The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Yes, politics is still dominated by old, white men. Here’s why.

Women lawmakers led by Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) kiss their trophy after beating the Press Team during the 6th Annual Congressional Softball game played on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, June 18. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

As Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) will tell you, Congress today is still very much an old boys club — and more specifically, we would add, a white old boys club. Members of Congress are more than 80 percent male, about 80 percent white and about 60 years old, on average.

One big reason is that things have always been that way, and stuff like this doesn't change quickly. Another big reason, though, is that women and minorities quite simply don't run for office as much.

According to new numbers crunched by the Pew Research Center, about 2 percent of the American public has run for some kind of political office. Men, despite being a slight minority of the U.S. population, comprise about three-quarters of all candidates. The same goes with race: While whites are two thirds of the population, they are 82 percent of all candidates for office.

And blacks and Hispanics aren't just under-represented in political office; they're also under-represented on the ballot. Just 5 percent of candidates are black, compared to their 12 percent share of the population, and just 6 percent of candidates are Hispanic, even as the fast-growing population is now 15 percent of the United States.

One caveat: These numbers reflect those who have ever run for office — not just those running today. So the breakdowns reflect decades of disparity and not necessarily an imbalance today (though such an imbalance definitely still exists).

Of course, a big reason more women and minorities don't run for office is undoubtedly that there remain barriers to entry. GOP leaders have acknowledged that their club can be a hard one for women to penetrate — so much so that they might be less apt to try.

"It’s safe to say that there are institutional barriers," the then-head of the Republican State Leadership Committee, Chris Jankowski, told The Post last year. "We've met with candidates who felt like they weren't part of the old-boy network."

What's most interesting about the above chart, though, is that the percentage of women and minorities who run for office is reasonably close to the percentage who are in Congress. While 25 percent of women run for office, about 19 percent of Congress is female. And while 5 percent to 6 percent of blacks and Hispanics run for office, they comprise 8 percent and 6.5 percent of Congress, respectively.

But all three groups remain significantly under-represented in Congress. And if that's going to change, it will have to start with candidate recruitment.