1 big thing: When America needs your vote but limits your power

Stef W. Kight
·3 min read

Both Democrats and Republicans are increasingly pandering to voters of color across the country, but once in office little gets done to improve systemic racism in policing or the justice system or voting rights.

Why it matters: For people of color, America's political system remains rife with obstacles that block their ability to run for office, influence those in power and have a voice through election fundraising.

Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free

  • White Americans will no longer be the majority of the population by 2045.

  • The changing electorate is demanding more representation at the top and action on issues that Black, Asian American, Native American and Latinos care about.

If who's in the U.S. Congress is a measure, there's much progress to be proud of, especially in the House of Representatives, where the share of Black lawmakers is nearly equal to their percentage of the U.S. population. But structural barriers make it harder for non-whites to break into the power system elsewhere.

  • The U.S. Senate remains overwhelmingly a club for older white men. The historic choice of Kamala Harris as vice president left the Senate without a single Black woman.

  • The rising cost of running for office leaves out many who don't have their own wealth. Freshman Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) became the first person of color to win his district's seat, but he had to quit his job and live without health care for over a year while campaigning. You shouldn't have to "come from money to be able to win a congressional seat in this country,” Jones tells Axios. Read more about race and political donors.

  • Washington's lobbying shops hire directly from Capitol Hill and reflect the overwhelmingly white job pool that works there. Only 11% of the U.S. Senate's top office staff — chiefs of staff, legislative directors and communications directors — are people of color. Read more about race and influence.

  • Democrats and Republicans are setting up for a big fight over the redistricting process, a tool often used to consolidate or divide voters along racial lines. Read more about race and gerrymandering.

Between the lines: Both parties are tantalized by the potentially rich vein of votes that lie in growing communities of color.

  • Democrats in particular have campaigned hard to increase voter turnout among Black and Latino voters — with notable successes in 2008 and in the last election cycle.

  • Republicans pitched themselves as a party that welcomes minorities during their convention last summer, despite the fact that President Trump's election was largely due to white voters. Now House Republicans have their own plan to nominate candidates of color and women to take back the chamber in 2022.

Be smart: In 2020, Black, Latino and Native American voters made a difference in key elections.

  • President Biden's campaign was considered over until South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn's endorsement going into Super Tuesday, which set Biden on a path to the Democratic nomination.

  • Latino and Native American voters in Arizona, along with diverse city centers in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, clinched Biden's electoral win.

  • And Black voters in Georgia — along with the advocacy of Stacey Abrams — handed Biden the Senate majority, unlocking the possibility for him to accomplish significant legislative priorities.

  • But at the same time, GOP-controlled legislatures are considering a wave of bills to limit voting in some states where minority voters turned out for Biden.

The bottom line: America's political leadership continues to see "firsts" for people of color — a title that comes with unique pressure and underscores how long white Americans have been overrepresented in the halls of power.

Like this article? Get more from Axios and subscribe to Axios Markets for free.