AUSTIN — In 2020, when women will have had the right to vote in U.S. elections for 100 years, their voices and their votes will be in high demand.
Women made up 53% of all voters in the country in 2018, helping Democrats retake the U.S. House. In Texas, where they also make up a large share of the electorate, women in 2018 helped elect three Democratic women to Texas’ congressional delegation, including the state’s first two Latina congresswomen, and were key to Democrats flipping 12 seats in the Texas House.
“Women are going to decide the next elections,” said Cecile Richards, a longtime pro-choice activist and the daughter of the late former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat.
In May, Cecile Richards co-founded Supermajority, a national women’s civic engagement organization, to encourage women to vote and run for office.
While Democrats are building a community of support for the women who became politically engaged in 2018, more Republican women are running for office and calling for their male-dominated party to modernize their messages to women voters.
“For decades now, women have been the backbone of the Republican party,” Stacy Hock, chairwoman of the Texas GOP Victory 2020 fundraising campaign, told The Dallas Morning News. “I still see that still being alive today. We just need to modernize it.”
Women have been out-voting men nationally and in Texas for almost the last decade, but more women candidates ran and won office in the last midterm elections, said Victoria De Francesco Soto, civic engagement director of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.
In Texas, 40% of the women who ran for congressional, judicial, State Board of Education and other statewide offices during the midterms won their race, according to a data analysis by the Texas Tribune.
“The only thing I can remember like it is when mom ran for governor and women and people of color mobilized,” Richards said.
The midterms mostly brought more Democratic women to the table in Texas’ urban counties, such as Harris, where 17 black women judges were elected along with County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who was the first woman to be elected to the position.
The 2016 election and the #MeToo movement pushed many progressive women into action during the Women’s Marches that started in 2017. Supermajority hopes to help inform and train these women ahead of 2020, Richards said.
“A lot of local women’s groups popped up after the Women’s Marches,” she said. “We want to find a way to bring these disparate groups together.”
The group has been on a nationwide tour hosting town halls with Democratic presidential candidates that focus on women’s issues. They held two discussions with Texas presidential hopefuls Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke during the Texas Tribune Festival last month.
Republican women, on the other hand, saw their representation decline in the Texas House, falling from 19 members in 2012 to six in 2019.
“To say there is a problem with the GOP electing women, yes, there is one,” Rep. Sarah Davis, a Houston-area Republican, said at a Texas Tribune Festival panel on women and the GOP.
Eva Guzman, a Republican Texas Supreme Court Justice, said the Texas GOP has not done as well in creating infrastructures to support women like the progressive organization Annie’s List, which has supported many of the recently elected Democratic women.
But Hock said the GOP has offered women training on how to share their policy stances and values or become deputy registrars and candidates.
“We are doing trainings all over the state for anyone who is interested, but we’re certainly doing some that are just women oriented,” she said. “We found that with training, women are more than excited to receive it.”
Guzman said the increased number of Republican women who say they are running in 2020 gives her hope.
“It’s OK to say we were inspired by Democratic women to engage in the process,” she said. “It’s incumbent on Republican leadership to engage with female candidates and empower them with resources and then to elect them.”
Reaching across the aisle for votes
Experts say they expect to see more voter engagement in 2020, a presidential election year, when women will play a key role in deciding races for Republican John Cornyn’s U.S. Senate seat and various congressional districts.
“I think we’re going to see a continuation of the surge of engagement in 2018,” De Francesco Soto said. “The issues that kind of propelled women in 2018 are still with us, issues like gun violence and health care.”
Guzman said the GOP will have to engage new voters.
“If you look at Harris County, there were new voters that produced that swing,” she said. “It wasn’t so much that we lost voters, so much as we weren’t getting new voters.”
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that midterm participation soared among black, Latino and Asian eligible voters in Texas. De Francesco Soto said these populations are producing younger voters that both parties should look to attract.
“For both parties, you want to expand the electorate and get more younger people to vote, and especially for Democrats you do want to be aggressive in getting minorities who historically lean Democratic,” she said.
But white women still outnumber voters among these rising groups of new voters, De Francesco Soto said. While Hillary Clinton picked up 54% of all women’s votes in 2016, 53% of white women voted for President Donald Trump, according to the Pew Research Center.
In 2020, Republicans will “have to figure out how to help the more moderate Republican women navigate Trump,” De Francesco Soto said.
Davis, who is fiscally conservative but socially moderate, said the Texas GOP’s focus on targeting social issues such as abortion and the use of bathrooms among transgender inviduals has made some women voters turn away.
“Since I’ve been in the Legislature, they have been more into regulating abortion and bathrooms instead of the issues women care about like public education, health care and women’s health,” she said. “I think women and Republican women have had enough.”
Hock, the GOP fundraising chairwoman, said while many women are Republican voters based on issues such as abortion, the party has to better communicate how it can benefit other women as well.
“Women want freedom, they want security, they want prosperity,” she said. “We need to talk about the issues that voters care about, and that is opportunity and it’s being able to pursue the American Dream, and the Republican Party stands for that. They stand for liberty and they pair that with personal responsibility.”
Supermajority is also focusing on these values after conducting a poll of 2,197 women across the U.S. and finding that safety and economic equality were some of the biggest concerns among respondents.
“We have to be talking to women outside of the partisan lens because when you just bring women together, they start talking about what really matters to them,” Richards said.
Sadie Hernandez, a 25-year-old who attended Supermajority’s roundtable with Castro, said she’s looking at which 2020 candidates take the time to listen to women.
“It says a lot about any candidate to come to an event for a specific demographic, listen and answer their questions to see what those people see as top policy issues,” she said. “Women have been at the forefront of many movements, and it’s time candidates take them into consideration.”