2018 Election Reflection Series: Native American Voters and Candidates in Election 2018

2018 Election Reflection Series Background

Prior to the 2018 election, APSA’s Diversity and Inclusion Programs Office issued a call for submissions for a new PS Now series entitled 2018 Election Reflections. The views expressed in this series are those of the authors and contributors alone and do not represent the views of the APSA. Read more about the Election Reflection Series below, after the feature essay.



Native American Voters and Candidates in Election 2018

By Laura E. Evans, University of Washington, Raymond Foxworth (Navajo Nation), First Nations Development Institute, Kimberly R. Huyser (Diné), University of New Mexico, Yoshira Macias-Mejia, University of New Mexico and Gabriel Sanchez, University of New Mexico

Native Americans vote and they run for office.  If anyone had missed that, 2018 is the year to start noticing.

Four Native Americans are headed to Congress.  The new Governor of Oklahoma and the new Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota are Native American.  Forty-eight Native Americans were elected to state legislatures.  New Congresswoman Debra Haaland noted on election night, “Growing up in my mother’s Pueblo household, I never imagined a world where I would be represented by someone who looks like me.”[1]

Alongside these historic, once unimaginable, changes, Latino Decisions’ Election Eve Survey included a national sample of 600 Native Americans.  The ground-breaking survey documents Native American political behavior as never before.  Here, we review preliminary findings from the Election Eve Survey.

Native Americans and Party Politics

The Latino Decisions Election Eve Survey provides a unique opportunity to analyze Native American voting trends and compare the Native American electorate to other racial groups. 61% of Native American voters reported voting for a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives, which is significantly higher than for White voters (45%) but lower than for Black (90%), Latino (73%), and Asian American and Pacific Islander (72%) voters.

Native Americans were highly motivated to participate in Election 2018.  The historical turnout gap between Native Americans and other Americans has largely closed,[2] and Native Americans tend to vote in midterm congressional years at relatively high rates. [3]  In 2018, Native American organizations worked to mobilize Native American voters:  individual tribal governments, new groups like #SheRepresents, and established organizations such as Native Vote.

The Election Eve Survey documents high political engagement by Native American women and youth voters, which is consistent with existing models of Native American politics.  Sandefur and Deloria[4] note that Native Americans have long valued leaders with community-based political visions, and with collaborative approaches that support participation across gender and age.

  • 67% of Native American women reported voting for Democrats for the House of Representatives, compared to 54% of Native American men. 72% of Native American women voters encouraged friends or family to register or vote, thirteen percentage points higher than for Native American men.
  • Native American voters of ages 18 to 29 were the most politically active of all Native American age groups. 59% of young Native American voters encouraged friends or family to register or vote.  35% attended a protest or demonstration.  27% volunteered for a candidate or a voter outreach drive.

 The Election Eve Survey provides several measures of Native Americans’ negative views of President Trump and the GOP.

  • 61% of Native Americans have felt angry because of something the President has said or done and 57% have felt disrespected. 68% of Native American voters believe Trump and the Republicans are normalizing sexism and sexual harassment.   These views are consistent with the outrage that Native American political leaders have expressed over

Trump’s disrespect for the nation-to-nation relationship between Native Nations and the U.S. government; his disregard for Native American cultural sites; and his openly derogatory, racist, and sexist language.

  • Native Americans are twice as likely as Whites to believe that the Republican Party either doesn’t care too much about their community or is hostile toward their community – 67% to 31%.

Native Americans have doubts about the Democratic Party, too.  48% of Native Americans believe that the Democratic Party either doesn’t care too much about their community or is hostile toward their community. 49% of Native Americans reported they voted to support the Native American community, compared to only 19% who voted to support the Republican Party and just 28% who voted to support the Democratic Party.

Native Americans and Public Policy

The Election Eve Survey also asked respondents what issues were important to them.  32% of Native American voters said healthcare was an important issue to them, followed in frequency by economy/jobs (28%) and income inequality (14%). Only 22% of Native American voters felt Obamacare should be repealed. A likely source of these attitudes is the significant increase in Native Americans with health insurance under Obamacare.[5]  Those gains are at risk:  the Trump administration seeks to cut funding for Native American health care.

Surge in Native American Candidates

According to data collected by Mark Trahant, a respected journalist and editor of Indian Country Today, ninety-three Native American candidates ran for state and national political office in the general election.  Eleven Native American candidates ran for statewide offices.  Ten Native American candidates ran for the House of Representatives and seventy-two Native American candidates ran for state legislature seats.

