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Teacher Political Candidacy and the Gender Composition of State Legislatures

by Bradley D. Marianno, Rebecca Jacobsen, Melissa Arnold Lyon & Annie A. Hemphill

Background: The year 2018 saw a historically large number of teachers participating in walkouts across the United States, leading some to dub spring 2018 the “teacher spring” and inspiring some teachers to run for public office. Following the 2018 midterm elections, the number of women in state legislatures grew by 14%, which was nearly as much growth as the prior two decades combined. Little is known about the extent to which these two phenomena are related.

Purpose: The purpose of this article is to examine the extent to which women teachers ran for state legislative office in 2018, where they won, and the degree to which they contributed to the surge of women representatives elected in state legislatures around the country. With teaching being the largest women-dominated profession in the United States, our findings have implications for how increased political engagement by teachers could change the gender composition of elected representatives. Because prior research demonstrates that areas that elect more women representatives spend more on social services, including education, growing the share of elected teachers could substantively impact education policy. In addition, our work moves beyond the characterization of teachers’ involvement in politics as primarily through their unions and instead focuses on individual teachers as key political actors.

Research Questions and Design: We engaged in a comprehensive and systematic effort to collect information on all of the teacher candidates that ran for seats in state legislatures during the 2018 midterm elections. The assembling of data on 430 teacher candidates allowed us to answer the following two research questions: (1) Who were the 2018 teacher candidates, and what were the characteristics of the states in which these teachers ran for office? and (2) To what extent did women teacher candidates contribute to the change in the gender composition of state legislatures following the 2018 midterm elections? We answered these two questions using a series of ordinary least squares (OLS), linear probability (with state fixed effects), and multilevel models.

Findings: We found that the 2018 class of 430 teacher candidates for state legislature were fairly evenly split between men (51%) and women (49%) and tended to reflect the demographics of the teaching profession racially (84% of the teacher candidates were White, 8% were Black, and 6% were Latinx). Most teacher candidates ran as members of the Democratic Party (69%). The teacher candidates disproportionately (33%) came from the six states that experienced teacher walkouts during spring 2018. We found that men and women teacher candidates were similarly likely to win the general election, but due to the higher proportion of women teacher candidates running relative to the men-dominated composition of state legislatures, the teacher candidates contributed to the increase in the descriptive representation of women in state legislatures after the 2018 midterm elections. Women teacher candidates won 61 seats in the 2018 midterm elections, which represents about 3% of the 1839 seats won by women in state legislatures in 2018.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 124 Number 2, 2022, p. - ID Number: 23963, Date Accessed: 3/20/2022 1:37:43 AM

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