Diversity Triumphs as Women Candidates Gain Ground in 2018

Diversity Triumphs as Women Candidates Gain Ground in 2018

Not only are record numbers of women running for office across the country, the 2018 list of candidates is markedly more diverse than in previous elections.

According a new report released by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, an offshoot project of the nonprofit Women Donors Network, it’s the closest that the party has gotten to genuinely reflecting the country’s demographics. For first time since 2012, less than half of Democratic candidates are white men.

Since 2012, the number of women of color have shown a remarkable 75 percent increase in both state and federal races. The group analyzed the demographics for state and federal elections from 2012 through 2018.

Reflective Democracy Campaign

This development is nothing to brush off: The Democratic Party made serious strides in getting women and minorities on the ticket. The numbers of women candidates increased across party lines, but Democratic women candidates had the largest increase, 46 percent.

White women candidates saw the second largest gains, with a 36 percent increase in their numbers for federal contests and 14 percent in state legislative races. Minority men candidates also increased their ranks by 13 percent in state legislative races and 8 percent in races for Congress. White male candidates, on the other hand, declined by 12 percent in state legislative and 13 percent in congressional races.

Reflective Democracy Campaign

While these trends are exciting, they also underline the enduring legacy of white male domination of American political institutions. A 75 percent increase in women candidates of color sounds like a game-changer, but the lack of women of color to begin with makes this shift much less impressive than it would otherwise be. Compared to other groups in the study, women of color are still underrepresented, making up only 7 percent of candidates in both federal and state races. 

Meanwhile, white men are still overrepresented. Despite being the only group to experience a decrease, white men make up well over half of all candidates in the midterm elections. 

This data point is underscored in gubernatorial races. White male Republican candidates predominate those contests and there has been little change in candidate diversity. 

It’s also important to remember that getting on the ballot isn’t the same thing as winning a seat. From 2012 to 2016, white men won about two-thirds of all elected offices year after year, despite comprising only one-third of the population. 

In the wake of Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court and the chaos unleashed by President Trump, the report sounds an encouraging note for women and progressives. Getting more diverse candidates on the ballot is the first step toward opening up the decision-making ranks in our democracy.