By: Doktor Prax Evad | Contributing AOJ journalist
I want to highlight something the prevailing narratives about the midterm are missing; the role of women is being overstated a bit. There is this annoying tendency in coverage of elections to speak of groups of voters as monolithic groups. Typically, one or two groups are focused on as being decisive for a candidate’s victory. Lately, the hype has been college-educated, suburban women. There’s a narrative of the ‘year of the woman’ going around. While not an entirely wrong narrative, such a narrative excludes about half the population and misses that women are not monolithic voters. No group is monolithic. There are some groups that vote more decidedly toward one party than others (for instance, African Americans or Mormons). Nonetheless, such oversimplification of voting groups is borderline discriminatory. It is like applying a stereotype to an entire group of people, but it’s a political stereotype. This might make sense if the stereotype was true, but the validity of ‘the year of the woman’ is dubious at best, bespeckled with holes, and easily could be challenged by alternative narratives.
Yes, record numbers of women were elected to congress, but there are a few holes with this narrative that need recognition. This was almost entirely a one-party year of the woman. Democrats dramatically increased the percent of their caucus that is female. Republicans, not so much. Further, women did not deliver Democrats their victory in the House. I would not give that honor to any one group. For instance, without the African American vote, Democrats surely would have lost the popular vote. Women didn’t even shift toward Democrats by much more than men per the exit polls. If we compare 2018 to the last midterm in 2014, we can see that Women went from voting 51% for Democrats to voting 59% for Democrats. Men went from voting 41% for Democrats to voting 47% for Democrats. It appears, women did shift more toward Democrats than men, but by not all that much more. Women shifted 8 points toward Democrats. Republicans shifted 6 points toward Democrats. Based on the exit polls, it is pretty clear there is another group that shifted significantly more Democratic than women: the youth. Voters aged 18-29 voted 53% Democratic in 2014, but voted 67% Democratic in 2018. That is a 14 point improvement. So why isn’t this the ‘year of the youth.’ After all, much of the incoming class of congressmen is historically young. My guess is the Me Too Movement, the Women’s March, and Kavanaugh hearings, amongst other recent political developments have brought women to the forefront of political attention. There may be some validity to this focus on women, but the power of the year of the woman is being overblown in a way that could indicate pundits are misreading the climate, as has happened before (see 2016), or at the very least reading the results of the midterm in an over simplistic manner
All of this is to say that the year of the woman is more of a convenient narrative than a realistic evaluation. There are many narratives to the midterm. Picking one likely reflects your political outlook more than reality. Republicans insist the wave was muted, Democrats insist the wave was powerful. It’s all relative anyway. These oversimplifications have profound consequences though. Regardless of whether there was a year of the woman, there clearly was a more obvious ‘year of the youth,’ at least according to exit polls. Women didn’t swing this election to Democrats as much as the youth vote did. One could argue it was also the year of healthcare, or the year of the anti-Trumps, or the year of Medicare-for-all or the year of the suburbs. You get my point. I’m not saying any of these are necessarily invalid. They’re merely incomplete and simplistic reads. The Year of the Woman is similarly incomplete and simplistic. Worse yet, it treats women as monolithic voters and ignores half the population outright.