(CNN)In the lead-up to the midterm elections, a new CNN poll offers some good news for Democrats — thanks to women.
Voters favor a generic Democratic candidate over a generic Republican 54% to 41%, with 62% of Democrats saying they are “very enthusiastic” or “extremely enthusiastic” about voting this year. But the Democratic edge is not gender-neutral: While male voters are closely divided — half say they will support a Republican, 45% a Democrat — 63% of women say they will vote Democratic. Women are also more enthusiastic about voting this year than men, an important shift from previous elections.
In other words, any impending Democratic victory will likely be thanks to women. But we aren’t just voting. A record number of us are running for office this year. Female donors are giving more money than ever to midterm races. We are working on campaigns, door-knocking, fundraising, and showing up at marches and protests.
If Democrats are smart, they won’t just ride this pink wave; they’ll put women’s interests, and women themselves, at the forefront of the party’s politics.
Democrats have long enjoyed support from women, but since the election of Donald Trump, that support has grown. Millennial women are especially drawn leftward: Fewer than a quarter of us identify as Republican or lean Republican, while 70% identify or lean Democratic, according to a Pew survey.
Democratic popularity is also driven by race and education. The number of white women who support the GOP is waning, largely thanks to the college-educated, who have thrown their support behind Democrats. And black women are an integral component of the party’s backbone and are among its strongest supporters.
If Democrats want to harness our energy going forward, they need to make women less of an interest group and more of a default interest. Still, even in progressive circles, women are treated as a kind of other, our interests deemed secondary to more traditional (and male-oriented) priorities — things our leaders will get around to eventually, as long as we wait our turn. What if women’s lives were at the heart of the Democratic Party, and our experiences were treated as the American norm?
If the party wants to keep us, that’s what needs to happen. Yes, these House and Senate elections are more about staving off further Trump-fueled mayhem than moving progressive legislation forward. But at the state and city levels, there is much the party can do, especially in more progressive enclaves. And the national party can begin organizing now for 2020, and putting together a platform that doesn’t just take women into account, but puts us first.
That means taking a strong stance against harassment and abuse — unwaveringly opposing the elevation of men who have either been proven abusive or who stand accused but inadequately investigated. And politicians who support the elevation of alleged abusers without a thorough investigation, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and the Republican senators who voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, should face tougher scrutiny. It also means crafting laws that better protect women from abuse and harassment, and giving us greater resources to counter bad treatment where we see it, especially in the workplace.
Democrats must also bring us into the 21st century on paid family leave, which disproportionately impacts women, as well as a fair minimum wage. Worker protections need to address the many female workers who are domestic laborers, contract workers, or who work for minimum wage in restaurants and in retail. Reproductive rights, including abortion, should not even be up for debate, and certainly not up for compromise.
And finally, the Democratic Party needs to support women running for office and make a concerted effort to get to at least 50-50 gender parity (and frankly, given that their base is female and of-color, the party’s representatives should have white men in the minority). Even if all the women running for office win this year, we still won’t have anything near gender equality in the House or the Senate. That doesn’t change organically; it requires effort and investment.
Women are sending a clear message: We are fed up with Trump, and will show up at the ballot box in November. But after that, the people we vote for need to show up for us.