Mixed Results on 2018 Being “The Year of the Woman”

On Monday, we asked whether 2018 will be the “Year of the Woman” in Pennsylvania. Although it’s ultimately too early to tell – the gap between Pennsylvania and the national average in the percentage of women elected to Congress is due to election outcomes, not the percentage of women running for office or winning primary elections – the results from Tuesday’s primary were mixed.

Eight women (seven Democrats and one Republican) won primary races in a historic 7 of Pennsylvania’s 18 House districts. With women winning both the Democratic and Republican primaries in the 5th district, at least one woman will represent Pennsylvania in Congress next year. However, the success rate of women candidates in Tuesday’s primary was lower than in recent years.

Women ran in 13 of 18 districts this year, more than double the average of 6.3 from 2002-2016, but the success rate of winning in 7 of those 13 districts is considerably lower than the 2002-2016 average. Although women only ran in an average of 6.3 districts during that time period, they won primaries in an average of 4.4 districts – a 72.0 percent success rate, compared to 53.8 percent on Tuesday.

This year, Democratic women ran in 13 of 18 districts and Republican women in 1 of 18. 2018 represents a significant shift in the party division of women running for and winning primary elections. Between 2002 and 2016, more than 70 percent of women who ran in primaries were Democrats and 42.8 percent of women in general elections were Democrats. On Tuesday, 92.9 percent of women primary candidates were Democrats and they will account for 87.5 percent of general election candidates.

As noted, the success rate for primary candidates was lower this year than in 2002-2016, but the large increase in the number of districts where women ran resulted in major gains. Between 2002 and 2016, women accounted for 12.4 percent of primary candidates, ran in an average of 35.7 percent of districts per election, and were 13.1 percent of general election candidates for the Pennsylvania’s seats in the House of Representatives. This year, women accounted for 25.0 percent of primary election candidates, ran in 72.2 percent of districts, and are now 22.2 percent of general election candidates in the state.

There were two districts where multiple women ran, but in the six districts where women ran but did not win the primary (the 1st, 2nd, 9th, 10th, 12th, and 18th Districts), they were the only woman in the race. Conversely, both of the districts that had multiple women running (4th and 5th) were won by women. Having multiple women in a race did not negatively impact women’s success rate.

To date, just a fraction of the state has been represented by a woman in Congress. 72.2 percent of Pennsylvanians live in areas that had a woman on the ballot Tuesday. In November, there’s the potential for 33.5 percent of Pennsylvanians to be represented by a woman in the House.

How this translates to representation in Congress remains to be seen. As noted, Pennsylvania will be represented by at least one woman in Congress after November’s election. If the 2002-2016 average success rate for women in the general elections happened this year, it would result in a historic three women in Pennsylvania’s House delegation. It’s currently expected that the Philadelphia region alone will send three women to Congress. If four women win, Pennsylvania would surpass the current percentage of women Congress (21.0 percent). If women were to win in all seven districts, they would account for 38.8 percent of the state’s delegation.

Part of the gap between general elections and Congressional seats for women has been driven by the small number of competitive seats in Pennsylvania, with women often representing a party unlikely to win in the general election due to gerrymandering. Between now and November, we’ll dig into how this year’s Supreme Court mandated redistricting is expected to impact the rate of women being elected in Pennsylvania.


Alison Shott, Ph.D. is an Associate Director at ESI. Alison’s dissertation examined the role of municipal associations in inter-municipal cooperation and collective intergovernmental lobbying. She continues to actively publish in these areas. Her research on how election structures impact the rate of uncontested city council seats in Canadian municipalities was published in The Democracy Cookbook: Improving Democratic Governance in Newfoundland and Labrador, in March 2017.



Peiyong Yu created the maps for this blog post. Peiyong is a Senior Analyst with Econsult Solutions. He has extensive experience with spatial and statistical analysis, transportation planning and economic analysis, and proficient in ArcGIS, R-Studio, and Excel.

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