The lack of proper representation in US Congress has long been a subject of debate. According to Greenblatt (2020), in the 116th Congress, which ended one year ago, non-white groups – African Americans, Native Americans, Asians/Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics – constituted 22% of the members. Not one but two Muslim women have served Congress for the first time. Furthermore, in the 2018 midterm elections, Congress had a total of 24% of female members (127 people), which continued a steady, albeit slow, trend in the number of women in Congress (Greenblatt, 2020). Nevertheless, the problems are still visible: Greenblatt (2020) states that with 39% of the country’s non-white population, it is 17 points more than what one sees in Congress today. Granted, some groups’ share in Congress – Native Americans and African Americans – is equal to one of their national population; however, Asians and Hispanics are underrepresented in half in that regard. When it comes to gender, more than half of the country’s population are women – but less than a quarter of lawmakers are female (Greenblatt, 2020). As one can see, much still remains to be done.
The significance of these patterns is clear: the country’s policy-making is governed by powerful entities which do not represent all citizens. As a result, America’s claim of being an example of a democratic society is severely threatened. That is, the political class’s rhetoric and its activities are likely to adapt a number of priorities that do not actually coincide with those of the American people (Fisher, 2018). In fact, American people – all of them who were not white and male – had to come a long way to win their rights and freedom; the fight still continues in many ways. The current state of Congress is only a reflection of that – groups underrepresented there are groups who still need to make their voices heard.
A trend in which they get these opportunities is an indicator of the world changing for the better – the United States included. As stated by Camera and Milligan (2021), the current America is the one steadily moving towards majority-minority status: it is only fair for the non-white people to be representatives of the government. Women have always accounted for half of the world’s population – and it is high time for their representation to begin to increase as well. It is happening already – and though the progress, as it has been already mentioned, is slow, it is stable.
The inferences of no descriptive representation – that is, representatives mirroring their group’s constituents personal characteristics – in Congress are broad and serious. According to Fisher (2018), not only does it indicate the possibility of some groups’ scarce substantive representation – one of their common interests – but also hints at a potential problem of symbolic representation. Symbolic representation implies that an underrepresented group’s mere presence can be transformative, altering the mass public’s general perception of the appropriate role of the group in politics. Therefore, the lack of representation among various groups in Congress potentially endangers its legitimacy from the point of view of different representative typologies.
It is no surprise that there are numerous conversations about the possible ways to cut the path towards equal representation. Millard and Vandewalker (2021) state that public financing is the answer for underrepresented groups: fundraising through constituent contact is more accessible to them than finding wealthy donors. Besides, it has been fortified that small contributions from those willing to support candidates provide particular benefit for women and people of color. Brechenmacher (2018) echoes that and additionally advocates for instituting recruitment targets for political parties to voice their support for minority candidates. This would signal the society’s commitment to make actual change. Moreover, Brechenmacher (2018) claims that systemic data on inequality is to be collected: that way, current barriers to minorities’ Congress advancement could be identified and eliminated. It is clear that the implementation of these propositions is not easy – but making the progress happen is definitely worth it.
Brechenmacher, S. (2018). Tackling women’s underrepresentation in U.S. politics: Comparative perspectives from Europe. Carnegie. Web.
Camera, L., Milligan, S. (2021). Addition without representation. U.S. News. Web.
Fisher, P. (2018). Insufficient representation: The disconnect between Congress and its citizens. Lexington Books.
Greenblatt, J. (2020). Diversity in Congress: By the numbers + why it matters. Congress that Works. Web.
Millard, H., Vandewalker, I. (2021). How Congress can better represent the people. Brennan Center. Web.