A record number of women are running for local, state, and national office in the 2018 election cycle. More than 450 women have filed paperwork to run for Congress this year, according to the latest estimates from the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP).
This is a sharp increase from 2016, when 272 women filed to run for Congress. More women running means more women winning.
Early indications are that record numbers of women will win office in November. In Illinois, several women won competitive Democratic primaries by sound margins. In Texas, Democrats will likely for the first time send two Latinas to represent the state in Congress, and women won a higher share of contested primaries there than at any time in recent history. Pennsylvania’s all-male delegation will have at least two, and likely more, women joining it in 2018. Democratic women in last week’s primaries secured nominations for competitive races in Iowa, New Mexico, and California.
According to our data, more women winning office dramatically increases the prospects of overturning the Hyde Amendment, a goal long sought by public health professionals, medical doctors, and reproductive justice advocates. Hyde prohibits federal funding for abortion services, except in rare circumstances. Repealing it would be a key step for women, particularly women of color, who are disproportionately harmed by the anti-choice law.
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To explore the implications of an increase in the number of Democratic women in Congress, we examined data to compare Democratic women to Democratic men on co-sponsoring of legislation to repeal Hyde. We found that female legislators are far more likely than their male counterparts to vote to repeal Hyde even in districts with widespread constituent support for greater access to abortion care and for repeal of these restrictions.
Our analysis provides insight into how more women elected to office could influence public policy like the repeal of the anti-choice Hyde Amendment, suggesting that if we elect more women to Congress, we will see a marked shift in support for policies that concern reproductive health care—even where other representative and district characteristics remain the same. And while electing women to state and local offices has plateaued for decades, 2018 might give us a glimpse into what our political institutions might look like if we actually succeed in replacing all the men.
The public is divided on the issue at the core of the Hyde Amendment, though it is somewhat unpopular nationally. Forty-five percent of adults support legislation to “prohibit the expenditure of funds authorized or appropriated by federal law for any abortion,” according our analysis of the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study survey. However, national top lines can mask important nuances in opinion across demographic groups in different geographic areas. To address this limitation and provide a more granular view of public opinion on Hyde, our think tank, Data for Progress, used multilevel regression and post-stratification, a method frequently used in the academic political science literature, to generate state-level estimate of support for the Hyde Amendment.
We find that in only 19 states is support for the Hyde Amendment greater than 50 percent (the District of Columbia also overwhelmingly opposes the discriminatory Hyde Amendment).
Although public support for the Hyde Amendment is mixed, and is much lower in blue states, Democrats have yet to mount a successful effort to repeal it. This is largely due to the fact that, while Democratic voters and those in Democratic-leaning demographic groups are overwhelmingly in support of allowing federal funding for abortion care, Democratic members of Congress are themselves divided: there are still 61 House Democrats who have not co-sponsored the repeal of Hyde. Some of these Democrats represent more conservative districts, where the median voter may not support federal funding for abortion.
However, many of those who have failed to support repeal of Hyde actually are not in conservative districts. Fifty-two Democratic members of Congress who oppose the Hyde Amendment represent districts won in 2016 by Hillary Clinton, and of those, 45 represent districts that Clinton won by ten points or more. What explains Democratic opposition to the repeal?
Our analysis indicates that the gender composition of the Democratic caucus can partially explain why it has lagged behind its voters on this issue. Of the 50 Democratic men who haven’t backed Hyde repeal, only eight represent districts Donald Trump carried in the 2016 election. When we predict House Democrats’ support for Hyde repeal, controlling for district and member characteristics, we find that—as opposed to climate action and financial regulation—a representative’s gender is a powerful predictor of whether a given House Democrat supports or opposes repealing Hyde.
In a model controlling for district level support of Hyde and Trump’s margin, an incumbent’s gender reaches traditional thresholds of statistical significance. Holding all other factors at their averages, a generic male House Democrat would have a 63 percent chance of supporting Hyde Amendment repeal; a generic Democratic woman representing the same hypothetical district has a 79 percent chance of supporting repeal.
What Would Happen if We Replaced All the Men With Women?
While numerous factors influence whether representatives support specific policies, we want to know what would happen if only women were voting on the repeal of the Hyde Amendment.
The true nature of this counterfactual is inherently unknowable, since—as our model indicates—changing the gender composition of the Democratic caucus would change the relationship between district characteristics and support for repealing Hyde. Given the relationship between gender and support for Hyde repeal, this should if anything bias our counterfactual estimates downward. In other words, since our model predicts support for repeal of Hyde among Democrats’ generic replacements, based on the behavior of all other Democrats currently in office, then an actual counterfactual where all Democratic members of the House were women would likely have even more consistent support for repealing the Hyde Amendment than our results below show.
To explore the implications of more women running for office, we estimate support for the Hyde Amendment among House Democrats based on their gender, district partisanship, and district-level public opinion on whether the federal government should be banned from funding abortion services (we used the outputs of a multilevel regression model created by political scientist Christopher Skovron). All things equal, we would expect members from electorally safe and liberal districts, where the public is more supportive of federal funding for abortion services, to be more likely to support repealing Hyde. Unsurprisingly, 72 percent of Democrats in 2016 Clinton districts support repealing Hyde, compared to 17 percent of Democrats in Trump districts. Three of the five (60 percent) women who represent districts that Trump either won or Clinton won by fewer than five points support repealing Hyde, compared to four of the 15 men representing similar districts (27 percent).
But what does support for the repeal look like if we assume all the districts are represented by women?
To answer this question, we specify two sets of predictions based on our model: one in which every House Democrat is replaced by a generic Democrat of their same gender, and one in which every House Democrat is replaced by a generic Democratic woman. In this first set of predictions, 110 of 193 current Democrats in the House represent districts where a generic replacement of the same gender would be “very likely” to support Hyde repeal. Thirty-eight represent districts where this generic replacement would be “likely” to support repeal, and 45 represent districts where their generic replacement would be “unlikely.”
In our second set of predictions, where we replace all members with generic Democratic women, the share of representatives we predict would support the repeal of the Hyde Amendment increases dramatically. If we replaced every House Democrat with a generic female representative, 95 percent of the caucus would be very likely or likely to vote to repeal Hyde, compared with 68 percent of the current caucus.
Although merely hypothetical, our analysis indicates that the surge in women running for office as Democrats will be good for women. Decades of scholarship finds that when women run, women win, and with their success, progressive legislation will be more likely to be proposed and passed.