The 2018 midterm election in California was a highwater mark for women seeking elected office—as well as a reminder of just how male-dominated our politics still are.
On election night, Susannah Delano, executive director of Close the Gap CA, a group focused on increasing the share of women in the state legislature, made a prediction: “2018 will be the biggest single leap for women in state history.”
Now the numbers are in.
Sure enough, the 2018 midterm election in California was a high-water mark for women seeking elected office. But it was also a reminder of just how male-dominated our politics remain.
Fifty-four women were elected at the state and federal level across California this year. That includes 32 members of the Legislature (including the Board of Equalization) and 19 members of Congress, as well as three statewide constitutional officers—Lt. Gov.-elect Eleni Kounalakis, Treasurer-elect Fiona Ma and state Controller Betty Yee.
That’s a higher number than any other election this century. It’s also a record-high rate: one-in-three winning candidates this year were women. Or, to put it another way, men hit a record-low, winning a measly two-thirds of all state and federal races across the state.
Many saw this coming. Since our last federal last election, we’ve seen the inauguration of President Trump and two rounds of nation-spanning Woman’s Marches; we’ve seen the downfall and prosecution of Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein and the emergence of the #MeToo movement; we’ve seen the resignation of lawmakers in Washington D.C. and California in the face of sexual assault allegations and the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice despite them.
And while many have dubbed 2018 the second “year of the woman,” a redux of 1992 when a record number of women were elected to federal office including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, it might be more accurate to call 2018 the “year of the Democratic woman.”
Just 7 percent of the female candidates who won this year in California were Republicans—a total of four women. That isn’t simply because there are fewer Republican women candidates. Republicans in a blue state like California are less likely to win than Democrats, but male GOP candidates were much more likely to win than their female counterparts.
Of all the candidates who ran, including those in the primary, only 10 percent of Republican women went on to win in this year’s general election (compared to 17 percent of Republican men). Meanwhile, 40 percent of Democratic women won their races (compared to 35 percent of male candidates).
In concrete terms, the 2018 election results mean that many more of the state’s residents will now be represented by women. Or, at least, by one. The two maps below offer a before and after picture, with orange showing those regions with at least a female congressional representative, assemblywoman or state senator. Viewing the two maps side by side, you can see the large strides toward something approximating gender equity in our state politics. You can also see how much more work there is to be done.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post stated that 53 women won their state or federal elections this year. The number is actually 54. We have revised text and graphics to reflect the correction.