White men hold four times more political power than women and people of color.
Washington – Up and down the country, across cities, states and political party lines, the people making decisions about America look nothing like America, according to new data, released today by the Reflective Democracy Campaign.
Women and people of color are shockingly underrepresented among America’s political candidates and elected officials – across parties and all levels of government. While our country is richly diverse, the balance of political power remains dramatically tipped toward a one small slice of the population: white men.
Women and people of color comprise 70 percent of the American population, yet our politicians are 88 percent white and mostly male. Due to structural barriers including out-of-touch gatekeepers and flawed voting systems, white men have outsized political power.
As a result, women and people of color are forced to lobby lawmakers like “special interest groups” instead of governing as equals. This imbalance of power results in the spectacle of an all-male committee making decisions about vital health care services for women, and a mostly-white commission determining the fate of voting rights for people of color – just to name a few recent examples.
“The majority of Americans are barely represented in government , while a narrow slice of the population that’s ill equipped to solve major issues maintains its grip on power,” said Brenda Choresi Carter, campaign director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign. “We have to tackle the systemic exclusion of women and people of color from the candidate pipeline. Both major parties need to change – this problem won’t solve itself.”
The Reflective Democracy Campaign released several reports today. The first tracks the race and gender of candidates and winners in the 2016 elections; the second offers a first-ever snapshot of the demographics of power in 200 major cities and 38 surrounding areas; and third is a public opinion poll released in conjunction with the studies. The campaign also launched a site of interactive tools for understanding and sharing its data, including the National Representation Index, where users can find out how their state ranks in reflective representation.
The findings of the study include:
- White men dominate politics: Comprising just one third of the population, white men hold 65 percent of elected positions – that’s four times more political power than women and people of color.
- White men dominate regardless of political party: While the GOP is least diverse, Democratic, Republican, and Independent politicians all are disproportionately white and male.
- Both red and blue states are imbalanced: California’s population is 62 percent people of color, but only 27 percent of its elected officials are nonwhite. In Texas, politicians who are 80 percent white make decisions for a population that’s 57 percent people of color.
- The disparity exists at all levels of government: Ten American cities with populations in excess of 100,000 had virtually no women in elected office in 2016. And cities that are majority of color rarely have leadership matching their demographic make-up: unless people of color make up over 90 percent of the population, elected officials remain disproportionately white.
- White men candidates often run unopposed: The status quo is nearly impossible to change when half of all elections are unopposed. Over 50 percent of our politicians win without running against anyone — and 60 percent of those unopposed candidates are white men. The imbalance is even worse at the county level, where significant local power resides; 62 percent of county-level politicians run unopposed.
- Women and people of color are rarely even on the ballot: Our political process is stacked against women and people of color, who are too often eliminated from the playing field long before voters have a chance to weigh in.Both major parties run mostly white men for office, with women making up just 28 percent of candidates, and people of color a staggeringly low 12 percent of candidates. Yet studies show that when women and people of color run for office, they win at the same rates as their white male counterparts.
- Voters want to elect more diverse officials: Opinion poll findings indicate that across party lines, a majority of voters want to elect more diverse politicians.
“Voters are troubled by the lack of women and people of color in elected office. They want to elect more diverse politicians, but voters can’t elect candidates who aren’t on the ballot,” said Carter.
The Campaign focuses on five key solutions:
- Bridge the gap between community organizing and elected office.
- Bust the myths that feed the imbalance of power.
- Challenge gatekeepers, and create new opportunities.
- Change how we recruit and train.
- Democratize elections.
The Reflective Democracy Campaign believes that to solve America’s most urgent economic and social issues, elected officials must reflect the diversity and life experiences of all Americans. The campaign will continue to use its groundbreaking research to make America’s democracy more reflective of of its people by busting the myths and excuses for the imbalance of power, and mobilizing Americans to tackle structural barriers to make meaningful reforms.