When people of color see politicians who look like them, it can have profound effects. Political science research suggests that this so-called “descriptive representation” increases Americans’ trust in politicians and engagement with politics. But in the U.S., the percentage of people of color running for office lags far behind their share of the population (41 percent). And it’s not enough for nonwhite candidates to simply run; to achieve any sort of proportional representation, obviously, they also have to win.
In 2022, 30 percent of the candidates who ran in Democratic or Republican primaries for Senate, House or governor were people of color, according to new data collected throughout the primary season by political scientists Bernard Fraga and Hunter Rendleman. And the data shows that only 28 percent of the candidates appearing on the November ballot will be people of color. In other words, in all likelihood, 2023 will not be the year that people of color are proportionally represented in the halls of government.
Unsurprisingly, as has been the case for decades, Democrats had a more diverse candidate pool. At least 46 percent of their candidates this cycle were people of color, as opposed to only 19 percent of Republican candidates. But, in 2022 — possibly because white candidates were more likely to have advantages like incumbency and fundraising, possibly because of racism on the part of voters, possibly for other reasons — candidates of color from both parties had a harder time winning their primaries. As a result, when we mapped Fraga and Rendleman’s data onto the primary results, we found that people of color will constitute just 39 percent of Democratic general-election candidates and 16 percent of Republican general-election candidates.
Of course, several distinct racial groups are included in those numbers, and some are better represented than others. Here is the full breakdown by race for all candidates who ran in this year’s primaries:
And here is the breakdown for candidates who won their party’s nomination or otherwise advanced to the general election:
Black candidates make up a majority of candidates of color in both charts. According to Fraga and Rendleman, 16 percent of all Democratic and Republican candidates for Senate, House and governor this cycle were Black. In comparison, 15 percent of the final nominees for those offices identified as Black. That’s slightly higher than their share of the U.S. population, which is 14 percent. But of course, one party had a lot more Black candidates than the other: 28 percent of Democratic candidates running in primaries identified as Black, but only 8 percent of Republican candidates did. And while at least 111 Black Democrats are on the November ballot, there are only 31 self-identified Black Republicans. Still, Black Republican members of Congress have been so rare in the past 150 years that there’s a good chance that the 118th Congress will have a record number.
The researchers found that Hispanic and Latino Americans are the second-most-common minority group in 2022’s candidate pool, making up 8 percent of all candidates and 9 percent of the final nominees. But both numbers are much smaller than their share of the population (19 percent, though they constitute a smaller share of the citizen voting-age population). Hispanics and Latinos are also more evenly split between the parties: 53 Democrats and 31 Republicans are running in the general election. That mirrors the fact that, while Latinos still lean Democratic overall, they are much more of a swing demographic than Black voters.
There are also interesting patterns among 2022’s Latino candidates. At least 26 Latino Democrats on the November ballot identified as being of Mexican descent, and at least five as Puerto Rican. But Fraga and Rendleman could identify only two who are Cuban American. By contrast, they found Republicans have nominated at least seven Cuban Americans. Fraga and Rendleman could find only 10 Mexican American Republican nominees and no Puerto Rican ones. This jibes with data that shows Cuban Americans are a Republican-leaning group, but Puerto Ricans and especially Mexican Americans are generally Democratic.
Asian Americans are also underrepresented, constituting 6 percent of the U.S. population but only 4 percent of total candidates and 3 percent of nominees. Once again, the researchers found that Democratic nominees who are Asian American outnumber Republican nominees who are Asian American, 18 to 13. There is evidence that some Asian American voters shifted toward Republicans in 2020, but they remain Democratic-leaning overall. There are also significant differences in how various Asian American groups vote. For example, Indian Americans are predominantly Democratic, while Vietnamese Americans lean Republican. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that a plurality of Democrats’ Asian American nominees were found to be of Indian descent (at least seven), while a plurality of Republicans’ were of Vietnamese descent (at least three).
Members of other racial and ethnic groups could also make history this November. At least eight nominees are Native American: five Democrats and three Republicans. Rep. Mary Peltola, a Democrat, became Congress’s first-ever Alaska Native when she was sworn in last week. And if Republican Rep. Markwayne Mullin wins his Senate race in Oklahoma, he would be the Senate’s only Native American member. Each party also nominated at least three candidates of Middle Eastern descent, including Republican Mehmet Oz, who would be the first Muslim in the U.S. Senate. Finally, Fraga and Rendleman found that Republicans nominated two Native Hawaiians (both in Hawaii itself). Democrats, meanwhile, nominated none. And given Hawaii’s blue hue, it is quite likely that Native Hawaiians will again go unrepresented in Congress following the retirement of Rep. Kai Kahele.
Indeed, these candidates still have to overcome one final hurdle before they really live up to the hopes of descriptive representation: They need to win in November. For many of them, that will be a challenge, as they are running as Republicans in deeply Democratic districts or vice versa. Ultimately, that means that the final number of people of color sitting in Congress or governor’s offices at this time next year will be even smaller than the numbers here.
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