There is a somewhat common perception that women and minorities face disproportionate barriers in political elections. Such a concept was disputed by a new study released Monday that analyzed data on thousands of candidates over the past five years and showed that men, women, and minorities have an almost equal chance of being elected to public office.
Though the rates of participation by women and people of color are increasing substantially, many decry problems of racism and misogyny in American elections.
“We have a problem with racism in America today. If this country wasn’t racist, Stacey Abrams would be governor,” Democratic candidate and Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton said at a CNN town hall earlier this month.
However, the study, conducted by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, reports that white women, women of color, and men of color actually have slightly higher rates of electoral success than white men — women of color were 5 percent of candidates and 5 percent of winners, white women were 28 percent of candidates and 29 percent of winners, men of color were 6 percent of candidates and 7 percent of winners, and white men were 61 percent of candidates and 60 percent of winners.
“White men’s electability advantage is a myth,” Brenda Chores Carter, director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign, told the Huffington Post, adding, “when reflective candidates are on the ballot, they win as often as white men.”
Women and minorities hold an unequal amount of elected positions relative to their population size — white women account for 31 percent of the population and 27 percent of elected officials, women of color account for 20 percent of the population and 4 percent of elected officials, and men of color account for 19 percent of the population and seven percent of elected officials. This is not for a lack of electability on the part of women and minorities, but rather because they opt to run for office in fewer numbers than white men, the study contends.
Lost elections by female or minority candidates are frequently attributed, at least in part and recently, to misogyny or racism, particularly for the presidency and governorships.
In former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s first interview following her presidential election loss to President Donald Trump, she said misogyny “certainly” played a role in the result. She also blamed Russia and the FBI for her loss, among other reasons.
Bernie Sanders blamed the losses of Andrew Gillum and Stacie Abrams for the governorships of Florida and Georgia in 2018 in part on racism.
“You know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American,” he told the Daily Beast regarding Gillum and Abrams’ losses.
Professor of Sociology at Cornell University Kate Mann argued in an article for Politico Magazine in April that it is possible misogyny is more present in higher-level races than lower-level races. Mann said this could be a result of the perception that “in seeking the Oval Office women are competing less for a service position and more for a position of perceived power and authority.”
“Many voters may implicitly regard the presidency as men’s birthright, something to which they are entitled. That could go doubly for white men,” she said.
Mann also argued the early successes of male candidates like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, and Pete Buttigieg over female candidates like Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic primary demonstrate misogyny.
“The evidence is mounting that these patterns are the work of sexism and misogyny—albeit often unconscious, unwitting and the result of implicit bias,” Mann said of the primary, calling 2019 “the Year of the White Guy.”
Prior to the election of President Barack Obama, some raised doubts that the American people would elect an African-American to the presidency.
“Deep-seated racial misgivings could cost Barack Obama the White House,” an Associated Press article read in September 2008. In addition, a column for the Guardian in 2008 was titled “Racism may cost Obama the election.”
After Obama’s victory, Lou Dobbs, anchor of “Lou Dobbs Tonight” on Fox Business Network, argued the United States is a “21st-century post-partisan, post-racial society.”
However, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (and many others) contested the idea of a “post-racial America.” They pointed out that Obama received the vote of only 43 percent of white voters. They said that Obama’s electoral performance among white voters “vividly illustrates the persistence of racially polarized voting patterns and the significant work that remains to be done to overcome discrimination in the political process.”
In recent years, an unprecedented number of women and people of color were elected to federal, statewide, and state legislative offices. Women of color increased their share in Congress by 105 percent from 2012-2018 and men of color increased their share in Congress by 156 percent. In all elected offices, women of color increased their share of positions by 37 percent from 2012-2018, according to the study by the Reflective Democracy Campaign.
“When the voters speak, they leave no doubt that white male ‘electability’ is myth, not fact,” the study concludes.