Women of Color: A Collective Powerhouse in the
By Danyelle Solomon and Connor Maxwell
A woman holds a sign during a protest in Atlanta, May 2019.
Introduction and summary
Five years ago, the Center for American Progress wrote about the growing force that
women of color voters bring to the U.S. electorate. Each year since, women of color
have constituted a greater and greater share of eligible voters. Today, they are
emerging as a potential electoral powerhouse—and they fully deserve elected officials’
attention and respect.
Since 2000, the citizen voting-age population (CVAP) of women of color has increased
by 59 percent—a gain of more than 13.5 million potential votes. By contrast, the CVAP of
non-Hispanic white women voters increased by just 8 percent during the same time
span—an additional 6 million potential votes. In 2018, turnout among women of color
voters also surged more than 15 percentage points compared with that of the previous
midterm elections in 2014. Women of color also played a central role in engaging with
and mobilizing others to participate. These factors suggest that women of color voters will play a critical role in upcoming elections.
Women of color, with their distinct histories, experiences, and collective power, are not monolithic. They have distinct interracial and intraracial perspectives
that lawmakers must recognize and respect. For example, these voters generally consider issues related to health care, the economy and jobs, immigration,
public safety, and discrimination to be important national priorities. They also believe that the government has a vital role to play in addressing many of these
issues. But their specific views on these issues are nuanced and often vary by race, ethnicity, age, income, and other demographic factors. Understanding
and appreciating all of these distinctions is critical for the development of policy proposals that address the unique concerns facing women of color voters
across the United States.
This report utilizes new data to update previous findings and further elevate the electoral power and policy perspectives of women of color across the
country. The U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey supplied data for fresh estimates on these voters’ increasing share of the CVAP. The 2018
Voting and Registration Supplement to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey provided key insights relating to electoral participation. The
landmark 2018 AP VoteCast survey, which polled, among other people, 21,000 registered women of color voters, revealed unique views on a variety of
prominent policy issues.
Divided into three main components, this report first describes current demographic trends for women of color in the electorate and the future implications of
their participation rates and voting eligibility. Next, it summarizes these voters’ responses to important political and policy questions, including the economy
and jobs, health care, immigration, public safety, and discrimination. Finally, it offers policy recommendations on actions needed to ensure that women of
color can participate fully in future elections without barriers and to elevate and address the concerns of women of color voters today.
Where possible, this report also seeks to highlight the ongoing work of leaders in the field, including but not limited to Black Women’s Roundtable;
Intersections of Our Lives (a collaborative of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive
Justice Agenda, and National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health); AAPI Data; the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund; the Groundswell Fund; and Asian Pacific
Islander American Vote.
The increasing voter eligibility and participation rates of women of color
Women play a critical role in American democracy. Across the country, their participation has determined the outcomes of federal, state, and local elections.
Women of color are becoming a larger force among these voters. They now represent almost one-third of citizen voting-age (CVA) women, an increase of 10
percentage points from 2000 to 2017. In other words, there are 13.6 million more CVA women of color than there were in 2000, compared with 6 million
additional CVA non-Hispanic white women.
Much of this increase in women of color is due to the rapid rise in the number of Latina, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and multiracial
women voters combined with the steady growth of Black and American Indian or Alaska Native women voters. Women of color, increasingly, are shaping the
composition of the female electorate and their overall priorities. But as the share of women voters has grown and taken on added importance, so have efforts
to dilute and suppress their impact. Voter suppression tactics—from strict voter ID laws to discriminatory voter purges, limitations on voting hours, reductions
in voting locations, and language barriers—are increasingly used to discourage and undermine women of color voters’ participation and potential influence on
election outcomes. Thus, as these voters’ share of the electorate continues to rise, it is critical to accelerate efforts to protect their ability to participate in the
Examining recent trends in voting eligibility and participation among women of color voters provides valuable insights. While it is clear that these voters are
well on their way to becoming a significant powerhouse in determining overall election outcomes, it is also clear that activating and turning out these voters
will require targeted efforts that energize them and address their interests.
Black women’s voter eligibility and participation rates
Between 2000 and 2017, the CVAP of Black women increased by 31 percent.5 Today, at least 15 million Black women are voting-age U.S. citizens—
approximately 3.5 million more than in 2000.
Black women are one of the most active voting blocs in the U.S. electorate. (see Methodology Figure A1) But in 2016, just 66 percent of eligible Black women
cast their ballots on Election Day—down from 74 percent in 2012 and 75 percent in 2008.6 However, this recent decline may be short-lived. Black women’s
turnout in 2018 surged 16 percentage points from that of previous midterm elections, from 41 percent to 57 percent. A recent analysis from Groundswell and
the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund found that women of color fueled the massive increase in turnout nationwide by mobilizing friends and family and engaging
voters beyond the ballot box. If 2008 or 2012 turnout levels were replicated in 2020, Black women would cast at least 1 million more ballots than they did in
2016, reaching a total of roughly 11 million votes.
