The underrepresentation of women in American politics cuts across racial and ethnic groups. As the table here shows, a significant gap exists for each racial and ethnic group between women’s representation in the U.S. population and their representation across levels of office.
However, the dearth of women of color has been historically stark and persistent in statewide elected executive and U.S. Senate offices. To date, just 5 (5D) women of color have served in the U.S. Senate, with three entering office in 2017. 33 (24D, 9R) women of color have ever served in statewide elected executive office, including just 2 (2R) women of color who have served as governors.
Even in the U.S. House, where women of color are 16.1% of Democratic members and 51% of female Democrats, there is significant progress left to be made. Today, 33 states have no women of color in their congressional delegations (11 states have no women at all), and 30 states have never sent a woman of color to Congress.
Will the 2018 election change these numbers? It’s too early to make accurate predictions of success in November, but we have our first cut at the racial and ethnic diversity in their year’s congressional and gubernatorial candidate pool. The data reflect trends similar to gender and racial disparities among officeholders:
- Women of color are proportionately represented among women running for the U.S. House, though women are underrepresented overall; and
- Women of color are underrepresented among women and among all candidates running for the U.S. Senate and governor.
In early results, our data show that the success rates of women primary candidates vary by race and office. Of particular note, black and white women have the highest win rates thus far in U.S. House races and women of color are 3 of 4 gubernatorial nominees selected as of May 23.
We break down the data (as of May 23, 2018) by level of office below, accounting for the diversity among major party women candidates of different racial groups as well as the types of races in which they are competing. These data include women who have already lost their primaries in order to count them among all of the women who have run for office this year. Our count of total candidates also include a small number of women for whom we have no racial identification.[i]
|U.S. House||U.S. Senate||Governor|
Today, women of color are 40.5% of women members of the U.S. House and 7.8% of all members. Among all major party filed candidates for the U.S. House (36 states) this year, women of color are 34.3% of all 399 women candidates and 9.5% of all 1725 candidates (male and female).
- They are 35.5% of filed Democratic women and 11.3% of filed Democrats; 31% of filed Republican women and 4.1% of filed Republicans.
- Democratic women of color House candidates are more likely than White women to be incumbents; 22.6% of Democratic women of color versus 11% of white women Democrats are running as incumbents. 26.8% of Democratic Black women candidates filed for the U.S. House in 2018 are incumbents.
- Among Republican House candidates, however, 93.5% of women of color are non-incumbents compared to 78.7% of white women.
- Women of color are one-third of all women non-incumbent candidates, a slightly smaller proportion than they are of all candidates.
When likely candidates (not yet filed) are included, these numbers change little. Women of color are 34% of filed + likely women candidates. They are 35.8% of filed + likely Democratic women and 28.7% filed + likely Republican women.
Proportion of All Women Candidates for the U.S. House
Among all filed candidates for the U.S. House (36 states), white women are 60.7% of all women candidates and 14.3% of all candidates (male and female). By comparison, they are about 61% of women in the U.S. population and 32% of the total population. Today, white women are 59.5% of women members of the U.S. House and 11.5% of all House members. The proportion of White women increases only slightly (to 61.2%) when filed + likely candidates are included.
Women as a Proportion of All Candidates (Male and Female) Filed for the U.S. House (as of May 23, 2018)
In 13 primaries to date, 43.4% of women of color won nominations in U.S. House contests. 36.2% of women of color non-incumbents won major party House nominations. Black women have the highest win rate overall when incumbents are included; 55.6% of Black women candidates have secured nominations compared to 48% of White women, for example. Among non-incumbents, however, the win rate for black and white women is the same at 42.9% and lower for Latinas, asian/pacific islander, and multiracial women.
Success Rates for Women Candidates for the U.S. House (as of May 23, 2018)
Women of color were 32.3% of all women House nominees in 2016. They are 31.9% of women nominees selected already in 2018.
Women of color are 17.4% of women members of the U.S. Senate today. They are 25% of all 36 major party women candidates who have filed to run for the U.S. Senate this year (across the 36 states where filing deadlines have passed).
- They are 28.6% of filed Democratic women and 20% of filed Republican women.
- As of May 23, all women of color candidates who have filed for the U.S. Senate are non-incumbents. There is just one woman of color Senate incumbent up for re-election this year – Mazie Hirono (D-HI).
When likely candidates (not yet filed) are included, these numbers change little overall. Women of color are 22.2% of all 54 filed + likely women candidates. However, the representation of women of color among Republican women declines when likely candidates are included in these counts. Among all filed + likely candidates, women of color are 29% of filed + likely Democratic women and 13% filed + likely Republican women.
Proportion of All Women Candidates for the U.S. Senate
Today, white women are 82.6% of women members of the U.S. Senate. They are 69.4% of all women candidates who have filed to run for the U.S. Senate and 74.1% of all filed + likely women candidates for the U.S. Senate.
Success Rates for Women Candidates for the U.S. Senate (as of May 23, 2018)
In 13 primaries to date, none of the three women of color candidates for the U.S. Senate were successful. Of the 4 White women who have competed in Senate primaries thus far, 2 – including incumbent Deb Fischer (R-NE) – have secured nominations.
