The NCSL Blog


By Katie Ziegler

When women run, women win. So, what happens when more women run than ever before?

Delegate Kathy Tran (D) holds her daughter Elise during her swearing-in ceremony at the Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday morning. Tran is among the 28 women now serving in the chamber, a record high. (Timothy C. Wright for the Washington Post.)This year is already breaking records for women in state legislatures, as January marked the first time the nationwide share of women serving reached 25 percent.

NCSL has crunched the numbers as the general election approaches and we can confirm that those headlines about the wave of women running for office at the federal level hold true farther down the ballot.

The number of women running for state legislative seats is up a whopping 28 percent compared to 2016.

Approximately 3,564 female candidates are running this year (Democrats, Republicans and members of third parties), a significant increase over the 2,781 women who ran two years ago. Just over one-third of those women are incumbents, with 2,265 of them running for open seats or as challengers to sitting legislators.

Who are the women running? Overwhelmingly, they are Democrats. In 2016, Democratic women represented 59 percent of women running. Today, they are nearly 67 percent.

The share of female candidates who are Republicans has dropped from 32 percent to 28 percent. Of all Democratic candidates, 44 percent are women. Women make up 21 percent of Republican candidates.

Stark differences emerge upon comparing female candidates to the men running for office.

Fifty percent of male candidates are Republicans, and just under 40 percent are Democrats (nearly 10 percent of all male candidates are members of third parties). Of candidates running for open seats or as challengers, 69 percent of those women are Democrats, compared to just 41 percent of the men.

In the 2017 election for the Virginia House of Delegates, Democratic women challenging incumbents were more successful than Democratic men. If this holds true again, along with the fact that the president’s party has lost state legislative seats in 27 of the last 29 midterm elections, legislatures could see a fair amount of turnover.

Women are running, and women will win. How many? Turn to NCSL after the election for the complete story of the state of women in state legislatures for the 2019 session.

Katie Ziegler is the program manager of NCSL's Women's Legislative Network.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.