White Men's Electability Advantage is a Myth | Opinion

Google the word "electable" right now, and you'll get nearly 800,000 hits. The historically diverse field of presidential candidates is driving endless speculation over who is and isn't "electable," a term loaded with presumptions about the popularity of white male candidates with voters.

But being a white man actually gets you zero advantage at the polls. After analyzing how race and gender played out in the 2018 general election, those of us at the Reflective Democracy Campaign found that when they're on the ballot, women of all races and men of color win as often as white men do. In the 2018 election, women of color were 4 percent of candidates and 5 percent of winners. Men of color were 6 percent of candidates and 7 percent of winners, while white women were 28 percent of candidates and 29 percent of winners.

In fact, the only demographic to dip slightly was white men, who were 61 percent of candidates and 60 percent of winners. While they inarguably dominate politics—at 30 percent of the population white men hold 62 percent of local, state and federal elected offices—it's not because they're more electable.

Pundits and political gatekeepers still buy (and sell) the myth of white male electability, so the structural barriers to women and people of color running for office stay in place. U.S. politics has always been awash with white men. They used to have the field to themselves, so, of course, they won a lot of elections.

The gatekeepers choosing candidates are mostly white men too, and in that echo chamber of party bosses and major donors, candidates who aren't white men look risky and unfamiliar. The political status quo is white men making decisions, and the rest of us choosing which white men get to make them. The electability myth protects the current system, and for that reason alone it's hard to dislodge.

Each time we survey voters, a bi-partisan majority wants leaders who better reflect America's diverse population, and in 2018, women of all races made astonishing gains at the polls. Forty-seven states added more women state legislators, and women's headcount in Congress grew by 21 percent. Men of color also made modest gains, though in the #metoo era, it is women doing the heavy lifting in shifting the demographics of political power.

You can also safely ignore the claim that executive office is different, and voters only trust white men in that role. Our research found that women's share of statewide executive offices like governor, attorney general and treasurer has increased by 57 percent since 2015. In 2018 alone, we elected five of our nine female governors in office.

Once you know the truth, it's hard not to notice how the electability myth—a powerful relic from a time when only white men were considered viable candidates, a belief openly reinforced by a panoply of racist and misogynist tropes—shapes our political landscape today. The persistent assumption that the safest path to victory is a white man pops up daily in new reports and commentaries, shaping our perceptions and anxieties about the 2020 election.

Here is permission to let it go: Your candidate, be it a woman of any race, a white man, or a man of color, is no more or less likely to win based on their demographic profile. Lots of factors are at play in every election. But the greater electability of white men? That's not one of them.

Brenda Choresi Carter is the Director of the Reflective Democracy Campaign.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​