The Ascend Fund
PATH TO PARITY: 2020 Election Report – U.S. Congress
Note: These numbers were accurate as of publication. For the most current numbers, please visit: The Center for American Women and Politics, Election 2020 Results Tracker.
A record number 140 women will serve in the 117th Congress, breaking the record of 127 women set in 2019. This record brings us closer to gender parity, but 100 years after women won the right to vote, women still only make up only 26% of Congress. And while 2018 was a watershed moment that saw the number of women and women of color drastically increase, the progress in 2020 is far more moderate. Sustained and significant investment is needed, because at the current rate of change, women won’t reach parity for another 100 years. Which is why we created The Ascend Fund – to invest in organizations training and recruiting women to run for office and to accelerate the pace of change!
In the U.S. Senate, 24 of the 100 seats (24%) will be held by women in 2021. If incumbent Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) wins her runoff election in January and Gov. Gavin Newsom appoints a woman to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, it is possible that the previous record of 26, set in 2020, could be matched. Another consideration, if women currently serving are appointed to cabinet posts in the Biden Administration the number of women in the Senate could decrease.
In the U.S. House, women will fill 116 of the 435 seats (27%). This exceeds the record of 102 set in 2019. Notably, both Black women and Republican women made gains in 2020.
At least 27 Republican women have been elected to the U.S. House, more than doubling the number currently serving, and exceeding the previous record of 25 set in 2004. More than 200 Republican women ran for the House this cycle, due to the intentional efforts by Rep. Susan Brooks, who led House recruitment, and Rep. Elise Stefanik who formed E-PAC to support Republican women in primaries. The results accentuate the need to prioritize recruitment of women on both sides of the aisle, and the positive effect of targeted efforts and early support. Democratic women have long had EMILY’s List as a formidable recruitment and support tool and as institutional and intentional support for Republican women increases, the number of Republican women should continue to rise.
To increase the number of women in elected office, She Should Run created a starter kit with resources to help women navigate through their initial questions and concerns when considering a run for office.
A record 25 Black women won races for the U.S. House, surpassing the previous record of 22.
Among members of the incoming freshman class is Cori Bush, a Vote Run Lead alum, who is the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress. Bush, a nurse and political activist, ran for office twice before defeating a 10-term incumbent in a primary election.
Learn more about Vote Run Lead, which trains women to “run as you are” and Higher Heights Leadership Fund which supports Black women’s leadership.
The number of women of color serving in Congress overall remains nearly stagnant, exceeding the record set in 2019 by only one. Notably, 46 of the 50 women of color elected in 2020 are Democrats. One of the four Republicans is Representative-elect Yvette Herrell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, who defeated incumbent Rep. Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.
Herrell, joins incumbent Rep. Deb Haaland, one of the first Native Americans elected to Congress, and
Representative-elect Teresa Leger Fernandez, the first Latina elected to represent New Mexico in Congress, to form an all women of color House delegation. New Mexico is the second state to elect an all-woman of color delegation. Hawaii was the first to do so in 1990.
Check out Advance Native Political Leadership, that is creating pathways to office for Indigenous candidates, and LatinasRepresent, that is inspiring Latinas to seek public service opportunities.
Herrell and Haaland are two of the three Native American woman who will serve in Congress next year. The third is Rep. Sharice Davids of Kansas. A record 18 Native American women ran for Congress this cycle. Only two ran in in 2016, one in 2012, and two in 2008.
New Mexico won’t be the only woman majority delegation next year. Just six years after Iowa elected the state’s first woman to Congress, the delegation will be majority female. Notably, three federal races in Iowa this year were between two women, Sen. Joni Ernst defeated challenger Theresa Greenfield, State Senator Ashley Hinson defeated first-term Representative Abby Finkenauer in the 1st District, and the 2nd District race remains too close to call between Mariannette Miller-Meeks and Rita Hart, who are currently separated by 47 votes. Incumbent Rep. Cindy Axne, the fourth woman in the six-member delegation, retained her seat in the 3rd District.
While we celebrate the historic number of women elected and progress toward a more representative democracy, it is important to note that women account for less than 3% of total members of Congress over time. To date less than 400 women have served in contrast to nearly 12,000 men.
But perhaps what concerns us most is that progress continues at such a slow pace. If we continue at the same rate of change we’ve seen over the last century – since women gained the right to vote – women would not reach political parity until 2138, more than another 100 years!
We know the key to achieving parity is getting more women to run, but in 2020 of the 3,169 people who filed paperwork to run for Congress, only 643 (20%) were women. When women run for office, they win at the same rate as men. Our partner organizations are empowering, training, and recruiting women to step up and run and giving them the necessary skills to win. For example, 90% of Running Start’s alumnas who run for office, like Congresswoman Lauren Underwood (IL-14), win their races.
The Ascend Fund is committed to accelerating the pace of change towards gender parity in U.S. politics, and we’ve created a plan to achieve 50% representation in all 50 states by 2050. Learn more about our strategy and how to get involved.