Don’t blame voters for lack of minority candidates

"We don't have to pack districts with minority voters in order to get minority representatives in legislatures," says Eric Gonzalez Juenke. "What we need to do is start running more minority candidates." (Credit: Theresa Thompson/Flickr)

Voters may not be the reason there are so few minorities in US state legislatures. Instead, it may be that the two major political parties don’t recruit enough minority candidates in the first place.

For a new study, researchers analyzed nearly 10,000 statehouse elections in 2000 and 2010 and found Latino candidates were on the ballot just 5 percent of the time. But when Latinos did run for office, they won just as often as their white counterparts—even in districts where most voters were white.


Earlier research suggests the same holds true for black and other ethnic minority candidates.

President Barack Obama, a black Democrat, and US Sen. Marco Rubio, a Latino Republican from Florida, are good examples of minority politicians who won elections in which a majority of constituents were white, says Eric Gonzalez Juenke, assistant professor of political science at Michigan State University.

“Thus, the puzzle of minority underrepresentation in the United States shifts away from voters and moves instead toward the parties who are responsible for recruiting, training, and supporting minority candidates for office,” he says.

Published in the American Journal of Political Science, the study is the first large-scale investigation of minority candidate under-representation at the state level and its effects on the election of minority officeholders.

Party affiliation over race

Past research suggests many voters are biased against candidates of different ethnicities and races. The new study doesn’t refute that finding. Instead, it suggests white voters are more likely to prioritize party affiliation over race or ethnicity when considering a candidate.

Despite their low representation in elected office, Hispanics are the nation’s largest racial minority, making up 17 percent of the population—a number that’s projected to grow to 31 percent by 2060, according to the census.

Lack of minority representation in elected office has fueled many lawsuits against how political districts are drawn. But Juenke says district makeup may not be as important as many think.

“We don’t have to pack districts with minority voters in order to get minority representatives in legislatures,” he says. “What we need to do is start running more minority candidates.”

Source: Michigan State University