New Report Examines the Status of Black Women in American Politics

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Higher Heights and the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) released a new report, “The Status of Black women in American Politics. This comprehensive report provides a historical outline of Black women’s struggle for political representation and discusses the current landscape of political leadership for Black women across the country as well as their growing political influence. It demonstrates the need for greater engagement, recruitment, and inclusion of Black women in politics and government.

The report notes that Black women are 7.4% of the U.S. population and 7.8% of the electorate. However, there are only 14 Black women in Congress (2.6%), 2 Black women in statewide elected executive office, 241 Black women in state legislatures (3.3%), and 26 Black women mayors in cities with populations over 30,000 (1.9%). Among the 100 largest cities in the United States, only one is led by a Black woman mayor.

“Black women are among the country’s most politically active citizens. In 2012, Black women had the highest rate of voter turnout of any group, and they represented almost 60 percent of Black voters who went to the polls,” said Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights. “These statistics are clear evidence of Black women’s ability to be defining factors in election outcomes. This report brings to the forefront that despite this growing power, Black women’s electoral heft is not translating into political representation.”

While Black women are politically engaged, the report addresses the distinct realities that Black women face in running for and winning elected office.

“CAWP’s research has found that Black women are less likely to be encouraged to run for office, are more likely to be discouraged from running, and report more difficulties in fundraising than men and white women,” said Kelly Dittmar, Assistant Research Professor at CAWP and author of the report. “Black women have taken advantage of their confidence and political experiences in community work and activism to achieve political success despite these barriers, but only recently have they tapped their many opportunities for greater representation.”

The report highlights shifts taking place in some states and congressional districts and identifies why advancing Black women’s representation matters for politics and policy.

“The good news that we are seeing, is across the country there are examples of Black women running for office, winning and taking on the hard issues. It is evidenced in women like California Attorney General Kamala Harris, whose policies have helped reduce jail sentences and the recidivism rate of black males,” said Kimberly Peeler Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights. “We also observe it in the work of Rep. Yvette Clark (D-N.Y.), who has sponsored bills aimed at broadening access to family planning services and affordable housing. And, we see it in many other Black women on the local and state level.”

The Center for American Progress will host the release and panel discussion today at Noon (ET). The panel will discuss developing and implementing a long-term strategy to build, expand, and support a leadership pipeline at all levels for Black women and to harness their political power to influence and impact public policy and elections. Panelists will discuss the implications of this study for the economy, reproductive health, education, and voting rights, as well as the impact of the Black women’s vote on the 2014 and 2016 election cycles.

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