Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve probably seen the headlines that more women, especially young women, are running for office than ever before. If you need a refresher, you can read about it here, and here, and here.
But shattering records isn’t the only thing these audacious ladies are doing differently in 2018: They’re redefining what it means to run for office as a woman, capitalizing on untapped demographics, and updating their campaign toolkits like never before. Here are some of the ways they’ve upended campaign strategy.
They’re rewriting the narrative.
In 2018, female candidates are embracing being women. Instead of uncomfortably justifying their clothing choices, doubling down on why they’re actually more qualified than their male opponent, and reaffirming their ability to juggle both family and work, women are rewriting the rulebook for what it means to run as a female candidate.
What does this look like? Women are no longer accepting that they must walk the tightrope between fighting for credibility and fighting for women’s issues. Today’s female candidates are tackling “female issues” like equal pay, paid family leave, and sexual assault head on. They’re filming ads of themselves breastfeeding, sharing deeply personal stories of their experiences with sexism, and telling heartbreaking stories of their sick children.
When Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing the “woman card” — she didn’t shy away from it — she fundraised off it. For a small contribution, you too could get your own “woman card.”
When Cynthia Nixon decided to throw her hat in for governor of New York, and was called an “unqualified lesbian” she threw up a Facebook post, an email, and an ActBlue page to ask for donations for your very own “unqualified lesbian” bumper sticker.
In 2018, female candidates are wearing their gender as a badge of honor and are treating their gender as an asset — not a liability.
They’re using digital to tap into historically disregarded demographics.
Just a few weeks ago, a male digital ad buyer told me that he intentionally excludes individuals age 18-35 from his ad targeting. Why? Because “young people don’t vote, so there’s no reason my clients should waste their money outreaching to them.”
While male candidates might have the luxury of excluding millennials from their digital ad targeting, female candidates aren’t so quick to dismiss young voters. By tapping into historically overlooked demographics and opening conversations about the issues that resonate with them, female candidates aren’t just talking about the #MeToo movement, the student loan crisis, and reproductive rights — they’re targeting millennials and putting money behind it.
And they have good reason to be spending dollars on young voters: From the Women’s March to the March for Our Lives, millennials — especially young women — have been turning out in droves. In 2016, millennial women ages 18-34 were 28 percent more engaged than in 2012, despite the lowest voter turnout in two decades.
Millennials and young voters are becoming one of the most powerful voting blocks, and female candidates are realizing it would be a huge mistake to overlook them.
Added bonus: Digital ads are the most cost-effective way to persuade, fundraise, and turnout voters. If your creative is compelling and your targeting is on point, you can expect to reach your audience for pennies per impression. Want to start an online movement? Go digital. Want to blow your entire campaign budget in one night? Take out a primetime TV spot.
They’re using networks online and offline.
The image of Washington being run by “old boys clubs” and negotiating deals on the golf course is anything but new.
But women have said “enough.” Instead of boozing on golf courses, women are taking to the internet and creating their own networks. From semi-secret Facebook groups, to organizations like Run Women Run, female candidates are creating their own networks online and offline to offer moral support, advice, and community.
San Diego City Council President Pro Tem and founder of Run Women Run, Barbara Bry credits “the success of my 2016 bid for San Diego City Council to the women in my life. My campaign team was led by women and the networks of women I fostered throughout my life made up much of my volunteer and donor base. These groups all supported me and gave me the womanpower to talk to voters and run a true grassroots campaign.”
In 2018, if female candidates aren’t invited into the old boys clubs, they have no problem initiating their own. Get it girls.
They’re not settling for comms director, they’re going for campaign manager.
Women aren’t just running for office in massive numbers, they’re also taking charge and running campaigns in massive numbers.
Historically, women don’t run for office for the same reason they don’t run campaigns: they don’t think they’re qualified.
But former campaign manager and consultant, Beth Shipp says, women are waking up and pushing aside the self doubt. “Campaign management involves every aspect of a race: strategy, comms, field, fundraising, etc. What I find makes women better managers is the simple fact that we’ve usually worked our way up to manager by serving in one or more of those jobs.”
Women stepping up to lead campaigns means greater representation where the decisions are made — and that’s something we should all get behind.
It’s undeniable, when it comes to running for office in 2018, women are showing up, shaking things up, and speaking up.
Does this mean more wins for women in November? Only time will tell, but in the meantime: Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we help elect them to office.
Cheryl Hori is the founder of Pacific Campaign House, a progressive digital campaign firm.