Final Project – Claire Alex
By Claire Alex
April 30, 2017
Taking a Look at the 115th Congress
Does the 115th Congress accurately represent the American population? Is it realistic to believe anyone who wants to serve in Congress can? Let’s find out.
First, it will be helpful to understand a little bit about Congress’ history:
Congress has not changed much since its’ founding in the 18th century. However, two notable changes can be seen. Congress has grown, due to overall population growth in the United States, and it has become more diverse. This change in diversity has most notably been seen in the 21st century. While this change has not been significant, since the majority of Congress has been and is still white males, it is still worth noting.
In order to answer the questions posed above, we need to understand the basic demographics of the 115th Congress.
Next, we need to understand the basic demographics of the United States population as of the 2015 census.
Does the 115th Congress accurately reflect the population it represents? The answer is, almost. In terms of religion and race, Congress and the US population seem to have a fairly similar proportion. Protestant and Catholic are the two dominant religions amongst the population and our representatives. In addition, congress is 81.6% white and the US population is 77% white. Where congress varies from the population the most is in gender and education. Women only comprise 20% of Congress, but make up over half of the United States population. The data also shows that Congress is significantly more educated than the American public.
This education gap might be the best explanation for the drastic difference in career paths between everyday Americans and representatives before joining Congress. The majority of the US population has received their high school diploma, but not much schooling beyond that. In comparison, Congress has received significantly more schooling. The majority of Congress has received their Bachelor’s degree and gone on to continue their education with either a Master’s degree, or Law degree. This advanced education is a partial explanation for the elite jobs members of Congress held before being elected to office.
So, is it fair to say that anyone who desires to be a congressional representative may have the opportunity to do so? Not quite. The data suggests women and minorities, especially African Americans, with a Bachelor’s degree or higher have a better shot at winning a congressional election moving forward. As the nation’s demographics change, so do the demographics of Congress…even if it is a few years behind. However, there is no denying the opportunity and privilege that is associated with being a white male. Being a educated, upper class, protestant, white male with political ambitions is still the easiest route to Congress.
The 114th and 115th have been the most diverse set of representatives in the history of Congress. This is a promising trend as we look to the future. It suggests that even though representation in Congress may not accurately portray the diversity in the population, that representation over time will change to more accurately reflect the American electorate.
This point is further proven in this diagram:
Form this we can see that over half of Congress was elected before 2015. To me, this suggests that there is room for even more diversity in Congress down the line. As these representatives, elected in the 1970s and 80s start to retire, their seats will be open to younger and more diverse politicians, which will allow Congress to continue to evolve and become more representative of the American population.