Democratic women are overperforming in 2024 primaries; Republicans lag behind

We're tracking how many women are running (and winning) in primaries this year.

June 6, 2024, 1:54 PM

Today, Democratic women make up 41 percent and Republican women make up just 15 percent of their respective parties' members of Congress. And of the 12 female governors currently serving, eight are Democrats. That discrepancy is due in part to what happens in the parties' respective primaries, where interest groups and candidates spar over the direction of their parties and just which candidates should represent them. While this year's primaries are far from over, we wanted to check in on how women have done in the first 17 states to hold primary elections for some mid-cycle clues as to whether Democratic and Republican women are maintaining the progress they've made in recent election years.

As we have for past primaries, 538 is collecting a trove of demographic and political information (such as endorsements, race and ethnicity, and gender) for every major-party candidate running for Senate, House or governor in the 2024 election cycle. This update takes a look at where women have run, and where women have won, in these primaries through May 21.* Our analysis of this data shows that the overall share of women running and winning in primaries thus far in 2024 is slightly lower than it was at the close of the 2022 primary cycle. But there's a notable partisan split: Democrats are nearly keeping pace with the previous cycle, while Republicans seem to be passing up opportunities to add more women to their ranks.

How many women are running and winning?

To identify female candidates, we rely on lists from the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University, which has been reliably collecting data on women running for office for decades. Democrats have been electing more women to Congress than Republicans since the 1990s, due in large part to a strategy that has emphasized recruiting and supporting female candidates. In 2018, that strategy was supercharged, when many more Democratic women showed interest in running in the wake of Trump's election and as the #MeToo movement was gaining momentum. Democratic women have continued to run in large numbers since then, and this year appears to be no exception.

Meanwhile, Republicans saw their own surge of female candidates back in 2010, as women who had taken on a leading role in the Tea Party movement decided to run. The number of GOP women declined in subsequent years, before surging again in 2020 and 2022, but the 2024 numbers so far signal a drop-off.

Digging into this cycle's numbers, as of June 4, 2024, the overall number of women who have filed to run for Congress is down for both parties — though that may not tell us much, since fewer men have filed to run too. More notable is the relative drop in the number of Republican primary candidates: So far, 330 Democratic women and 188 Republican women have filed to run for Congress, compared to 354 Democratic women and 299 Republican women in all of 2022.

A similar partisan split is apparent in our analysis of the share of women running in 2024 primaries (which also includes gubernatorial races). Overall, we found that 24 percent of candidates who ran in primaries for Senate, House or governor so far in this cycle are women. But women made up a significantly larger share of Democratic candidates than Republican candidates in these primaries: 33 percent of all Democratic candidates were women, compared to 17 percent of all Republican candidates.

And when it comes to how these women are faring, that discrepancy is also reflected in the share of women winning their primaries: Among certified (or projected) primary winners so far this cycle, women make up 41 percent of Democratic nominees but just 16 percent of Republican nominees. That represents a slight decrease among both parties compared to 2022, when women made up 43 percent of Democrats' nominees and 20 percent of Republicans'. And when we compare this year's data to CAWP's data on female primary winners specifically in House and Senate races from 2018-2022, we see a similar trend:

Based on this comparison, the primary win rate for women this year is mostly comparable in the House and slightly down in the Senate compared to previous cycles. But Democratic women in particular may be encouraged by another trend in this year's data: So far, women are overperforming in Democratic primaries by 8 points, meaning they make up a larger share of Democratic primary winners than they do Democratic primary candidates. Meanwhile, the percentage of Republican women who have won their primaries is nearly the same as the share of women in the overall Republican candidate pool (17 percent compared to 16 percent, respectively):

Another way the parties have differed so far this cycle is in the types of races where they're running and nominating women — in other words, whether women are winning primaries to become their party's nominee in districts where they have a decent shot of winning. Since incumbents almost always win reelection, most of these opportunities come in the form of open races (where an incumbent is not running).

Thus far, no non-incumbent Republican women have won a nomination for a safe Republican seat in November. There were certainly plenty of opportunities, given a high number of GOP (and overall) retirements this year. For example, in Indiana, where incumbent Governor Eric Holcomb is retiring, sitting Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch seemed like an obvious choice for the nomination. However, Indiana Sen. Mike Braun also ran for the seat and defeated her in the primary. Holcomb didn't endorse in that race, but Trump did (he supported Braun). And in Georgia's 3rd Congressional District, there were no women among the five candidates running to replace retiring Rep. Drew Ferguson. Things could've been different in North Carolina's 13th District, another safely red seat: Kelly Daughtry received the most votes in the primary and qualified for the runoff, but she subsequently dropped out after Trump endorsed her runoff rival, Brad Knott.

Among GOP women who've won their primaries so far, the non-incumbent with the best chance of winning in November is likely Laurie Buckhout in North Carolina's 1st District, which is rated as a toss up by all the major election handicappers. Mayra Flores in Texas's 34th District may also have a shot in a race rated as leans or likely Democratic, while Caroleene Dobson in Alabama's 2nd and Monique DeSpain in Oregon's 4th are both running in "likely Democratic" races. Of these women, Dobson will be on the ballot in an open race against Democrat Shomari Figures, while the other three face Democratic incumbents.

In contrast, Democratic women have won several open primaries for safe blue seats, like Maxine Dexter in Oregon's 3rd District and Sarah Elfreth in Maryland's 3rd. Because of California's top-two primary system, two Democratic women made it through the primaries to face each other in the state's 12th Congressional District general election (Jennifer Tran and Lateefah Simon). Democratic women have also won primaries and will go on to challenge GOP incumbents in several districts that are expected to be at least somewhat competitive in November, like Janelle Bynum in Oregon's 5th, Ashley Ehasz in Pennsylvania's 1st and Michelle Vallejo in Texas's 15th.

