Asian or Pacific Islander (API) and Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) Women Candidates in 2020
The Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) has tracked women’s political candidacies for three decades. Since 2004, CAWP has collected women candidates’ racial identification, relying primarily on candidate self-identification. This year, we are reporting this data pre-election and in greater depth than we have before, providing summary information on the increasing diversity among women candidates in addition to specific analyses of Asian or Pacific Islander (API), Black, Middle Eastern or North African (MENA), Latina, and Native American women running for the U.S. Congress and statewide executive offices.
The data below include all women candidates who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander (API) alone or in combination with other races, or Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) alone or in combination with other races. We report both groups here because CAWP only began including MENA as an option for candidate racial identification at the conclusion of election 2018. Before then, women candidates who identified as MENA would have been most likely to select Asian or white among CAWP’s choices, which aligned with the U.S. Census race categories. This shift should be taken into account when considering trends among these groups of women and explain why data for MENA women candidates is only reported for 2020.
Multiracial women are included in counts and analyses for each group with which they identify. In this analysis, we will make clear where women identify as both Asian and MENA. There remain a small number of candidates in CAWP’s database for whom we were unable to determine racial identification. Those women are included here to calculate percentages of all women candidates and are alluded to when we say “at least” before reported counts of API and MENA women.
A record number of Asian or Pacific Islander women are running for congressional office in 2020.
At least 41 (26D, 15R) Asian or Pacific Islander (API) women are congressional candidates in 2020, including 40 (25D, 15R) candidates for the U.S. House and 1 (1D) candidate for the U.S. Senate. These numbers include all API women filed candidates, including those who may have already lost their primary elections. They do not include candidates for non-voting offices in the U.S. House. This is the largest number of API women who have run for the U.S. Congress overall and the U.S. House alone in a single election year. The number of Republican House women candidates who identify as API is higher this year than any other cycle. With primaries to be held in 14 more states, 13 (7D, 6R) API Islander women have already won major-party nominations for the U.S. House. In 2018, 17 (11D, 6R) API women were House nominees.
At least 16 (11D, 5R) women candidates for the U.S. House identify as Middle Eastern or North African (MENA), including 2 (1D, 1R) women candidates who identify as both Asian and MENA.
As of August 5th, 4 (3D, 1R) MENA women are nominees for the U.S. House, including 1 (1R) woman who identifies as both Asian and MENA. There are no MENA women candidates for the U.S. Senate in 2020 and no MENA women have ever served in the U.S. Senate.
The percentage of all women running for the U.S. House who are Asian or Pacific Islanders is slightly higher this year overall than any other year since this data has been available, but it is not a record high for women within either major party.
Women candidates who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander (API) alone or in combination with other race(s) are at least 6.9% of all women running for the U.S. House in 2020. API women are at least 7% of Democratic and 6.6% of Republican women House candidates, which are percentages similar to recent cycles.
Women candidates who identify as Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) alone or in combination with other race(s) (including Asian) are at least 2.7% of all women running for the U.S. House in 2020. MENA women are at least 3.1% of Democratic and 2.2% of Republican women House candidates.
These levels of representation are important indicators of the racial diversity among women candidates, but even more telling will be the racial diversity among women congressional nominees and winners in 2020.
Asian or Pacific Islander remain underrepresented in the full candidate pools for U.S. House and U.S. Senate.
Recent U.S. Census estimates note that women who identify as Asian or Pacific Islander (API) alone or in combination with other races represent between 3.2% and 3.9% of the U.S. population. In 2020, women in this group are 2% of all candidates for the U.S. House. API women are slightly better represented among Democratic (2.7%) than Republican (1.4%) House candidates this year. Just one of 60 women candidates for the U.S. Senate identifies as API.
There is no U.S. Census comparison for the Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) population. Still, MENA women candidates represent at least 0.8% of all major-party U.S. House candidates in 2020. They are 1.2% of Democratic and 0.5% of Republican House candidates this year.
There are opportunities for Asian or Pacific Islander and Middle Eastern or North African women to make history down-ballot this year.
In 2018, 2 (2D) new women who identify as Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) were elected to the U.S. House: Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) – who is Palestinean – and Representative Donna Shalala (D-FL) – who is Lebanese. State Treasurer Kimberly Yee (R-AZ) also became the first Asian woman elected statewide in Arizona in 2018.
The 2020 election offers more opportunities for Asian or Pacific Islander (API) and MENA women to make history. In Pennsylvania, Nina Ahmad (D) – who identifies as Bangladeshi – is the Democratic nominee for State Auditor. If successful in November, she would be the first woman of color to be elected statewide in Pennsylvania and the first woman to serve as State Auditor in that state. Sara Gideon, (D-ME), who identifies as South Asian and white, would be the first woman of color elected statewide in Maine and the first woman of color to represent Maine in Congress.
API women are already U.S. House nominees in four of 44 states – Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and Virginia – that have never sent an API woman to Congress. Among these women candidates, Gina Ortiz Jones (D-TX) is currently favored in a competitive open-seat contest in Texas’ 23rd congressional district. Jones was the Democratic nominee in the same district in 2018, losing to incumbent Representative Will Hurd (R-TX) by less than one point. Hiral Tipirneni (D) is the Democratic nominee in Arizona’s 6th congressional district, where she will challenge incumbent Representative David Schweikert (R). Cook Political Report currently rates this general election contest as “Lean Republican.” Tipirneni was a Democratic nominee for the U.S. House in 2018, when she was defeated in her challenge to incumbent Representative Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) in Arizona’s 8th congressional district.
Of the 4 (3D, 1R) Middle Eastern or North African (MENA) women nominees thus far in election 2020, 3 (2D, 1R) are running as challengers in districts that currently favor incumbents, but – if successful – they could become the first MENA women to represent Texas or New York in Congress. MENA women candidates remain in primary elections in two states –Massachusetts and Minnesota – that have never sent a MENA woman to Congress.
This post was updated on November 20, 2020 to include Maine Senate candidate Sara Gideon, who is South Asian and white.