Women of color were 20% of all women Senate nominees in 2016. They are are 0 of 2 women nominees selected already in 2018.
Just 1 of 6 current women governors (16.7%) is a woman of color: Susana Martinez (R-NM). Women of color are 25.5% of all 47 major party women candidates who have filed for governor this year in the 24 states where filing deadlines for gubernatorial contests have passed.
- They are 35.7% of Democratic women and 10.5% of Republican women who have filed to run for governor.
- The only incumbent woman of color governor – Susana Martinez (R-NM) – is not eligible to run for re-election this year.
Proportion of All Women Candidates for Governor
White women are 83.3% of women governors today and 70.2% of all women candidates who have already filed to run for governor this year. Of the 4 (2D, 2R) incumbent women governors running for re-election this year, all are white.
The proportion of women of color candidates for governor drops by about 7 percentage points if all 74 filed + likely women candidates are included. If all are included, women of color are about 18.9% of all women candidates for governor and 23.4% of all Democratic women running for governor.
Success Rates for Women Candidates for Governor (as of May 23, 2018)
In the 9 gubernatorial primaries to date, 3 of 5 (60%) women of color candidates won nominations for governor, all non-incumbents. Of the 10 White women on gubernatorial ballots to date, just one – incumbent Governor Kate Brown (D-OR) – was successful.
Women of color were 0 of 2 female gubernatorial nominees in 2016 and 2 of 9 (22.2%) women nominees for governor in 2014. They are 66.7% of women nominees selected already in 2018.
To monitor women's candidacies throughout election 2018, see CAWP's Election Watch page and watch for additional analyses at Gender Watch 2018, a project of CAWP and the Barbara Lee Family Foundation.
[i] Candidate race was coded by a team of CAWP researchers in two ways. First, we relied on candidate self-identification. Where self-identification was not provided to us, we relied on a multiple source verification process for coding. If verification sources were unavailable or unclear, we left the candidate as uncoded for race identification in our database.
Just last week, we surpassed the record number for women candidates filed to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. As of April 6, 309 (231D, 78R) women filed in the 29 states where filing deadlines have passed and candidacies have been certified. The previous high for women primary candidates for the U.S. House was 298, set in 2012. With 21 states left to file or certify candidacies, the number of women candidates across this year’s U.S. House primaries will most certainly confirm predictions of a surge in women running.
Amidst the narratives of women’s surge in candidacies and political engagement being floated by organizations and news media, it’s hard to see these particular data on women House candidates in the appropriate context. Within that context, you’ll find that women remain underrepresented among all House candidates, despite increasing in number and proportion of candidacies from 2016 to 2018.
As of April 6, women are just 21.9% of the major party candidates that have filed for the U.S. House. This is the other half of the story in election 2018: the number of men running is also up, and male candidates still far outnumber women running for the House.
In the 2016 U.S. House elections, 17.8% of all of the candidates on primary ballots or successful in party conventions were women.* While these data reflect candidacies across all states and account for any filed candidates who withdrew before ballots were printed, they indicate that the proportion of women candidates – not just the number of women running – is up this year from the previous election cycle.
Another way to compare the data is to look only at 2016 House candidates only in the same states that have already filed and certified candidates in 2018. Women were 15.9% of primary candidates and convention winners in these states in 2016.
The data in the table below show that the number of filed candidates in these 29 states is up by nearly 40% from the number of primary candidates on 2016 ballots or successful at party conventions. That number masks an enormous gender gap; while the number of male candidates is up by about 28% in these states overall, the number of female candidates is nearly double – 90% more – what it was in 2016.
NOTE: 2016 data reflects the number of men and women candidates on primary ballots or successful in nominating conventions (where the conventions were held in lieu of a primary election). 2018 data reflects the number of men and women candidates who filed and whose candidacies were certified according to state election officials in the 29 states that completed certification by April 6, 2018.
Short answer: no. To start, 75% of the major party women candidates who have already filed for the U.S. House are Democrats. And the underrepresentation of Republican women is particularly stark when reported as a proportion of all filed Republican House candidates. As of April 6, just 12% of all filed Republican House candidates are women, while women are 30.2% of all Democrats filed to run for the House.
In a previous analysis, I made the point that the “pink wave” in 2018 hues blue, demonstrating how much of the increase in women House candidates this year is concentrated among Democrats. When focusing specifically on the states where candidates have already filed this year, this story remains true. Compared to 2016 numbers of candidates on primary ballots or winning conventions in the same states, Democratic candidacies are up by about 68% overall, by 51% among Democratic men, and by 126.5% among Democratic women. The increase in Republican women candidates (28%) is larger than among Republican men (12%) from 2016 to 2018, but overall the rise in candidacies among Republicans is minimal (13.5%) and unequal to that among Democrats running for the House in 2018.
CAWP’s Election Watch provides updated numbers of women candidates in real time, including breakdowns by filing status, candidate type (open seat contender, challenger, incumbent), party, and level of office. These data help to provide additional context to understand gender differences among 2018 candidacies, as do analyses that have shown that challengers make up a high proportion of women House candidates and that many women candidates are running in districts where members of their party are unlikely to win.
