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Author Topic: Does Congress really represent America?  (Read 2891 times)

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Offline OniyaTopic starter

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Does Congress really represent America?
« on: May 15, 2011, 02:43:30 PM »
I happened across this info-graphic just now.  It compares the demographics of Congress compared to what it would look like if it reflected the demographics of the country.

http://awesome.good.is/transparency/web/1104/congress/flat.html

Offline RubySlippers

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #1 on: May 15, 2011, 02:55:33 PM »
No it represents those that won the majority of those that vote over the years, so if 60% of people that can vote then vote its the majority of that group. If you don't vote then your demographic doesn't count.

Offline Jude

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #2 on: May 15, 2011, 04:03:33 PM »
This also reflects that any group that is well-distributed geographically and also a minority will not be represented.  The non-religious for example, are evenly distributed throughout the country, so they can't pool their political power and win seats.

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #3 on: May 15, 2011, 04:34:01 PM »
Congress cannot be a true representation of our population.  In truth they were never meant to be as evidenced by the Electoral College.  The House and Senate are meant to be the most level headed and best of us, which is another debate entirely.  They were meant to be people that are actively involved in politics, that are educated and intellectual and who want to serve their country.  So there really can be no expectation that Congress would mirror the populace.  A more striking comparison can be found in regard to poverty with somewhere around 70% of Americans being lower middle to poor.  How many of those Congressman represent that population?  Short of forcing people to serve in Congress or forcing certain jurisdictions to vote for certain candidates, there really is no way to make the populace and Congress a perfect reflection. 

If those that feel underrepresented in Congress feel such a pressure or feel their voices need to be heard with greater force, then they need to make a push for their candidates.  Certainly there would be opposition, but the race itself could become a pivot and focus point.  Races for seats in the House and Senate used to be heated events, filled with debate and controversy.  Now they occur without anyone looking up from their desks.  The political process has become overlooked except when people want something and often by then things are too late.  Then they feel frustrated, complain that they cannot do anything and go back to work.  A culture of apathy takes a hold which is detrimental to a democratic government such as ours. 

Offline alxnjsh

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #4 on: May 15, 2011, 04:51:57 PM »
Very interesting, thanks for posting!

Offline Jefepato

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #5 on: May 15, 2011, 04:55:18 PM »
Of course they don't.

This is probably intentional, although direct democracy (or the equivalent) would probably be equally awful for different reasons.

Offline Maiz

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #6 on: May 15, 2011, 04:56:42 PM »
Another thing to consider about Congress and the American demographics is that it's easier in general for white Christian men  to stay in power since they have been in power since the creation of the nation. When someone outside that runs, there are constant attacks to de-legitimize them. Think Obama and the birth certificate thing, or how any discussion on a female president will bring up her menstruation cycle.

Offline TheGlyphstone

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #7 on: May 15, 2011, 08:03:45 PM »
And heaven help a practicing Muslim who ever tries to run for office...

Offline Noelle

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #8 on: May 15, 2011, 09:19:36 PM »
Voting isn't enough. You have to be educated to make a proper vote, and let's face it, the majority of Americans are limited politically to the kind of tripe that shows up in e-mail forwards from Aunt Hilda in Skullfuck, Oklahoma that complains about brown people or the Islamification of the US -- or people go off of whatever happens to be grossly misinterpreted in the media, which is possibly why so many bad politicians end up in office to begin with.


Also, no offense to anyone whose aunt is named Hilda and/or lives in Skullfuck, Oklahoma.

Offline Remiel

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #9 on: May 16, 2011, 12:46:13 AM »
Noelle, what do you think about the idea of having to pass a short history / civics test before being allowed to register to vote? (ProTip: I'm being serious, here!)  I know I'll get heat for this, but I personally believe that we should make it harder to vote, not easier.   Obviously, there would be a committee to make sure the test isn't ethnocentrically biased (everyone from every background, for example, should know that the U.S. has fifty states or that we have a bicameral legislature) and the questions would be the sort of things that new immigrants have to know to become U.S. citizens anyway.    If you don't know who the current vice president is, you don't get to vote.  Simple as that.

I find it strange that we make people pass a driver's test before being allowed to drive, and yet there is no qualification to vote other than simply being old enough (and a citizen).  And yet, which is more important: being able to legally operate a motor vehicle, or deciding who runs the most powerful country in the world?


Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #10 on: May 16, 2011, 04:15:14 AM »
The problem with requiring a test to secure the right to vote is that voting is a right, whereas driving is a privilege.  Privileges can be taken away, but a right is something guaranteed to an individual.  By virtue of citizenship in the United States, people have the right to vote in open elections and participate in government.  Designing a test to ensure that people responsibly exercise their right to vote could leave a lot of people without that right for various reasons.  No test is ever perfect and no test is ever applicable across such a diverse population. 

