Reminder: American Politics Is Still Mostly Dudes, And That’s A Problem

There’s still a ways to go when it comes to gender equality in whom we elect. A video from FiveThirtyEight breaks it down.

Reminder: American Politics Is Still Mostly Dudes, And That’s A Problem
[All Images: via FiveThirtyEight]

At the Democratic National Convention this week, there has hardly been a speech that doesn’t mention Hillary Clinton’s historic position. “I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman . . . more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America,” President Obama said in his speech last night. Just a day earlier, Arizona Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords put it this way: “Come January, I want to say these two words: Madam President!” And on Monday night Michelle Obama, in her blockbuster speech, perhaps put it best: “Because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters–and all our sons and daughters–now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”


As the first ever woman presidential nominee of a major party, Clinton is indeed already in a historic position–and will be even more so if she wins this November. But how much will having a woman in the White House actually change things for other women?

To answer that question, FiveThirtyEight‘s Christine Laskowski and Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) dug into the data of women in political positions throughout history.

With that data, they produced a video that uses a compelling narrative, muted colors, and charming collage images to convey a stark reality: that despite making up half of the country’s population, women consistently only hold 25% of positions in elected office. For minority women, it’s worse. Despite being 20% of the population, they make up a tiny 6% of Congress.

The video is crammed full of numbers and statistics, but the narration and illustrations skillfully put them into context. For every bar graph and pie chart, designers Tom McCarten and Ella Koeze have also created animated illustrations that qualify and clarify, from a lone woman silhouetted in a sea of men to a scale weighing the impact of unpaid domestic labor. These tiny, split-second details speak to design’s power to portray complex issues in an accurate but still nuanced way.

As the video shows, the lack of women in office isn’t just an image problem (though it is supremely embarrassing that on a worldwide ranking of women in elected office, the U.S. comes in at number 95, as the video points out). The number of women in office has a ripple effect that influences everything from how women are perceived in society to how policy decisions are made. To demonstrate the latter, the video looks at the year 1992, dubbed by the press as the “the year of the woman” because the number of women in the House and Senate had doubled.

The result in terms of policy? More than $600 million worth of funding women’s health initiatives, the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, and a federal ban on assault weapons.


Perhaps the most salient statistic from the video, however, is this one: “When women run for office, they win at the same rate as men.” In other words, the problem is that not enough women are running in the first place.

Will having a woman as commander in chief change that? In an interview in April with Rachel Maddow, Clinton promised that it would: “I am going to have a cabinet that looks like America, and 50% of America is women, right?” Clinton said to the MSNBC anchor.

And under Trump? If his short list of possible Supreme Court picks are any indication–they’re all white, and 8 of the 11 are male–an increase in women elected to office does not look promising.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.