Tuesday, November 6, 2018
Asked whether she was a feminist, Amy McGrath, the former Marine fighter pilot running for Congress in Kentucky, was emphatic: “Hell yeah, I’m a feminist.” Her opponent, Representative Andy Barr, turned her words into an attack ad.
Many politicians have considered the word “feminist” toxic. But that might be changing. In 11 battleground districts nationwide, including Kentucky’s Sixth, about half of voters said they supported electing feminists, compared with roughly a third who opposed it, according to Upshot/Siena House polls this fall. About a fifth said they didn’t know.
We don’t have past surveys asking the same question to compare with these results, and support of feminist candidates is still not a majority opinion — more Republicans opposed electing them than supported it. But the overall support our polls found would have been unthinkable in even recent elections, scholars say. Some compare this moment to the feminist political movements of the 1920s and 1970s.
The spark, people across the political spectrum said, was the MeToo movement, after the misogyny seen in the 2016 presidential campaign.
“An embrace of the term in political candidates? That’s news,” said Estelle Freedman, a professor at Stanford who specializes in women’s history. “We know that women have been really politicized by the perceived assault on women’s rights writ large. The kindling was there, and it got ignited by the misogyny.”
One reason that voters’ support for feminist candidates is surprising is that in a variety of surveys, only a fifth or fewer identify as feminists themselves. (The share goes up when the word is defined as equal rights for men and women, or when specific feminist policies are mentioned.) Our polling question, asked in 14 districts, was whether respondents supported or opposed electing more people who describe themselves as feminists. It did not define the term.