Photo by Mirah Curzer on Unsplash
Natalie Niemeyer, a 25 year-old researcher for Democratic organizations, left her cubicle in D.C. this fall to do something she said she rarely gets to do: talk with voters face-to-face. As a volunteer, she’s gone door-to-door in Michigan as part of a marathon effort to reach undecided voters.
“Michigan Center. Jackson. Pontiac. They’ve all blended together,” she said from a rest stop near Troy, a city just north of Detroit.
Niemeyer is among the many young women who have become more involved in politics in the two years since President Trump was elected. Niemeyer chose Michigan because it’s a “hyper-focused, microcosm of what’s going on” nationally, she said. Trump won the state by less than 10,000 votes in 2016, and several midterm races for the U.S. House of Representatives in the state are forecasted as toss-ups. Women are on the ballot in three of the closest races.
Many have compared the 2018 midterm elections to 1992’s “Year of the Woman,” when women’s representation doubled in the Senate and increased from 28 to 47 members in the House. The 235 women running for the House of Representatives as party nominees this year represent a 41 percent increase from the previous record of 167 in 2016, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
The historic numbers come with an important caveat though, said Melissa Deckman, a political scientist at Washington College: 193 of the women candidates for the House are Democrats, compared to 52 Republicans.
The surge of women entering politics “is really just a phenomenon on the political left and in the Democratic party,” said Deckman. The #MeToo movement has motivated many women to run, but a variety of ideological factors that “well predates the #MeToo movement” prevents a similar trend in the Republican party, said Deckman.
“They’re not as upset about how power is dispersed within society as Democratic women,” she said.
“Republican women would say that [sexual] harassment is a bad thing, it’s a problem for society, but they care far more about immigration, or abortion, or the economy. Whereas for the Democratic women, sexual harassment is a driver of their voting calculus,” Deckman said.
She cited a study from the Public Religion Research Institute that found six in 10 total respondents said they “would definitely not vote for a political candidate if they had been accused of sexual harassment by multiple people.” Only 30 percent of those respondents were Republicans.
The study also showed the wide gap between women of opposite parties: 84 percent of Democratic women said they wouldn’t vote for such a candidate; only 41 percent of Republican women said they wouldn’t, either.
Deckman said that the Democratic party has many partner organizations like EMILY’s List that recruit and train women to run for office, but far fewer organizations exist on the Republican side.
In Michigan, Niemeyer said voters she’s spoken with often care about more tangible issues, as opposed to ideological questions about gender and power. She says many women voters she’s met are working class and “feel they have been forgotten” by the political establishment. Niemeyer tells them, “We want you to have a job that gives you enough time to spend time with your child, to survive and to thrive,” she said.
Niemeyer’s friend Gechi Robertson, who works as a nanny and retail clerk, volunteered for a political campaign for the first time this weekend near D.C., door-knocking in Virginia’s 7th District for Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA officer looking to unseat Republican Dave Brat in Congress.
Although Spanberger is a Democrat, she can speak to “that Virginian ideal,” Robertson said. “She’s very pro-law enforcement. She’s a former CIA agent. She believes we should maintain the Second Amendment, but at the same time certain laws should be added onto it.”
Robertson only spoke with a handful of voters, but said researching the issues and connecting with other volunteers over the weekend “instead of having brunch,” made her realize how much there is to learn. “Politics is just so frickin’ vast,” she said. “I wish I had started earlier.”