender and particularly the gender experience you have as a credential for office and not as a hurdle that you have to overcome or avoid,” Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Rutgers center, told INSIDER in August.

But the so-called “pink wave” has much work left to do. Men will continue to make up just over three quarters of state lawmakers across the country.

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