What Congress SHOULD look like

Cord Jefferson at GOOD Magazine posted this impressive infographic:

A graphic representation of our current Congressional demographics and how they compare to the demographics of our country overall. Broken down by gender, race, religion and political affiliation.

Go here to see a larger version.

The basic idea is mapping what Congress would look like if it actually represented the United States based on gender, race, political affiliation and religion.

Unsurprisingly, the only place that even gets close to actually reflecting our reality is political affiliation. But even in that category, there are a significantly larger number of Republicans currently in Congress than there should be, and WAY fewer independents (the gray dots in the center graphic above) than there should be.

Gender parity is one of the most egregious of the disparities–we should have 127 more female reps in Congress than we currently do (that’s a two fold increase from current numbers).

We fail pretty big on race as well, where 72 of the current 457 seats occupied by white representatives should go to communities of color based on population numbers.

In terms of religion, Mormons are overrepresented in Congress as well as Protestants, Catholics and Jews. Underrepresented are Hindus and those who are unaffiliated.

These disparities are not a surprise, but are extremely upsetting when you consider that these folks are making decisions that affect all of us. Identity and demographics are not everything, but they have an important impact on how people govern and whose interests they prioritize. It’s also proof that our democracy is still governed by an elite group of politicians who don’t reflect the broad diversity of our country.

What I would love to see is a chart representing the voting population broken down by these same characteristics, and of the people making donations to political campaigns. I think those two sets of data would provide the explanation for much of the disparities we see above.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted April 18, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Very intersting article.

  2. Posted April 18, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Personally I thought the most striking was that there should be 70 irreligious/not religiously affiliated representatives, whereas currently there are absolutely 0.

    I would be quite surprised if this could be explained by a breakdown of the people making contributions to political campaigns.

    • Posted April 18, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      I agree, but there is an added complicating factor. I, for example, am an atheist, and would identify as such to a national survey. However, you’d better believe that if I were running for office and expecting to win, I’d become a lifelong member of the United Church of Christ in a heartbeat. I’m just saying that it’s just as likely to be a reporting discrepancy as an actual discrepancy in beliefs.

  3. Posted April 18, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    I actually don’t like the idea that we should be represented by people who represent us demographically. There are plenty of white male politicians who hate the very things I love about the United States. If you give me a Catholic Hispanic Lesbian Republican who will cut subsidies to ethanol, raise the social security age to reflect life expectancy inflation, stands up for freedom of speech, has good environmental cred, and won’t threaten abortion, I’ll feel represented just fine. Politicians who are there to get as much as they can for their “people” currently look like the problem.

  4. E
    Posted April 18, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s important for us to be careful when we say that congress should look a particular way. I think everyone (on some level) tends to vote for people who are like them, and so the majority group will end up electing majority candidates. Let’s say 100% of the time, people will vote for the person that is the same colour as they are. A district with 60% white people, given the choice between a black candidate and a white candidate, will elect the white candidate.

    I don’t know how it works in the US, but up in Canada, if 60% of every riding were to vote for a particular party, 100% of the seats would go to that party, even though they only got 60% of the popular vote. That’s why a political system like mixed-member proportional works better than the one we have now; extra seats would be set aside to reflect the popular vote. It would be fascinating if we decided to apply the same kind of system to demographics! I would especially enjoy watching all the older politicians telling the teenaged members to turn off their iPods when parliament is in session.

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