New boss same as the old boss: 114th Congress as polarized, still lacks diversity

Posted at 2:45 PM, Jan 06, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-06 17:30:02-05

In the early 21st century, about one-fifth of all Americans say they have no religious affiliation and the percentage is growing. In the 114th Congress that is being sworn in this week, only one member admits to having no religious affiliation. That would be a newly elected Democrat from Arizona named Kyrsten Sinema. She is also the only openly bisexual in Congress.

Congress is a whole lot more religious, Christian, white and male than any place where most of us will ever work.

Does it matter?

There are 104 women in the new Congress, about 20 percent of the whole gang. You’ve probably noticed by now that women make up about half of the population as a whole.

About 73 percent of the 114th Congress is white, as opposed to 63 of the general population.

According to the Pew Research Center, 92 percent of Congress is Christian. In America, 73 percent identify as Christian.

Jews are the only minority over-represented in Congress at five percent; they are two percent of the American population at large.

So again, does it matter?

There are a couple perspectives from which to view the question. The first depends on how you view the proposition that public and publicly-fund institutions should “look like America.”  

One might argue that in a representative democracy, there is a special onus on the elected legislature to reflect the demographics of the population. The opposing argument is that as long as every individual election is itself fair and square, the end result is fair and square; we have no business skewing elections to get a predetermined distribution of demographics in the legislature. I suspect most people would agree with both sides.

The other perspective involves polarization. 

Most of the diversity in Congress comes from the Democrats. The Republican contingent in Congress is essentially a white, Christian party with a smattering of females.

Of the 301 Republicans in Congress, just one isn’t Christian. Freshman Lee Zeldin of New York is Jewish.

There are three black Republicans, one in the Senate, one in the House.

There are 22 female Republicans in the House and 62 Democrats. There are six Republican women in the Senate and 14 Democrats.

In this sense, the parties do reflect America; women and especially minorities vote more Democratic.

The sociological polarization of the parties in Congress can’t help but reinforce and perpetuate the ideological polarization of Congress. And on both counts, Congress doesn’t look like America – it is both more polarized and less diverse.

[Also by Dick Meyer: Operation American Gridlock]

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