Were you confused by the fallout from Jussie Smollett’s apparent staging of a hate crime against himself? Some people felt let down when — after Chicago’s police chief publicly excoriated the young actor — no charges were filed against him. Was it fair for Smollett to walk away from all that chaos when so many men of color are imprisoned for far less vivid violations?

At a time when our criminal justice system is under scrutiny for outcomes driven more by race than by justice, the Smollett incident is worth revisiting. Because we’re also in an era when a small cluster of progressive prosecutors are seeking to change that system from within — and it’s no coincidence that the Cook County prosecutor at the center of the Smollett controversy is among a handful of women of color elected recently under the banner of reform. …

February 13, 2019

The mission of the Reflective Democracy Campaign is a nation where women and people of color hold a fair share of power, and all Americans are represented in government. To this end, we mine the data and issue groundbreaking reports about the astonishing overrepresentation of white men in politics and criminal justice. We fund grassroots projects that chip away at the barriers to reflective democracy and empower candidates who represent communities of color and women. …

March 9, 2018

As experts on the demographics of political power in America, we at the Reflective Democracy Campaign are avidly following the aftermath of the 2017 elections. November’s remarkable victories by women and people of color inspired a surge of celebratory coverage, and predictions that the 2018 midterms will further disrupt the race and gender status quo among elected leaders.

Yet some observers are less than thrilled. See, for example, the New York Times op-ed by Brookings fellow Jonathan Rauch and political science professor Raymond J. La Raja, who issue a dire warning: The recent wave of challengers running for office is triggering “the amateurization of American politics.” According to the two academics, the post-Trump mobilization of newcomers running for office is evading the careful vetting usually performed by traditional political gatekeepers. …

September 27, 2017

According to a recent article in the New York Times, the dearth of female CEOs in America can be traced back to women’s lack of innate self-confidence. We’re even served a real-life example: “A presenter asked a group of men and women whether anyone had expertise in breast-feeding. A man raised his hand. He had watched his wife for three months. The women in the crowd, mothers among them, didn’t come forward as experts.”

If only the women hadn’t been so self-effacing! Well — that’s one way to understand it. But based on research we did at the Reflective Democracy Campaign, where we work to analyze and change the demographics of political power, I see it differently. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of the women in the group, who must work with — and maybe report to — Mr. I’m-an-expert-from-watching-my-wife. Does he seem like a guy who would enjoy being bested by — y’know — people with actual breasts? …

August 22, 2017

When the Christian Science Monitor recently announced the advent of “a new breed of prosecutors,” the Reflective Democracy Campaign stood up and cheered. It was our data that first broke the news: across the country, 95% of elected prosecutors are white, and 83% are men. …

April 17, 2017

Since 2014, the Reflective Democracy Campaign has asked the fundamental question: Who Leads Us? We’ve dug into the demographics of political power in America, and what we found made national headlines:

· White men hold four times as much political power as all other Americans.

· Voters want elected leaders who reflect the American people, but neither party is fielding the candidates who would make that a reality.

· Four out of every five elected prosecutors are white men. In a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets African-Americans and Latinos, 95% of prosecutors are white.

The 2016 Presidential election broke open the issues of race, gender, and political representation in powerful and often very raw ways. The candidate who openly spewed bigotry and appealed to hate moved into the White House, white supremacists and woman-haters by his side. Enormous harm will be inflicted on women, communities of color, immigrants, and working people — not just in the U.S. but also abroad. But as a society we are still who we were before Election Day: 50% women, 38% people of color, and persistently defiant in the face of repression and fear. The need and demand for elected leaders who look like the American people and share their life experiences will continue to grow. …

July 14, 2016

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Public opinion research shows that a majority of Americans — across party lines — want to see leaders who represent the “best and the brightest,” but instead see an entrenched status quo that looks like an “old boy’s club.” They want to see officeholders who reflect the full range of talent and experience among the American people, and they support policies that help to elect more women and people of color. …

Yes, and…

June 8, 2016

Research by Danny Hayes and Jennifer Lawless highlights an important truth: voter bias is not the reason women are 51% of the population but only 29% of elected officeholders. Our research reveals the same finding: When women appear on the ballot, voters choose them at the same rate they choose men. This is very good news.

But one could only conclude that “systemic gender bias” is absent in political campaigns by ignoring the complex and entrenched system that determines who gets on the ballot in the first place.

America’s candidate pool isn’t determined by voters, but by entrenched gatekeepers who happen to be mostly white men. Not surprisingly, they tend to favor their own: our research found that in 2012 and 2014, candidates for office in general elections up and down the ballot were 73% male and 90% white — virtually identical to the people in elected office. Significantly, well over half of incumbents run un-opposed — and 61% of those incumbents are white men. …

June 1, 2016

When the data you present makes people cry, you know it captures something important. The event was in Raleigh, NC, and the people were local activists, funders, and candidates and officeholders. The Reflective Democracy Campaign had convened the meeting together with Blueprint North Carolina; it was one of seven regional strategy sessions aimed at bringing together local leaders concerned with the dramatic imbalance between who Americans really are and who represents us.

I began the session with an infographic showing how officeholders would break down by gender and race if they reflected the composition of our country: 51% female, and close to 40% people of color. Then I showed the actual demographic breakdown of America’s elected officials: 90% are white, and 71% are male. As always, the contrast elicited a gasp: even those who grapple with the consequences daily are shocked to realize that, when weighted by level of office, white men hold four times the political power of other groups. …

BREAKING DOWN THE BARRIERS: Investing in solutions to pave the way for Reflective Democracy

March 3, 2016

The Reflective Democracy Campaign has asked some important questions about the racial and gender disparities of our elected officials — Who Leads Us?and Who Runs in America? What we have found is an entrenched system in which two out of every three names on a ballot, and two out of every three elected offices, belong to a white man.

But the Campaign isn’t just about illuminating the problem — important as that is. We’ve started to support groundbreaking efforts to change the system and pave the way for reflective democracy — a system of government that truly reflects the American people. …


Reflective Democracy Campaign

The Campaign investigates and disrupts the demographics of political power in the United States. We are a proud project of the Women Donors Network.

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