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NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Many voters are supporting former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders – I-Vt. – because they think they are more “electable” against President Donald Trump – they are also white men. But according to a New Haven-based researcher, the electability of white male candidates may not be supported by data.
Brenda Carter directs the Reflective Democracy Campaign, which analyzes the demographics of power in the U.S. When they studied the 2018 midterm results, Carter didn’t expect big differences between white male candidates and women and candidates of color.
“But when we looked at candidates up and down the ballots nationwide in 2018, we found that women of all races and men of color won their elections at the same rates as white men, and even slightly more,” says Carter.
According to the Reflective Democracy Campaign’s report, “The Electability Myth,” white male candidates performed slightly worse than women and candidates of color in the 2018 midterm elections.
Carter thinks voters’ support of Biden and Sanders is partially due to how ingrained the white male electability myth is in American society.
Still, Carter didn’t anticipate the results they saw from the 2018 elections.
“The fact that actually white men are the least successful by a small margin when they run was surprising because it’s so completely contrary to the conventional wisdom,” says Carter.
But according to new research, many Americans could be misjudging others’ level of bias. Political Science Professor Regina Bateson conducted several experiments about people’s perceptions of candidates based on gender and race in 2019 while she was at MIT – now, she’s at the University of Ottawa.
In one survey, Bateson asked a nationally representative sample if they thought other Americans would vote for a woman or person of color.
“People often overestimate others’ levels of bias,” says Bateson. “I think that’s very much what’s going on right now with this discussion of electability.”
In her survey, respondents thought that 47% of other Americans wouldn’t vote for a woman for president, and 42% wouldn’t vote for a black person for president. But Bateson says recent polls actually show those numbers as much lower: less than 10 percent of Americans say they wouldn’t vote for a black or female president.
Bateson thinks this overestimation of bias, what she calls “strategic discrimination,” could have impacted Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign, as well as the historically diverse field of candidates this year.