Four Native Americans are headed to Congress.  Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) of New Mexico

and Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) of Kansas are both Democrats.  Tom Cole (Chickasaw) and Markwayne Mullin (Cherokee) of Oklahoma are both Republicans.  Haaland and Davids will be the first Native American women to ever serve in Congress.  There are additional and notable new officeholders.  Kevin Stitt (Cherokee) is the new Republican Governor of Oklahoma.  Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Nation of Ojibwe) is the new Democratic Lieutenant Governor of Minnesota.  Forty-eight Native Americans were elected to state legislatures.

There was a significant surge in Native American and Alaska Native women running for political office. Fifty-one Native American women were on general election ballots and twenty-seven won their election races.

The majority of Native American candidates running for office were Democrats. Seventy-one Native American candidates ran as Democrats and forty-six won.  Seventeen Native American candidates ran as Republicans and eight of those candidates won political office.

Native American Politics in 2019 and Beyond?

An unprecedented number of Native Americans are on their way to the U.S. and state capitols.  What do we know so far?  Elected officials—both Native American and other—face engaged and mobilized Native American voters in their districts.  Native American voters are dissatisfied with the GOP and supportive but still doubtful about the Democratic Party.  Native American voters want new leadership that is responsive to their communities and that will support more robust social policy.  There’s much more to learn about Native American voters, and we look forward to the discoveries.

To read more about this project, visit https://nabpi.unm.edu/assets/documents/nabpi-2018-na-vote-brief.pdf

[1] Kocherga, Angela, Colleen Heild, and Edmundo Carrillo.  November 6, 2018.  “Congress: Haaland Takes Open Seat, Luján Re-Elected, Herrell Projected to Win.”  Albuquerque Journal.  https://www.abqjournal.com/1242791/all-3-nm-congressional-seats-up-for-grabs.html

[2] Skopek, Tracy and Andrew Garner.  2014. “The Disappearing Turnout Gap Between Native Americans and NonNative Americans.”  American Indian Culture and Research Journal 38(2): 1-16.

[3] Huyser, Kimberly R., Gabriel R. Sanchez, and Edward D. Vargas. 2017. “Civic Engagement and Political

Participation among American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States.” Politics, Groups and Identities 5(4): 642-659.

[4] Sandefur, Gary and Philip J. Deloria.  2018.  “Indigenous Leadership.”  Daedalus 147(2): 124-135.

[5] Alker, Joan, Karina Wangerman, and Andy Schneider.  July 2017.  “Coverage Trends for American Indian and

Alaska Native Children and Families.”  Georgetown University Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families.  https://ccf.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Amer-Indian-Alaska-Native-Coverage-finalrev.pdf


About the 2018 Election Reflection Series

The call asked submitters to respond to one or two of the following questions:

  1. Tell us about an original research project, article, or finding that you are working on, which sheds light upon political behavior and/or public opinion and the 2018 Campaign and Election.
  2. Tell us about how you have incorporated themes relevant to diversity, inclusion, equity, or representation and the 2018 campaign and election into your political science teaching, research and/or service? 
  3. What group(s) of the electorate does your research focus on and what policy issue(s) proved to be salient to them in the 2018 Campaigns and Elections? 
  4. What role can/does political science research play in helping to make sense of the 2018 Campaigns and Elections?

 All submissions were welcome. We were especially interested in featuring content that addressed the political behavior and opinion of individuals from the following groups: underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, women, individuals with disabilities, first generation Americans, Indigenous communities, and the LGBT community. All submissions were reviewed by APSA staff political scientists.

What resulted is a series, covering a diverse collection of political science topics ranging across such sub-fields as public opinion, political behavior, political parties, race, ethnicity and politics, gender and politics, Indigenous Politics, teaching and learning political science and classroom discussion strategies, and the complex intersectionalities contained therein. Additionally, a variety of research methodologies are brought to bear to address and shed light upon these topics and research questions.

We understand that this series is but a snapshot of the political science scholarship being done on the 2018 Campaign and Election. However, it is our hope that these pieces will contribute to election-related scholarship, critical thought, and informed discussion in the weeks and months to come. To that end, we invite your comments. You can find more information and the complete series at 2018 Election Reflections.

Kimberly A. Mealy, PhD
Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programs
American Political Science Association

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