Women's Wave

#MeToo might sway the 2018 midterm elections

Illustration by Peter Noonan

Recent midterm elections in New Hampshire have been a wild ride. In 2006 there was a major Democratic wave, and then in 2010 it was the Republicans’ turn. Democrats were put back in office in the 2012 presidential election, but Republicans replaced them in 2014.

These midterm elections largely had to do with how Granite State voters felt about the sitting president. At critical points in those years we just weren’t that into presidents from both parties, including George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

At the same time, each of those elections had a subplot that dominated the campaign conversation. In 2006, it was the war in Iraq. In 2010, it was the recently passed Affordable Care Act.

In 2018, the subplot is already clear: It’s the #MeToo movement.

It began last fall with The New York Times story that detailed Harvey Weinstein’s long history of alleged sexual harassment and assault. His swift downfall, and the resulting spread of #MeToo on social media, led to a vast number of women, many of them celebrities (and some famous men like Terry Crews) sharing their stories online and with the media. The intent was to show that Weinstein’s accusers were hardly alone — that this was a widespread problem that affects all women, not just movie stars, both in the workplace and elsewhere. The result is an ever-growing list of prominent, powerful men — from actors and politicians to journalists and media icons — who have lost not just their reputations, but jobs and careers.

There is a reckoning taking place. Time magazine named the women behind the movement as its “Person of the Year” for 2017. We have yet to see if the impact will be felt at the ballot box and things could get interesting at the midterm elections.

Partly because of the #MeToo movement and partly in reaction to the election of Trump, himself accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct (the Women’s March just after the inauguration is estimated to be the largest single-day demonstration in US history), there are a record number of women running for office around the country. One study by Rutgers University found that there are already more than double the number of women running for major office in 2018 than there were in 2016.

In New Hampshire, we are accustomed to women running — and winning. We were the first state to have a majority of women serving in the state Senate. We were the first state to have our entire Congressional delegation consist of women. While many Republican women have been trailblazers in the state, currently the federal delegation is made up entirely of Democratic women.

Things may not change drastically this year. But what should be noticeable is how the candidates will be asked in town halls and in debates, not just about tax cuts or health care or North Korea, but also about workplace culture and sexual discrimination.

Now may not be the best moment to seek office if you are a heterosexual white guy, but attitudes are slow to change. An investigation by New Hampshire Public Radio found that more than 100 members of the state Legislature didn’t sign a statement saying they had read a couple of paragraphs spelling out the sexual harassment policy. Once notified, some did sign, but most did not. (See the list of who did and didn’t at nhpr.org.)

How voters make up their minds at the ballot box is a complicated matrix. But in 2018, it is clear that New Hampshire voters will have more women to potentially vote for, and that the #MeToo movement is clearly on their minds.

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