Latinas’ voter eligibility and participation rates
Latinas are the second-largest and second-fastest-growing population of women of color voters in the United States. Since 2000, the CVAP of Latinas
increased by at least 89 percent—from 7.1 million voters to 13.6 million voters.8 Today, Latinas’ largest share of the female CVAP is in New Mexico and
Texas, where they constitute 42 percent and 29 percent, respectively. If present trends continue, they may soon constitute the largest group of CVA women of
color in the country.
Despite Latinas’ surge in eligibility, they—like many other women of color—face large and persistent barriers to participation. While all voters of color endure
rampant suppression, these tactics frequently target Latina and other Latinx voters. These factors, combined with insufficient outreach efforts, limit eligible
Latinas’ full electoral participation. For three decades, a nearly 20-percentage-point turnout gap has existed between Latinx and white Americans.
The 2018 midterms may have marked a turning point for Latinas’ political participation. Thanks, in part, to the long-standing leadership of important groups
such as Voto Latino, NALEO Educational Fund, and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund, Latina voter turnout surged by 17 points compared with that of the 2014
midterms. (see Methodology Figure A1) If these and other organizations succeed in eliminating racial disparities in participation, Latinas could comprise one
of the most powerful voting blocs in the country. For example, had Latinas turned out at the same rates as their non-Hispanic white counterparts in 2016, it
would have resulted in an estimated 2.7 million additional ballots being cast for president for the United States.
Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women’s voter eligibility and participation rates
Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) women are the fastest-growing and perhaps the most diverse racial demographic of women
voters in the United States. These voters have roots in dozens of different countries and possess multitudes of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Between 2000 and 2017, the CVAP of AANHPI women grew at a faster rate than any other racial group. During this period, the CVAP of AANHPI women
increased by 97 percent, from approximately 2.6 million to more than 5 million people.15 The surge is particularly evident in certain states. AANHPI women’s
share of the female CVAP increased the most in Nevada (4 percentage points) and California (4 percentage points). Today, AANHPI women hold their largest
share of the female CVAP in Nevada (9 percent), California (14 percent), and Hawaii (48 percent).
American Indian and Alaska Native women’s voter eligibility and participation rates
American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women voters are perhaps the most politically neglected electoral demographic in the country. Between 2000 and
2017, the CVAP of AI/AN women grew by 29 percen Today, approximately 800,000 AI/AN women are eligible to vote in U.S. elections. These voters constitute a
considerable portion of the female CVAP in certain states. For instance, approximately 9 percent and 14 percent, respectively, of CVA women in New Mexico
and Alaska are AI/AN women. Yet these voters are often neglected in political campaigns and targeted for voter suppression. Perhaps as a result, turnout
among these voters continues to lag behind their counterparts of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. Like other groups, AI/AN women turned out to vote at
higher rates in 2018 than in 2014. Yet this group experienced a smaller surge than other groups. American democracy suffers when its citizens are unable to
fully participate in the electoral process. These data demonstrate the necessity of prioritizing AI/AN women in political outreach and engagement.
The emerging electoral power of multiracial women voters
Fifty years ago, multiracial marriages were uncommon and, in some places, illegal. In 1960, these marriages represented just 0.4 percent of all American
marriages.18 But by 2010, 8.4 percent of all American marriages were multiracial, and 15 percent of all new marriages were multiracial. This shift has
contributed to a substantial increase in the number of Americans who identify as multiracial, meaning they identify as having two or more races.
Multiracial women are one of the fastest-growing segments of the female CVAP. Between 2000 and 2017, the CVAP of multiracial women increased by 82
percent—from 1.1 million to 2 million. In other words, there are at least 900,000 additional voting-age multiracial American women than there were in 2000.
These changes are not equally distributed across all 50 states. Since 2000, non-Hispanic multiracial women voters have increased their share of the female
CVAP by 5 percentage points in Hawaii and at least 2 percentage points in states such as Oregon and Alaska. But they hold their largest share of the female
CVAP in Alaska (5 percent), Oklahoma (6 percent), and Hawaii (19 percent).
In recent elections, multiracial women turned out to vote at lower rates than their white and Black counterparts but at higher rates than Latina and AANHPI
women voters. (see Methodology Figure A1) Yet there is insufficient research on the barriers to participation they endure or the issues that drive their political
engagement. The dearth of robust, disaggregated data on multiracial women prevents any rigorous analysis of these voters’ unique political views and policy
concerns. Far more research is necessary to understand and appreciate this emerging force in the U.S. electorate.
Women of color voters’ unique policy perspectives
Women of color hold a variety of views on important policy questions relating to the economy and jobs, health care, immigration, public safety, and
discrimination. The following section attempts to shed light on these perspectives by elevating research from organizations that seek to empower women of
color and presenting findings from a new CAP analysis. This section is not restricted to a specific subset of voters with a particular political ideology. Instead,
it incorporates the views of women of color as a whole, including those who identify as conservative, moderate, or liberal, and explores how views may vary
by education, income, geography, and other factors.