Also, how would this guarantee a wise decision by a voter?  The majority of Americans has a high school diploma or has at least moved through the first portion of high school.  History includes a great deal of this information already listed.  Therefore most of these people have already been exposed and tested on the material.  That they are not meeting up to perceived standards now indicates they will not do so in the future with another test of the material.

People are often motivated by their peers and those in their immediate vicinity in their decision making process.  If they move in circles that are “afraid of brown people” then odds are those same people are already afraid of brown people.  Few individuals engage in groups that challenge their ideas.  Most people have friends that hold similar interests as their own.  This even applies to educated people, those from urban areas and so on and so forth.  People learn about their world mainly from discussion with their peers and family members.

Offline Yorubi

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #11 on: May 16, 2011, 04:56:56 AM »
No, simply no.

If people knew better, our country would be democrat run by a large majority. Is that necessarily good? Not really. If anything, we would have a country that probably stood in the middle of democrats and republicans without many of those 'special interest' deals. Neither party is completely right with their methodology though it doesn't help we use a flawed economic system to begin with.

Democracy will never be 'what the people want' with capitalism. It will be what the 'rich 5% want'. The only difference between the two parties is how much extra (or lack of) the little guy gets. That though is off topic more so, so scratch that and lets just say its near impossible to have a congress represent america, even if we wanted it to do so, since people will remain ignorant and vote without knowing the full facts, and politicians will continue to serve their own needs. Until stuff is done to fix the balance in wealth, its pretty difficult for most of the country to stand a chance against the wealthy, and unfortunately the minority population tends to falter in the less wealthy demographic.

Gender wise, I think its more so just how women tend to lean. Just think of jobs like fashion design or construction work. One gender just tends to lean more towards it then another. I do think that it will become a bit better in terms of more women, but even then there are some votes I know will be tossed the males way because they feel a woman can't be as strong of a leader.

Offline itsbeenfun2000

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #12 on: May 16, 2011, 05:39:44 AM »
I think we are looking at this as a snap shot today instead of the history of congress. It wasn't 30 years ago when there were few women in congress or minorities. Congress has become more diverse not less in the last three decades. If you go back further it was an all white male club. In order for it to become more diverse more minorities have to run. They have to convince the majority to vote for them, and then they have to do a good  job while in office.

As far as a test to vote, they tried that in the south so their former slaves couldn't vote. Do we really want someone inventing a test to? It screams elitism and discrimination, besides I don't think Michelle Bachmann would be able to pass it.

One other thing, we must be doing something right. A lot of newly formed democratic republics try to pattern their government after ours with three sets of checks and balances.

Offline TheGlyphstone

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #13 on: May 16, 2011, 08:46:17 AM »
besides I don't think Michelle Bachmann would be able to pass it.

Wait, we're counting this as a downside? ???

Offline RubySlippers

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #14 on: May 16, 2011, 09:18:07 AM »
The problem with requiring a test to secure the right to vote is that voting is a right, whereas driving is a privilege.  Privileges can be taken away, but a right is something guaranteed to an individual.  By virtue of citizenship in the United States, people have the right to vote in open elections and participate in government.  Designing a test to ensure that people responsibly exercise their right to vote could leave a lot of people without that right for various reasons.  No test is ever perfect and no test is ever applicable across such a diverse population. 

Also, how would this guarantee a wise decision by a voter?  The majority of Americans has a high school diploma or has at least moved through the first portion of high school.  History includes a great deal of this information already listed.  Therefore most of these people have already been exposed and tested on the material.  That they are not meeting up to perceived standards now indicates they will not do so in the future with another test of the material.

People are often motivated by their peers and those in their immediate vicinity in their decision making process.  If they move in circles that are “afraid of brown people” then odds are those same people are already afraid of brown people.  Few individuals engage in groups that challenge their ideas.  Most people have friends that hold similar interests as their own.  This even applies to educated people, those from urban areas and so on and so forth.  People learn about their world mainly from discussion with their peers and family members.

Sometimes voting is simple to like I'm voting ONLY for candidates ,when it would be a factor, that will protect the health care law that passed until it can't be stopped that is VERY important to me. When its not a factor then I explore the candidates and issues to try to vote in the best way I can that is in my best interest as a low income person. But this upcomming election I'm a one issue voter for the major Federal and state offices.

As for testing most citizens who were able to vote early in our age as a nation didn't even have a High School education they were lucky to get a few years of formal school yet they voted in generally good people overall. Politics is always local even in national races people vote for what they feel is important and what they want done. For me the major issue is protecting that valuable health care reform law I need to get health care that is overriding all other issues for me. But a candidate that will protect that will likely do other good things for the average citizen I hope.