How important are endorsements from women's groups?

There are many explanations for the large partisan gap in female candidates and winners. For instance, the potential candidate pool for Democrats is larger, as pipelines to political office are occupied by more Democratic than Republican women and more women identify as Democrats than Republicans.

Another reason Democrats nominate more women than Republicans is the stronger synthesis of organizations that recruit, train and support women within their party's financial and political networks. Organizations like these can make a big difference in candidate recruitment, particularly because women are less likely to see themselves as qualified for political office and they receive less encouragement from others to run, including their families. The best-known, and best-funded, of these groups is EMILYs List, which has been influencing primaries for decades by recruiting and supporting pro-choice Democratic women in places where they can win in November. Similar Democratic-leaning organizations include Emerge America, Vote Run Lead and She Should Run.

The GOP also has organizations that aim to recruit and elect more women, but research suggests they have historically been less integrated into their party's donor networks and thus had less influence. Plus, fewer Republican than Democratic voters say they prioritize electing women (by a wide margin), which likely makes the mission of these organizations a harder sell.

Despite this (or maybe because of this), after Republicans failed to add more than one newly elected woman during the 2018 cycle, Rep. Elise Stefanik, who was at the time the head of recruitment at the NRCC, stepped down to start Elevate PAC (or E-PAC), to serve as the Republican counterpart to EMILYs List. When she started the organization, Stefanik announced she wanted to "play big in primaries," even though at least one other Republican leader said that was "a mistake." The organization has since sought to deepen its connections with party leadership and the NRCC.

In the following cycle, recruiting women (as well as candidates of color) to run against vulnerable Democrats seemed to be an integral part of Republicans' strategy to flip highly competitive House districts. Republican women were 23 percent of the party's general election nominees for the House, and many of them eventually flipped seats from blue to red by defeating Democratic incumbents in competitive contests. E-PAC endorsed most of the women who went on to win in November according to our analysis at the time, including by providing crucial support in some of their primary contests.

So, what about this primary cycle? We looked at the candidates endorsed by EMILYs List and Republican women's groups in incumbent-less primaries through May 21, and how often their candidates won. As was true in the last two election cycles, there's little question that endorsements from women's groups are a good sign for a primary candidate, in either party. Non-incumbent women endorsed by at least one women's group in primaries so far this year have a win rate of 70 percent, compared to those without an endorsement from a women's group, who have a win rate of 32 percent. And once again, Democrats seem to have a leg up here, as Republican groups have been relatively quiet with their endorsements so far.

In primaries held through May 21, EMILYs List has endorsed more non-incumbents than all the Republican groups combined, and 10 of its 13 endorsees won their primaries. This includes Senate candidate Angela Alsobrooks in Maryland, for whom EMILY's List launched a $2 million ad buy, an investment that helped her defeat billionaire Rep. David Trone.

Of the Republican groups, VIEW PAC has endorsed the most non-incumbents in primaries through May 21: Wendy Davis in Indiana's 3rd, Luisa Del Rosal in Texas's 26th, Mariela Roca in Maryland's 6th, Dobson in Alabama's 2nd, Buckhout in North Carolina's 1st and Flores in Texas's 34th District. As we noted earlier, the latter three of these six endorsees won their primaries and advanced to competitive general election contests. (Had Davis or Del Rosal won their primaries, they'd likely have had an easier path in November, based on district lean.) Both non-incumbents endorsed by Maggie's List — Buckhout and DeSpain** — won their primaries, while Winning for Women went one for two, endorsing Buckhout and Davis. Meanwhile, E-PAC has not yet listed any 2024 endorsees on its website ahead of the May 21 primaries — though it has since announced some endorsements..

That leaves us with a fairly small sample size on the GOP side, and it's notable that the party's women's groups have gotten off to a particularly slow start this year. At a similar point in the 2022 election cycle, our data shows that VIEW PAC had endorsed 13 non-incumbent primary candidates, Maggie's List nine, Winning for Women seven and E-PAC six. That's despite the fact that only 14 states had voted by the end of May 2022, compared to 17 so far this year.

Of course, the primaries are far from over, so it's too early to say whether both parties will nominate fewer women this cycle compared to last and, moreover, what it means. How women's groups' endorsees overlap with the MAGA movement or the progressive movement, for example, could also tell us something about the direction of the Republican and Democratic parties, and the role of women and women's groups within them.

Republican women's groups have endorsed women in a few notable upcoming races, such as the races for North Dakota's and Alaska's at-large seats, and races in Washington's 3rd, Michigan's 8th and New York's 18th District, so their numbers will go up. Plus, according to the National Journal's Hotline, as of mid-May, E-PAC is planning high-dollar fundraising for several women ahead of their primaries, which suggests they may be ramping up their efforts. Likewise, EMILYs List has endorsed in contested primaries in Michigan's 8th, Florida's 27th and New York's 1st District. Given the importance of endorsements in these races, we'll be closely tracking their activity as we wait and see whether more Democratic or Republican women win their primaries this cycle and how organizational support might help them do it.


*This analysis includes all primary elections in the 2024 election cycle, through May 21, 2024. We classified primary winners based on state-certified election results or, if results were not yet certified, official race projections by the Associated Press, as of June 5. Primary races that were not yet projected are excluded from this analysis. In California, primary candidates who advanced to the general election in the top-two primary are classified as primary winners.

**Maggie's List has since endorsed Flores and Dobson, but did not endorse them before their respective primaries.