Study Explores Demographic Based Congressional Representation

Congress may be representative of its constituent’s values in Washington, but according to Joshua Simons, senior research associate at the Center for Research, Regional Engagement and Outreach (CRREO) at SUNY New Paltz, Congress is not representative of the demographic in which the delegates are elected.

“We are used to selecting congressional delegates based on geographic [districts],” Simons said. “It seems to be assumed that this ensures some degree of ideological, demographic, social and economic similarity based on sameness of place, but is that really the case?”

Simons’ research consisted of the creation of a hypothetical map created by CRREO which shows Congress if it were completely based upon the demographic characteristics of its voters. This research was prompted by Simon’s interest to find out how closely the demographics of Congress mirrored those of the states.

According to an article in The Daily Freedman about Simons’ research, the U.S. House of Representatives would have twice as many women serving than the current number, resulting in 13 more women than men, twice as many as Hispanic representatives and 25 percent more African-American representatives.

“The campaign finance system prevents less resourced people from mounting successful campaigns to Congress,” Simons said. “The combination of our two-party system and single member districts shapes choice in limiting ways.”

Although Simons’ research suggests that it could sway voters to strive for a more reflective delegation for their region when voting, Simons said that gerrymandering in the congressional districts makes this impossible. Voter turnout also plays a part in this, as those who make the demographic of a region don’t show up to the polls at general elections.

“I don’t think that our current system is capable of providing choices that could achieve the theoretical outcome,” Simons said. “We are limited to voting in congressional districts that are gerrymandered to favor incumbents and one party over another. The result: legislators choose voters more than voters choose legislators.”

Simons’ research creates a hypothetical Congress that is demographically proportional to its given region. According to Simon, this type of Congress would produce a more diverse set of viewpoints which would then be represented in policy making discussions.

The Hudson Valley has two congressional districts, with Chris Gibson in District 19 and Sean Patrick Maloney in District 18. Gibson is a Republican who recently defeated Democrat Sean Eldridge in the midterm elections on Nov. 4. Maloney is a Democrat who defeated Republican Nan Hayworth this election season as well. When asked if these congressmen are representative of the Hudson Valley demographic, Simons said that it is up to the residents to decide that themselves.