A record number of women were sworn into Congress on January 3.
The influx of women candidates helped turn the midterm election into what many observers dubbed a “Year of the Woman.”
But despite a tide of voter sentiment favoring women, these winners got to Congress or a statehouse not by defining themselves as “women’s candidates,” but instead by sidestepping issues typically associated with their gender, from equal pay to reproductive freedom.
We are experts on women and politics, and in a recent study we conducted at the University of Maryland’s Rosenker Center for Political Communication & Civic Leadership, we examined 2018 political ads to understand how woman defined their candidacies and qualifications for office.
We found that, despite the momentum of the #MeToo movement, women were careful in playing the “gender card.” They avoided what are often construed as “women’s issues” that are associated with gender equality such as abortion, pay equity, sexual violence and harassment.
We studied general election ads produced by women challengers running for the US Congress or for governor of their state. We used 52 ads from 25 candidates – nine Republicans and 16 Democrats. Although there were more Democratic women vying for office than Republicans, we made sure to balance the ads by party (29 ads by Republicans and 23 ads by Democrats). All of them were produced by candidates in what we defined as competitive races, meaning 10 points or less separated the candidate and their opponent on Sept. 30, 2018.
A dominant theme that crossed both Democratic and Republican ads is the candidate’s own power and achievements in careers that have historically excluded women. These ads showcase these women’s individual strengths that seemingly prepares them for the rough-and-tumble world of US politics.