Disclaimer: The author is currently the head of communications for Vote.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, organization that uses technology to simplify political engagement, increase voter turnout and strengthen American democracy.
Only 54 days away, the 2018 midterms are shaping up to make history in numerous ways. On November 6th, citizens will head to the polls to elect two times as many officials nationwide than they did in 2016; that means more than 80,000 people will be voted into office. Moreover, a record number of women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community are running for these positions — if elected, this means America may come one step closer to seeing the demographics of the nation’s elected officials actually match the demographics of the broader population (currently, the population is 70% women and people of color, while the elected officials are more than 65% white and male). Yet, there have been numerous reports of late suggesting that women are not that interested in the midterms.
An archived article published in The Atlantic in September 1903, titled “Why Women Do Not Want to Vote,” suggested that in 1895 only 4 percent of Massachusetts women even wished for the right to vote. It goes on to suggest that women, perhaps, do not wish to take up the duty of voting because voting — like war — is cumbersome and unimportant to her. “This is the negative reason why a woman does not wish the ballot: she does not wish to engage in that conflict of wills which is the essence of politics,” it states. “She does not wish to assume the responsibility for protecting person and property which is the essence of government. The affirmative reason is that she has other, and in some sense, more important work to do.”
As the nation embarks on its upcoming 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, American politics have changed in every way, having almost elected its first woman president and experiencing staggering upsets in the 2018 primaries. It is safe to suggest that women’s involvement in politics has only increased over the years, despite reports that only half of eligible millennial women voters plan to turn out to the polls for the midterms.
Jasmin McCloud, a licensed therapist and social justice influencer, offers an explanation for the low poll numbers.
“When Barack was running for president … he made us feel like we could believe in our government,” she said. “When midterms rolled around [in 2016], there was a lack of awareness of the midterm elections and how they impact the ability for the president to get things done. And we trusted the top guy [Barack Obama]; we felt like he was effective and so that is who we focused on. But now, Donald Trump has reinvigorated women of color.”
McCloud points out a distinct nuance that many women of color have pointed out in conversations surrounding the voting behavior of women.
"Vote like a Black woman because they will never lead you astray."
— The Root (@TheRoot) September 10, 2018
“It’s a false narrative to say we’re not engaged in politics. Women of color realize we can’t tolerate this for another four years, so [we will do] anything we can do to mitigate the damage [Donald Trump] will cause—which includes voting in midterms,” said McCloud.
“The number of women of color who are running shows you the lead women of color are trying to take in this fight. So we have to look at the intersection of race and gender when we talk about voting behavior. White women voted for Donald Trump and presumably will continue to vote for Donald Trump. Women of color have no choice here but to activate and continue to stay activated, because our livelihoods, community, education, finances, children are at stake.”
Notably, women of color have had a distinct impact in critical off-cycle elections. The most famous example in recent history dates back to November 2017 when Black women saved the day in the election of Doug Jones in a special election in Alabama — shutting down the advancement of accused child molester and U.S. Senate candidate Republican Roy Moore. Of those who turned out, 98 percent of Black women voted for Jones; 63 percent of white women voted for Moore.
While women of color, particularly Black women, have demonstrated higher levels of civic engagement in some races, other groups of women may still need to be galvanized to become more involved.
The Voter Participation Center focuses specifically on targeting unmarried women— women who have never been married, or are separated, divorced, or widowed— in the voting process, as they make up the majority of vote-eligible women in the United States— but almost half of them aren’t even registered to vote.
Still, some unmarried women of color back up McCloud’s theory that apathy or lack of engagement is a non-option for single Black and Brown women.
“As a single, urban millennial Latina, I have no reason not to vote. It’s a non-negotiable at this point. I have to be involved,” said 32-year-old Denise Penagos, a publicist living in Manhattan.
“That said,” Penagos continues, “my white colleagues and friends also seem more active. It’s almost as if they have more information and more access.”
To Penagos’ point, many reports in years past suggest that political strategists focus moreso on reaching white voters than people of color. A 2015 article in The Atlantic suggested, “Following Obama’s reelection, Rush Limbaugh argued that the Republican Party didn’t need better minority outreach to win elections, only higher white turnout.”
Nonethless, countless organizations are now working around the clock to ensure women’s involvement in the 2018 midterms is at its peak. And for many women of color, it seems as though their involvement is already guaranteed.