Story at a glance

  • As the United States continues to diversify, many populations remain underrepresented in politics and government.
  • A new study found that white men hold 62 percent of all elected offices despite being just 30 percent of the population.
  • Much of the disparity is a result of the incumbency advantage and partisan demographic divide, according to the analysis.

From Nixon to Trump, politicians have long invoked the support of the silent majority — proof of which is a catch 22. But if there is a silent majority, a new study finds it is made up of the growing number of non-white men in the United States.

White men hold 62 percent of all elected offices despite being just 30 percent of the population, exercising minority rule over 42 state legislatures, the House, the Senate and statewide offices from coast to coast, according to the analysis by Reflective Democracy. Part of this, researchers said, is due to the incumbency advantage: "sitting elected officials almost always win their elections."


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“Instead of providing an entry point for new candidates, primary elections are hardwired to protect the people already in power,” said Brenda Choresi Carter, the campaign’s director, in a release. “While voters want new policies and fresh faces, incumbent elected leaders — who for historical reasons are majority white and male — are almost guaranteed re-election.”

As a result, women hold just 31 percent of offices despite making up 51 percent of the population, and people of color hold just 13 percent of offices despite making up 40 percent of the population. The partisan demographic divide is also very real, according to the report, which said that while Democratic candidates tend to be representative of the U.S. population, Republican candidates do not. 

In short: White men don't win elections more often than other candidates  there's just more of them already in office and running. 


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“Our system keeps the same officeholders in power election after election, in spite of voters’ desire for change,” said Carter in the release. “When elections simply reproduce a system of minority rule, we need to ask whether this is what we mean by ‘democracy.’”

Last year, the campaign reported that power is shifting from white men to women of color in many cities — but even a 46 percent increase in the share of elected offices held by women of color isn't enough to make up for generations of imbalance. At the same time, the study noted that 43 states are considering or have already passed laws to suppress the vote.

“I think if we saw these numbers in another country, we would say there is something very wrong with that political system,” Carter told The Guardian. “We would say, ‘how could that possibly be a democratic system with that kind of demographic mismatch?’”


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Published on May 26, 2021