Offline Jude

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #15 on: May 16, 2011, 10:30:49 AM »
The biggest problem isn't ignorance exactly -- though that certainly is helping our stagnating lack of progress -- it's selfishness.  A nation can't be successful when we exist as a coalition of loose mercenaries that vote our own favor and not what's best for the country.  With very few exceptions, the issues people feel most passionately about and champion are the ones that benefit them the most.  Everyone wants tax cuts -- in brackets that benefit them directly of course -- and the unfettered continuation of social programs they use or will use.  The two are diametrically opposed.

That model just doesn't work when it comes to nuanced issues, It's built on the outdated assumption that if the majority does what's best for itself, the end result will be what's best for the country.  Sometimes compromise, restraint, nuance, and sacrifice are what we need, not the majority getting its way.  Unfortunately, you won't find many voters who are willing to get by a candidate that will do anything but verbally fellate them.

We're pretty stupid and flighty too.  The Bin Laden effect does a good job of documenting that.  We kill a terrorist who lives in Pakistan and now people have better feelings about the economy; it's times like this that I am reminded that we are a bunch of goddamn evolved monkies who are just a step above throwing feces at each other.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2011, 10:34:01 AM by Jude »

Offline Serephino

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #16 on: May 16, 2011, 11:03:04 AM »
Nope, Congress represents its own interests.  And as long as Republicans stay in power, it will represent the rich and those who claim to be Christians.  Like seriously, deep cuts to social programs while giving money away to oil companies and more tax breaks for the rich is not helping your fellow man.  That's being a money-grubbing asshole.   

And no, I'm not painting all Republicans with the same brush.  There are a few smart ones out there.  It's not my fault they're a minority, and they don't run for office. 

Here's a thought.  Why don't we give a test to people running for office?  Seriously, there were Republicans that thought if the government had to shut down then the budget bill passed in the House would become law.  I only have a high school education, and even I know that's not how it works.  A few Democrats were rather asinine about that, but it was funny as hell, as well as scary.   

We can't test voters because it's written in the Constitution that voting is a right for all US citizens 18+, with a few exceptions.  But shouldn't we make sure that those representing us at least have a few brain cells?     

Offline OniyaTopic starter

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Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #17 on: May 16, 2011, 11:57:01 AM »
Judging from the discussion over in the Michelle Bachmann v. high school sophomore thread, I think there'd be some support for that.  As Pumpkin Seeds pointed out, voting is indeed a right - but serving your country as a legislator is a privilege.  We have restrictions on a Congressman's minimum age - why not a minimum education? 

Offline Vekseid

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #18 on: May 16, 2011, 01:32:25 PM »
Noelle, what do you think about the idea of having to pass a short history / civics test before being allowed to register to vote? (ProTip: I'm being serious, here!)  I know I'll get heat for this, but I personally believe that we should make it harder to vote, not easier.   Obviously, there would be a committee to make sure the test isn't ethnocentrically biased (everyone from every background, for example, should know that the U.S. has fifty states or that we have a bicameral legislature) and the questions would be the sort of things that new immigrants have to know to become U.S. citizens anyway.    If you don't know who the current vice president is, you don't get to vote.  Simple as that.

You'd need an amendment to do this, and it would have to be exceptionally well crafted. Not only to pass, but also to serve a useful purpose.

I'd be for a test to vote that tested for
- Basic math
- Basic logic
- Basic critical thinking
- Basic civics
- Basic geopolitical knowledge ("Name ten foreign countries, their capitals and their heads of state")

As long as the questions and answers were publicly known and verifiable, if:

1) No one is allowed to work more than half a day on a voting day. Requiring someone to work for more than half a day should be a felony (guarantee time to vote)
2) Any ID requirement must be state-funded (guarantee the verification to vote)
3) Any electronic voting method must produce a printed receipt to which a voting stub is affixed. Guarantee the security of a vote.
4) Harsher penalties for screwing up voting transparency. As above.
5) More public encouragement of voting registration.
6) Eliminate gerrymandering. Guarantee a vote being meaningful.
7) Guarantee same-day registration for full ballot access.

Although as mentioned, it'd be easier to do this with elected officials. Can make the tests a bit tougher, even.

Offline OniyaTopic starter

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Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #19 on: May 16, 2011, 01:39:08 PM »
Does anyone here actually happen to know what's on the current citizenship exam?  It just struck me that - we expect someone wanting to become a citizen as an adult to pass such a test, why don't we expect those who are born here to be able to pass it?  It seems tragic that someone who has been in the country for less than five years (and I know I"m over-estimating there) should know more about American civics than someone who has lived here since birth.

