As the dust settles from the U.S. midterm elections, champions of inclusivity are celebrating the large and historic influx of women and people of color elected to federal office.
Some statistics are certainly celebratory. A record 272 women ran as general election nominees for U.S. Congress or governor this year, with 125 elected thus far. An equally historic 219 people of color were nominated, with at least 115 elected. For the first time, Native American women and Muslim women will serve in Congress. Massachusetts and Connecticut elected their first Black women to Congress, and Texas its first Latinas. Women will represent Arizona and Tennessee in the Senate and serve as governors of Maine and South Dakota for the first time, as well.
While a record number of eligible voters participated in this midterm election, the split in popular vote between the two political parties remained notably distinct from the makeup of elected representatives. Voter suppression and recount chaos continue to call into question the legitimacy of our elections, not coincidentally affecting communities with larger populations of people of color.
With this in mind, we wanted to take a closer look at this year’s record number of people of color and women vying for the highest elected offices. How did they actually fare distinctly and by comparison?
Our data, which examined the midterm general election nominees and winners, revealed a few key insights: people of color, and particularly women of color, over-performed in House races, though made just marginal net gains in representation; the Senate retained its demographic status quo; white women had the greatest success in governor’s races, an office which remains overwhelmingly occupied by white men.
Note on Method
For racial identification of current congressional members, we looked to the government’s History, Art, And Archives data. Data for current governors was sourced from Rutgers Center on the American Governor. Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics research provided data for all women running for office. Both their data and our supplemental data for the racial identity of men running for office for the first time was based on self-identification. This required an explicit confirmation of identity on a campaign website, during an interview, or directly solicited.
Our calculations for people of color do not include Hispanic folks of singularly European heritage. Folks of Middle Eastern and Pacific Islander heritage were counted Asian, and Afro-Latinxs are counted both Black and Latino/a. No non-binary people were elected in the U.S. congressional or gubernatorial races. Non-voting delegates to Congress are not a part of this dataset.
At the time of publication, the Mississippi U.S. Senate race and U.S. House races GA-7, NY-22, and NY-27 remain uncalled. The dataset will be updated as these seats are called by the Associated Press.
Our findings are expressed through the following visual key:
Rifts in representation among highest elected officials
Going into the election, white men held congressional and gubernatorial office at a much greater percentage than their respected share of the general population.
The U.S. Census estimates that in 2017, the U.S. population was about 40 percent people of color, 30 percent white women, and 30 percent white men.
In relation to the total population, the 115th House of Representatives under-represents men of color by 30 percent, women of color by over 50 percent, and white women by almost 60 percent. The 115th Senate’s demographics are almost inverted compared to the current population — women and people of color hold less than 30 percent of seats. More starkly, 94 percent of U.S. governors going into the election were white, compared to the 60 percent of the U.S. population that is white. Eighty-four percent of governors are white men.
Women of color outperformed in House races
For the first time in history, white men were the minority of Democratic U.S. House nominees — a factor that might be considered to have played a role in the party’s successful reclaiming of the chamber.
The 201 self-identifying people of color who ran in the U.S. House general election won at a rate of 55 percent. This success rate exceeds the 43 percent of people of color nominees who won their Senate races, and the 18 percent who won their gubernatorial races. White women nominees won House seats at two-thirds the rate of people of color: of the 154 white women nominees, 38 percent won their races— a rate significantly lower than the whopping 72 percent for governor, or 59 percent for Senate.
Women of color have claimed the greatest number of historical firsts in the House. Some include the election of Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), who will both be the first Muslim women elected to Congress as well as the first Somali American and Palestinian American representatives, respectively. Sharice Davids (D-KS) and Debra Haaland (D-NM) will be the first Native American women. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) will be the first Black women in their states’ congressional delegations. In Texas, Veronica Escobar (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) will be the first Latinas to represent Texas in Congress. And, of course, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a Latina, will be the youngest member of the new House.
