As 2016 General Election Approaches, New Research Shows Bi-Partisan Diversity Crisis
San Francisco, CA – October 22, 2015—New analysis by the Reflective Democracy Campaign of the Women Donors Network (WDN) shows that Americans can’t choose diversity at the ballot box: from the federal level down to county elections, just 10% of all candidates are people of color, and fewer than 30% are women.
Last year’s groundbreaking WhoLeadsUs study showed a stark power divide between the American people and their elected officials: white men hold 65% of elected positions while constituting only 31% of the population. Now, new data from the Reflective Democracy Campaign shows conclusively that Americans have no choice but to keep voting the same people into power.
“No matter what we look like as a nation,” says Donna Hall, CEO of the Women Donors Network, “the folks running for office are mostly male and white.” While women are 51% of the population, the study shows only 27% of candidates are female. And, in a country that’s close to 40% people of color, 89.8% of candidates are white.
The new study, analyzing over 52,000 candidates running in 2012 and 2014, reveals that lack of representation is a bi-partisan problem, and present in both traditionally liberal “Blue” states and in “Red” states. In New York, voters choose among candidates who are 78% male and 85% white. In Kentucky, 85% of candidates are male and 97% are white. Overall, 95.7% of candidates running as Republicans are white; so are 82% of Democrats and 91.8% of Independents. The country, meanwhile is 60% white.
“This data clearly points to ballot access as a root cause of the imbalance in our political system,” campaign director Brenda Carter observes. Barriers to ballot access include the skyrocketing cost of campaigns and the high cost of serving: Americans holding down a full-time job can’t hold office at the same time, and many state and county positions pay nominally if at all [fact check? I’m inferring].
Women and people of color find themselves excluded from seeking office by voting systems set up to protect the status quo, with districts mapped and elections timed to make it harder for new candidates to run and win. The power of incumbency also plays a major role: the study reports that in uncontested elections, 90% of unopposed candidates are white, and 61% are white men. Over half of all elections are uncontested.
Yet solutions are also at hand. “We didn’t run the numbers to complain about injustice,” says WDN CEO Hall. “The data is important because it tells us how to build a true democracy and make our country stronger.” Earlier this year, WDN announced the Reflective Democracy Innovators program, awarding $425,000 in grants to six projects aimed at dismantling the structural barriers that perpetuate the imbalance between the race and gender of the American people and their elected leaders. “We’re taking our cues from the voters,” Hall explains. More than half of voters surveyed say there aren’t enough women and people of color in office.
The program’s six inaugural grantees include The Pathway Project, which will develop a long-term system of recruiting and supporting candidates of color, and the Texas Organizing Project Education Fund, which will create a model program for leadership development on appointed boards and commissions. All six Reflective Democracy Innovators are focused on building a more representative America, and the Reflective Democracy Campaign’s data will be central to their work.
To further the cause of a government as diverse as its people, the Reflective Democracy Campaign offers all data in an open-source format at http://WhoLeads.Us. The Campaign has also created a vivid, accessible video to engage the public with this critical information. View the video here.