Monday, May 7, 2012

Who represents you best?

Another day, another infographic:

 Sigh. It's an election year, so I know I'm going to be seeing a lot of these types of things and I should just get over it but...I can't.

I really dislike this one, because while the data may be good (I haven't checked it), I think the premise is all wrong and perpetuates faulty ideas.

Congress is a nationally governing body that is split up by state.  Thus, even if Congress was perfectly representative on a state to state basis, it would still very likely not look like the USA as a whole.  

For example, let's take Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  According to the census bureau, 51% of this demographic lives in just 3 states:  California, New York and Hawaii. Nine states pull fewer than 1% of their population from this demographic:  Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, West Virginia, North Dakota and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Maine.  4.2% may be the national average, but Hawaii is 58% Asian, and West Virginia is 0.7% Asian.  For one, it would be ethnically representative to have at least half of their reps be Asian every year, for the other it's statistically unlikely to happen.

If you wanted a really impressive infographic, you'd take each state's individual ethnic breakdown and cross reference it with how many representatives they had in Congress to figure out what a representative sample should be.  Adding those up would give you the totals for racial diversity when judged on a state level, not a national level.

Of course, that's only the racial numbers, though the same could apply to the religion questions.  This doesn't work for the gender disparity...gender ratios are pretty close to 50/50 (Alaska has the highest percentage of men, Mississippi has the lowest).  I think that's a more complex issue, since you have to take in to account the number of women desiring to run for office (lower than men), and then the counterargument that fewer women want to run because they believe they're less likely to win or more likely to be crticized.  It's a tough call how many women there should be to be truly representative since both sides can argue the data.

The income, age, and education numbers I'd argue are all due to the nature of the job.  Campaigning is expensive, and neither Representative nor Senator are not exactly entry level jobs.

As the comments from yesterday's post showed,  one of the least representative parts of Congress is profession.  Lawyers make up 0.38% of the population, and yet 222 members of Congress have law degrees (38% of the House, 55% of the Senate).  That seems highly unrepresentative right there.

At the end of the day, we vote for people who represent our state, not necessarily our gender, religion or race.  In Massachusetts, our current Senate race is between a 52 year old white male lawyer and a 62 year old white female lawyer. The biggest difference demographically in my eyes?  One has lived in Massachusetts for decades, and the other....lived here long enough to qualify to run.  No one's going make a pretty picture out of that factor, but it's pretty important when it comes to getting adequately represented.


  1. Does Congress look like America?

    Before I read the article, but looked at just the graphics, I was going to make a comment about attorneys, but you beat me to it.

    1. Don't worry, I'll never forget to make fun of lawyers.

  2. The categories also tell us what criteria we "should" use to measure if a representative is like us - how many years of generic education, rather than what is studied; race, ethnicity, gender, religion, rather than where I rate each of these in importance; marital status, profession, and military experience are not noted.

    1. That's true, nicely stated. I have no military experience, but I prefer my national representation to. Really another point you really want your elected official to look like you? Or do you want someone more qualified?

    2. Heh.

      I remember PJ O'Rourke saying that Clinton was running a bad campaign in 1992 because it was apparently based on getting everyone who had a bong in the attic to vote for him. PJ scoffed that Boomers didn't want any such thing and would be horrified at someone like themselves.

      Guess not. Expect more "Can relate to people like me" poll questions for the next six months.