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Democrats are nominating an unprecedented number of women to run for Congress

Ilhan Omar, the Democratic House candidate for Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District.
AFP/Getty Images

Women, and especially college-educated women, have been the epicenter of political backlash to Donald Trump ever since the record-breaking Women’s March on Washington that quickly followed his inauguration. That trend, paired with Trump’s overall unpopularity, appears set to launch the number of women in Congress to unprecedented levels. Trump has inspired a record number of women to run for Congress and win Democratic Party nominations.

So far across the 41 states that have held their primaries, 41 percent of all Democratic Party nominees — and 48 percent of all non-incumbent nominees — are women, a level that simply obliterates all previous records.

It’s noteworthy that at 41 percent, women are, of course, still underrepresented relative to their share of the overall Democratic Party rank and file, where they are a majority.

That’s because even in this surge environment, women are less likely than men to run in the first place. But when they do run, they’ve been winning their primaries at a higher rate than male candidates. Indeed, statistical analysis from Meredith Conroy, Mai Nguyen, and Nathaniel Rakich finds that so far this cycle, “all else being equal, being a woman has been worth an additional 10 percentage points over being a man in the open Democratic primaries we looked at.”

Of course, all else is rarely equal. The other large statistical determinant of primary success is whether you’ve held earlier elective office, and since most existing officeholders are men, that means the pipeline for congressional candidates is predominantly male. That, in turn, helps explain why women remain underrepresented even in a strongly favorable political climate.

But for exactly this reason, even if women’s extraordinary Trump-era political mobilization fades a few years from now, even a one-off surge can have lasting effects. If the 2018 cycle generates an unusually large cohort of newly elected women state legislators and other down-ballot officeholders (as seems likely), then there will be a much larger pool down the road of women well positioned to win House nominations. And by the same token, a bumper crop of women elected to Congress in 2018 should set the stage for more women running for Senate and other statewide offices in 2020, 2022, and beyond.