Lesbian, bisexual women more successful at the ballot box than gay men, study finds.

July 8, 2021

NBC News: Lesbian, bisexual women more successful at the ballot box than gay men, study finds.

By: Julie Moreau

Last September, Marie Pinkney beat incumbent Delaware state Sen. David McBride in the Democratic primary by a solid margin, before going on to a decisive victory in the general election. Upon winning, Pinkney became not only the first openly queer woman to be elected to the Delaware Senate but one of dozens of LGBTQ female candidates who won their elections in the last cycle.

Pinkney, a social worker, said she was inspired to run because of her work with victims of gun violence and a lack of political will to pass effective gun control legislation.

“I didn’t know if I could actually win,” Pinkney said, “but then I looked at who my state senator was, and I realized he was a serious impediment to gun violence legislation passing or even getting to the floor. That was enough for me.”

As a complete newcomer to politics challenging one of the longest-serving lawmakers in Delaware history, Pinkney’s victory came as a surprise to observers. However, a new report from the LGBTQ Victory Institute, an organization that supports LGBTQ elected officials and political hopefuls, found that the odds aren’t good for those betting against queer female candidates.

A review of the win and loss records of all 1,088 candidates endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund (the political action committee associated with the Victory Institute) from 2016 to 2020 found that queer cisgender women — including lesbian, bisexual and other nonheterosexual women — won 69 percent of the time, compared to 59 percent for queer cisgender men endorsed by the political action committee.

Victory Fund does not track candidates it does not endorse, but its analysis of the 2020 LGBTQ candidates (both endorsed and unendorsed) suggests its candidates are representative of the overall LGBTQ candidate population in terms of race, sexual orientation and gender identification. 

Though they are more successful at the ballot box, queer cisgender female candidates were outnumbered by their male counterparts every year covered by the Victory Institute’s report. Queer cisgender women accounted for just 35 percent of Victory Fund-endorsed candidates since 2016, whereas cisgender male candidates accounted for 59 percent. 

This means that even if lesbian, bisexual and other nonheterosexual cisgender women started to run at the same rate as their male counterparts, they would not reach electoral parity with queer cisgender men until 2037, the report stated.  

“LGBTQ women face unique barriers to running for office — the same sexist campaign tactics and misperceptions of their own qualifications as other women, combined with anti-LGBTQ bias — yet overcoming those obstacles makes them strong contenders by the time they run,” Annise Parker, president and CEO of the Victory Institute and former mayor of Houston, told NBC News. “LGBTQ women candidates tend to wait to run for positions they are qualified — and often overqualified — to hold and perhaps don’t trigger the same negative stereotypes directed at LGBTQ men.”

“Their experiences as women and as LGBTQ people often make them better politicians, portraying an authenticity and sensibility that resonates with voters,” Parker continued. “LGBTQ women make fantastic candidates, and when we run, we win. But we will not achieve representation equitable to LGBTQ men until we start running in much higher numbers.”

Among all female candidates, existing research suggests women and men win elections at approximately the same rate and their representational deficit has more to do with barriers to seeking office in the first place. However, endorsements by groups like EMILYs List and E-Pac (and Victory Fund) reportedly make a large difference in their likelihood of success.