These details matter, not only for understanding what is happening in electoral politics today, but also for predicting and contextualizing what happens in November. Thus far in 2018, the House data show that the progress for women candidates is real but not universal, and that the push to gender parity in congressional elections – at least vis-a-vis candidate numbers – is far from over.
* The proportion of filed candidates today may not reflect the total candidates on primary ballots (the measure used for 2016 data) if any candidates withdraw before ballots are printed.
News of the “Pink Wave” of women candidates was ubiquitous ahead of and after the first anniversary of the Women’s March. Cover stories and in-depth investigations into women running for office in 2018 rightfully celebrated the increase in the numbers of women running this year. At CAWP, we are the ones keeping those numbers, tracking potential candidates for Congress and statewide elected executive offices nationwide. We’re celebrating as well, thrilled to see women candidate numbers that are almost guaranteed to break records at every level. But we also know that there is more to this story, and ignoring important context in which to digest these candidate numbers risks inaccurate, and perhaps unfair, conclusions come Election Day.
So before we go surfing this wave, here are a few currents to consider.
1. The surge in potential candidacies is not contained to women; more men are running too. And, like among women, the numbers of Democratic men likely to run for Congress has more than doubled from election 2016. We compared our list of potential candidates for the U.S. House and Senate at the start of the new year in both the 2016 and 2018 cycles. The number of Democratic male House candidates went up by 126%, while the number of Democratic female House candidates went up by 146% between these dates. Among potential Republican House candidates, the numbers for men went up 25% and women’s numbers increased by 35% at this point between the 2016 and 2018 cycles.
These data reflect potential women candidates at the start of each election year, not the number of women candidates who ended up on the primary ballots (as filed candidates) in these cycles.
Among likely Senate candidates, the gains are larger for women - Democrats and Republicans – than men from the 2016 to 2018 cycles, but women are not alone in increasing their numbers this year.
2. More women are running in 2018, but they are still less than a quarter of likely congressional candidates. Based on CAWP’s database of potential congressional candidates, women are just 23% of all individuals that have indicated they may file to run in 2018. This is up from about 19% of all potential congressional candidates at this point in election 2016, but – needless to say – is far from representative of women’s share of the U.S. population (52%).
The gain in women’s presence among the pool of likely candidates is notable, but may also be surprisingly low to many reading about a new “year of the woman.” When the rise among male candidates discussed above is taken into account, however, this makes much more sense. It’s only when women’s rise in candidacies significantly outpaces men’s that women will move closer to gender parity among potential congressional contenders.
3. The “Pink Wave” hues blue. The increases in women’s – and men’s – potential U.S. House candidacies are greatest among Democrats. Moreover, the representation of women among potential Democratic candidates for both the U.S. House and Senate is significantly higher than among potential Republican candidates, consistent with the disparities in representation among Democratic and Republican women in Congress today.
As of January 1, 2018, women were just under 30% of potential Democratic candidates for the U.S. House and 35.4% of potential Democratic Senate contenders. In contrast, women were just 12.7% of potential Republican House candidates and 13.5% of potential Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate.
Is this disparity consistent with previous cycles? Yes. The dearth of Republican women candidates is not unique to 2018. In fact, looking at the change in Democratic and Republican women’s proportions of their parties potential candidates from 2016 to 2018 shows the partisan story hasn’t changed much, especially among House contenders. The proportion of women among potential House Democratic candidates increased by about 1.5 percentage points from 2016 to 2018, while the proportion of women among potential House Republicans rose by three-quarters of a point.
Among potential Senate candidates, the proportion of women among Democrats jumped by 6 points from 2016 to 2018, while the proportion of women among Republicans rose by just over 3 points.
4. Many women running are swimming against the tide. As of this week, 59% of all potential women candidates for the U.S. House and 61% of all potential women candidates for the U.S. Senate are seeking to unseat incumbents, whether in primaries or in the general election. At this point in the 2016 cycle, 41% of all potential women House candidates and 52% of potential women Senate contenders were running as challengers. By historical comparison, 51% of file women candidates for the U.S. House were challengers in 1992, the “year of the woman” when women nearly doubled their congressional representation.
Celebrating the rise in women’s candidacies in 2018 is more than merited, but recognizing these electoral dynamics is important for a few reasons. First, being clear about the challenges women candidates will face in 2018 ensures that expectations of a drastic rise in women’s representation after Election Day are tempered and a more modest gain in women’s officeholding is not misinterpreted as a failure. Second, including men in our analyses provides a stark reminder of women’s overall underrepresentation among candidates and officeholders and, thus, the progress still left to make for women to reach parity with men in political power. Finally, these data should serve as motivation to push for greater women’s political empowerment on both sides of the aisle, both in this and future election cycles.
This is not the first time CAWP has issued caution ahead of a proposed "Year of the Woman." Check out this fall 1992 newsletter column from CAWP founder Ruth Mandel, which struck a similar tone. That year, women did nearly double their numbers in Congress, but remained just 10% of all members of Congress.