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Rutgers expert discusses record number of women elected in 2020

Debbie Walsh, director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics' Center for American Women and Politics, said the 2020 election has resulted in a historic number of women of color across elected government positions. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

The recent election resulted in a historic number of women being chosen to hold various offices, said Debbie Walsh, director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics' Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP).

She discussed the significance of this achievement as well as the importance of having more women in government.

Walsh said the nomination of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is a huge milestone in terms of representation, as she is the first woman and first woman of color to be elected to the White House.

“(Harris) will be bringing with her a set of life experiences (that are) different than anyone who has ever sat in that office, and she will bring both a gender and race lens to policy,” she said. “She's also symbolically significant because (she) is an image now of who can be a vice president, (and) it disrupts that image of an older white male as the type of person who can lead.”

The election resulted in a record number of women of color across other elected positions as well, Walsh said. A total of 51 women of color will serve in the next Congress, and 17 women of color will hold statewide executive offices, with both numbers exceeding previous records set in 2019, according to the CAWP Election Results Tracker.

Republican women also set a record for Congress, she said. In 2018, the number of women who ran and won overall was high, but the women were almost exclusively Democrats. Out of the 36 non-incumbent women elected to Congress that year, 35 of them were Democrats, Walsh said.

“(In the next Congress), there will be at least 26 new women, nine of whom are Democrats and 17 of whom are Republicans,” she said. “Republican women have broken their record for the most new members in any one cycle and ... at the end of the day, will have the most women that they have ever had in the U.S. House (of Representatives).”

Walsh said this progress is not good enough, as women are still not close to making up 50 percent of Congress.

She said of those who ran for the House this month, women made up approximately 50 percent of Democrats and 23 percent of Republicans. The only way that women can become 50 percent of Congress is if both parties are consistently electing them, she said.

Depending on the results of outstanding elections, the next Congress as a whole will be made up of at least 141 women, with 117 in the House and 24 in the Senate, Walsh said. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ open seat in the Senate is yet to be determined.

“We know from the research that women bring different life experiences to the making of public policy,” Walsh said. “And those different perspectives mean that there are different priorities, different solutions (and) different problems (that) are identified.”

Walsh said increased female representation in elected offices makes policy more reflective of the needs and concerns of the American people, and the next challenge will be to keep this momentum going.

“I think that (the numbers of women in Congress increasing over time) absolutely will continue,” Walsh said. “The question will be at what pace will it continue?”


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