The Issue of Representation in Congress

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Reflect on what these patterns say about the nature of representation

In recent years, Congress has attracted increasing criticism because its racial, ethnic, and gender composition is not reflective of the country’s larger demographic makeup. According to the Census Bureau, 1.3% of the general U.S. population is Native American, 5.9% is Asian American, 18.5% is Hispanic, and 13.4% is African American (United States Census Bureau, 2021). Women represent 50.8%, and 5.6% of adults openly identify as LGBT (United States Census Bureau, 2021; Jones, 2021). Out of the 535 members of Congress, 1.1% are Native American, 3.2% are Asian American, 8.6% are Hispanic, and 11% are African American (Schaeffer, 2021). Twenty-seven percent of seats are held by women, and 2% by openly LGBT members (Blazina & Desilver, 2021; Flores et al., 2020). Women, the LGBT community, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, and African Americans are severely underrepresented in the U.S. Congress.

This pattern indicates that the U.S. Congress fails to reflects its constituents in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. Historically, women and ethnic minorities were deprived of the opportunity to vote and excluded from the democratic process. Political power was concentrated in the hands of the white male majority, and the same problem persists today despite advances in the women’s and civil rights movement. Although white men represent merely 30% of the population, they hold 58% of the seats in the House of Representatives and 67% in the Senate (Women Donors Network, 2021). Congress still functions according to outdated power paradigms and does not represent the diverse population of the United States.

Why do some groups tend to be underrepresented in Congress?

Women and ethnic minorities groups tend to be underrepresented in Congress because of systematic societal barriers. Firstly, they lack sufficient support and encouragement to pursue a political career during their educational journey. Secondly, they are discriminated against and undermined by political gatekeepers such as party leaders, donors, and influencers responsible for endorsements and funding. Thirdly, in some cases, the voters themselves have a bias against electing women and minorities because they perceive them to be less qualified for the role. Educational barriers, parties’ bias, and voters’ bias contribute to the underrepresentation of women and minorities in Congress.

Why do you see a trend in which more women and minorities are being represented?

However, there has been an upward trend of women and minority representation in recent years. The 117th Congress had a record number of women, LGBT members, and ethnic and racial minorities (Blazina & Desilver, 2021; Flores et al.; 2020, Schaeffer, 2021). These changes are due to the large emphasis that has been placed on diversity, equal educational opportunities, and equal representation within the last few decades in the aftermath of the women’s and civil rights movement. Furthermore, social media has popularized civic engagement and political activism, as evidenced by online social movements such as Black Lives Matter. Women and minority groups are now slowly being encouraged to pursue political careers.

Do you think the underrepresentation of women and minorities affect Congress’s business?

Underrepresentation affects Congress’ business because it indicates that the most powerful branch of the U.S. government is not reflecting the interests of the majority of voters. The central tenet of democracy is electing officials to act on behalf of citizens. However, Congress is dominated by a minority that makes decisions based on their narrow perception of reality and life experiences. A large part of the U.S.’s diverse perspectives is being silenced in the political sphere. Furthermore, the disconnect between constituents and representatives fosters distrust in the government and public institutions.

How might we as a people address this situation and strive towards equal representation?

In order to address this situation and strive toward equal representation, women and ethnic minorities need to be encouraged to be politically engaged during their school years. Federal and state funds should be allocated to civics education in K-12 schools through both formal classes and student elections and councils. University scholarships and internship opportunities should be created specifically for women and minorities pursuing politics-related degrees. Furthermore, a gender and ethnicity quota policy can be imposed. Funding civic engagement at a K-12 and college level is the most important component of increasing equal representation in Congress.


Blazina, C., & Desilver, D. (2021). A record number of women are serving in the 117th Congress. Pew Research Center.

Flores, A., Gossett, C., Magni, G., & Reynolds, A. (2020). 11 openly LGBTQ lawmakers will take their seats in the next Congress. That’s a record in both numbers and diversity. The Washington Post.

Jones, J. M. (2021). LGBT identification rises to 5.6% in latest U.S. estimate. Gallup.

Schaeffer, K. (2021). Racial, ethnic diversity increases yet again with the 117th Congress. Pew Research Center.

Women Donors Network. (2021). System failure: What the 2020 primary elections reveal about our democracy.

United States Census Bureau. (2021). Population.

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DemoEssays. "The Issue of Representation in Congress." March 13, 2023.