Women of color were 34 percent of all women who filed to run in the U.S. House election, according to Rutgers’ CAWP report — on par with their 37 percent share of the U.S. women’s population. By the general election, this 34 percent was maintained. Black women, in particular, made up 17 percent of women nominees which outpaces their 13 percent of total U.S. women. When considering all of the women elected to the House, the percentage of women of color jumps to 42 percent. And, of all people of color, Black women will have the highest net gain in seats, adding four members to the House. Unfortunately, this still only translates to 22 seats, or 5 percent of all membership at the time of publication.
As a group, women of color and experienced the highest net gain in membership at 10 representatives, and were elected at a rate 17 percent higher than white women.
Of the 44 women of color who were elected, seven flipped seats and four won as challengers. Of the 10 women of color to win open seat races, seven will hold a seat previously held by a white man. Lauren Underwood (D-IL), a Black woman, and Sharice Davids (D-KS), a Native American woman, were the only women of color to defeat incumbent white men.
Men of color were elected at relatively high rates as well. In each racial demographic, 40 percent or more of the men of color nominated won their seats. Of the 66 men of color elected, five flipped seats, and three won as challengers— all replacing white men, or defeating white men incumbents. Sixty-three percent of Black men won their elections, though all but three were incumbents. This rate exceeds the 60 percent of Latina women elected, which is the highest among women of color.
Across the board, representation in the House did increase for white women, men of color, and women of color. Compared to the population at-large, however, the numbers are far from reflective. Men of color are still under-represented by 25 percent, and both women of color and white women by 50 percent.
There were still 12 states where no person of color was nominated and five where no woman was nominated. People of color are absent from representation in 17 states, and women are absent from 16.
In total, women and people of color flipped 25 House seats— that is, over two-thirds of all flipped seats. Seventeen women or people of color won as challengers, with 14 defeating incumbent white men. Twenty-six women or people of color won open House races— 19 in districts that had previously elected a white man.
By comparison, nine white men won as challengers, defeating one Black woman and one white woman. Thirty-eight white men won open seats, replacing four seats previously held by a white women, one by a woman of color, and two by men of color.
The Senate largely retains status quo in representation
A record number of 22 women ran for Senate seats this year, though only one general election nominee— incumbent Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI)— was a woman of color.
Sixty-three percent of these women won their elections and both Arizona and Tennessee elected their first women to the U.S. Senate. Despite this relative success, the 116th Senate will exceed it’s status quo in representation of white women by just 1 percent. Twenty-four percent of senators will be women. A little over 30 percent of the men of color nominated were elected, also retaining a status quo of 5 percent of Senate seats.
Jacky Rosen (D) of Nevada was the only woman to win a Senate seat as a challenger, while two white women, Krysten Simena (D-AZ) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), won their open-seat races. All of these seats were previously held by white men. By comparison, four white men won as challengers. Two of these men, Josh Hawley (R) of Missouri and Kevin Cramer (R) of North Dakota, unseated incumbent white women. One white man, Mitt Romney (R-UT), won his open seat.
White women make gains in governor’s seats, which remain dominated by white men
The governor’s races lead in the greatest losses for people of color. Only 18 percent of people of color who ran will take seats, with white folks holding over 95 percent of governors’ seats.
Of the five women of color and six men of color to run, only two have won their elections: Hawaii incumbent David Ige (D) and New Mexico candidate Michelle Lujan Girsham (D), who won an open seat replacing another woman of color. No person of color defeated a white man for a governor’s seat. Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams (D) and Florida gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum (FL) were poised to make history as their respective state’s first Black governors, each in states rife with voter suppression and disenfranchisement. Both conceded to white men.
Though people of color and white women were equally nominated, 72 percent of white women were successful in their races. Eight white women of the 11 that ran will take seats. Four of these women won open seats previously held by white men; Maine and South Dakota elected their first woman governors, both white women.
Comparatively, 14 white men won their open-seats races — one replacing a seat previously held by a woman, and another replacing a seat held by a man of color. One white man, Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Wisconsin Tony Evers, is the only nominee to win as a challenger.
This post will be updated as the remaining election results are confirmed.