It’s a word that trails women and people of color like a stray dog: “electability”—a word that’s become a catch-all code for nebulous concerns that certain candidates just don’t (or can’t) inspire voters to turn out at the polls as much as others. But, as a new study suggests, if those concerns are tethered to a candidate’s race or gender, they ought not to be.
A study from the advocacy group Reflective Democracy Campaign highlights data from the 2018 election showing men of color and women candidates win as often as white men do.
According to Reflective Democracy’s findings, when people of color and white women are on the ballot, they win elections at the same rates as white men. This was gleaned by looking at the percentage that, say, women of color candidates were, out of all political candidates, and comparing it to the rates at which they won.
From the Huffington Post:
Specifically, women of color were 4% of 2018 candidates and 5% of winners; white women were 28% of candidates and 29% of winners; men of color were 6% of candidates and 7% of winners; and white men were 61% of candidates and 60% of winners.
As Reflective Democracy Campaign Director Brenda Choresi Carter said in a press call sharing the findings, “There’s a common assumption that white men are the more electable candidates ― but our research found the opposite. We found women of color, white women and men of color win at essentially the same rate.”
“There’s only one group that loses slightly more,” she added, “and that’s white men.”
Of course, the issue here is that white men—who make up less than a third of the entire country, comprise 60 percent of all elected leadership (and hint: the media that covers those candidates doesn’t fare much better). Meanwhile, women of color, whom the study credits with driving the increase in political representation for all non-white candidates, comprise just 4 percent of all elected officials, despite making up 20 percent of the population.
It’s also worth considering the impact of uncontested elections—races in which a candidate is running unopposed. Over half of all elections in 2018 had just one candidate, and that candidate, 89 percent of the time, was a white person (with 56 percent of all uncontested elections involving white men).
“White male over-representation is not about their superior pull with voters,” the study’s report concluded. “When voters have the opportunity to vote for women of all races and men of color, they choose them at the same rates as white men. Accordingly, the wider range of candidates on the ballot in 2018 resulted in more reflective elected leaders in 2019.”
So, is electability bullshit? Ultimately, as FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver points out, “electability” is such a vague concept (and such ready shorthand for light-on-the-calories misogyny and racism) that it’s difficult to measure. But as he points out—perceptions of electability still have an impact, particularly in a contest like the Democratic presidential primaries, where they can a feedback loop wherein voters opt not to choose their preferred candidate because they fear other voters won’t vote for that candidate. In the study Silver cites, potential voters named former vice president Joe Biden as their top choice for Democratic presidential nomination; however, when they were asked “imagine that they have a magic wand and can make any of the candidates president” (as in, imagine only your vote mattered), Elizabeth Warren was the top candidate.
Imagine: If we had leaders who reflected our communities—and we all minded our own damn ballots—the country may just get the elected leaders it actually wants.