Offline Serephino

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #20 on: May 16, 2011, 03:31:02 PM »
http://www.800citizen.org/us_citizenship_test/

There is a link to a practice test you can take.  I did 10 questions, and missed 2 of them. 

Offline consortium11

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #21 on: May 16, 2011, 04:26:37 PM »
http://www.800citizen.org/us_citizenship_test/

There is a link to a practice test you can take.  I did 10 questions, and missed 2 of them. 


I'd be worried if people couldn't pass that. I'm a Brit (albeit a politically engaged one) and got a 9/10 on that test with the only wrong answer being a state-specific one.

That said I'm completely against any test, either for voting or running for office. Both voting and being able to run for office should be a right in a democratic state and one that we should think very carefully about before restricting; I find myself torn on many existing and established restrictions (such as prisoners not being allowed to vote in the UK).

Secondly... and I accept this is basically a slippery slope argument... once you've established in principle that there needs to be a test for voting or running for office you are open to the test being changed in the future, even with the best (or worst) of intentions. Even with a simple test that we'd all look at and think "of course anyone who wants to run for office should be able to pass this with ease..." what happens if we still don't get candidates and results which are "good" enough? Make the test harder? Limit those able to vote still further?

Thirdly, exactly what type of questions do you ask? Objective questions aren't exactly the best way to determine someone's ability to process the subjective issues which come up in an election; knowing which month Presidential elections are held (which is one of the questions on the above linked civics test) in no way indicates that one can understand the complexities of comparing and contrasting positions different politicians hold. Likewise being able to state exactly when the DoI was adopted (another question from the test) in no way states how fit someone is to hold office. In a democratic society the only "test for fitness" to hold office should be actually getting voted in to office by your constituents.

Offline OniyaTopic starter

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Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #22 on: May 16, 2011, 04:28:20 PM »
I only missed one out of 10 - by getting the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention mixed up.  You pass with a 6 out of 10, though, and I think I saw at least that many questions that were covered in the little Oni's social studies book.

Offline Noelle

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #23 on: May 16, 2011, 04:53:02 PM »
Noelle, what do you think about the idea of having to pass a short history / civics test before being allowed to register to vote?

Sorry it's taken me so long to respond...

Truthfully, I don't think a simple test for voter registration does much good in producing better-quality candidates. We have an issue even pushing forward candidates that are worth a damn in the first place and then actually turning out to vote for them. Year after year we hear people talking about the "lesser of two evils", and yet the people can't seem to scrape their shit together long enough to get behind someone different -- truly different, not just different face attached to the same suit with a different colored tie and a pocket full of money.

As it was already mentioned, being able to name global geography speaks nothing to how much you actually know about what's going on in your own country. I'll be honest, I'd rather someone understand the facts about the bailout or comprehend how the healthcare law works without the spin put on it than I would see them be able to name tripe like countries and their leaders. Knowing, understanding, and being able to formulate an informed opinion on a matter close to home ranks higher on the list to me than global geography, if I have to choose things I'd rather see in a voter.

I don't really know that there is an easy solution to getting better candidates or that there's some kind of trick to it. We live in a democratic republic, so in many ways we really have chosen the right people to represent us -- the people who can swindle, ass-kiss, and fool the people the best.

Offline consortium11

Re: Does Congress really represent America?
« Reply #24 on: May 16, 2011, 05:12:00 PM »
I think it's also worth pointing out that voters in the US have a remarkable amount of control over who their candidates are compared to many other countries.

For example in the UK virtually all primaries for MP's are "closed", meaning that the central party generally parachutes in the candidates they want to stand in a given constituency; for example, the MP for the constituency where I was born came from a different part of the country and had actually stood for election there previously. The leader of the opposition spent his entire life in London (outside of University in Oxford) to be parachuted into a safe Labour seat in South Yorkshire... an area of the country he had no previous connection with. Outside of a few very high profile (and rare) cases what this means is that the central party has near complete control over who gets to stand at each election... and means the logical thing for an MP to do in the roughly 70% of seats which are almost always safe for one party or another if there's ever conflict between what their constituents want them to do and what the party hierarchy want them to do is to side with the party... after all, the party could simply refuse to allow them to stand for their parties nomination at the next election if they cause too much trouble...

You may have disagreed entirely with the way the Tea Party basically demolished more moderate Republicans at the last set of primaries... but the important thing is that voters in each constituency were able to decide who they wanted to represent their party at the next election. That's something remarkable... and something sadly pretty rare across much of the world, "mature democracy" or not...