Global: A Functioning Democracy Must Reflect Constituents

This article comes from the Global Desk, a collaboration between The Gazelle, WSN and On Century Avenue. Read more by searching ‘global.’ Washington, ...

Oct 25, 2014

This article comes from the Global Desk, a collaboration between The Gazelle, WSN and On Century Avenue. Read more by searching ‘global.’
Washington, D.C., U.S.A. — A month studying and interning in the capital of the U.S.A. has already proven to be a unique experience. Unlike in New York, where daily conversations run the gamut from the newest up and coming neighborhood to the best Sunday brunch spot, in Washington D.C., all you’re talking about is politics, all the time. While the constant talk of the State of the Union Address can sometimes feel overwhelming, a panel discussion held at the Center for American Progress this week brought up an important issue that U.S. Americans must confront: It is blatantly obvious that the U.S. Government is not made up of leaders who mirror the U.S. American public.
The findings of a new research project, Who Leads Us, paint a dismal picture of how little the people in power resemble the diverse population of the U.S.. The project developed a database from research on over 40,000 local, state and national elected officials to see if U.S. American leadership reflected the country’s changing demographics. The results were especially discouraging: 90% of all office-holders nationwide are white, 71% are men and a staggering 65% are white men. While having a government that perfectly represents each U.S. American demographic is unrealistic, there are serious policy implications when white men, who account for 31% of the population, are so severely over-represented. How can U.S. Americans expect policymakers to be in tune with the needs of all U.S. Americans if the majority of them embody just one demographic? The U.S. cannot achieve success in policy areas that primarily concern women or people of color if their voices are not at the table.
Many studies show that by 2050, the majority of U.S. Americans will not be white and it is time that the U.S. American people, as a nation, take on a proactive approach to creating a more reflective democracy. An event like the uprising in Ferguson, U.S.A., a town that is over 60% black but has a political structure that is predominantly white, stands as a tragic example of what happens when power is not shared. Moving forward, it’s on U.S. Americans to deconstruct the traditional barriers that exist for women and people of color who hope to enter politics. The Republican Party, one of the two major U.S. political parties, has invested millions of dollars into their initiatives to increase candidate recruitment of minorities and women respectively. The Republican Party has seen a return on their investment with a 27% increase in Republican female state legislators since 2010. While the Democratic Party, the other major U.S. party, is traditionally more diverse and, maybe because of this diversity, the Democratic Party is not making any similar efforts.
Unlike most other political challenges that U.S. Americans face today, this is not a partisan issue. Both sides of the aisle must take on this challenge if they hope to see any real advancement. All U.S. Americans, of every race and gender, will benefit from a more diverse legislature as more reflective democracy is correlated with better outcomes. In the 10 states with the greatest representation of women in their state legislatures, the average minimum wage is $8.11 USD per hour, while in the 10 states with the lowest representation of women in their state legislatures, the average is $6.90 USD per hour. The Reflective Democracy Campaign, run by the Women Donors Network, a U.S. organisation, found New Mexico, U.S.A. was among the states most reflective of their diverse population. This has led to New Mexico adopting policies such as issuing drivers licenses to non-citizens and guaranteeing in-state tuition rates to students regardless of immigration status. In Arizona, U.S.A., one of the least reflective states, the state does not issue drivers licenses to non-citizens and bars undocumented students from receiving in-state rates.
U.S. Americans must begin to confront this serious problem if they hope to live in a country with policies that makes sense not just for some, but for all. Fortunately, U.S. Americans understand the gravity of the situation and agree that things need to change and change fast. In addition to the demographic research on elected officials, the Who Leads Us project, also run by the Women Donors Network, surveyed U.S. Americans to get an idea of where public opinion stands. A majority of respondents were concerned about the lack of diversity in people in office.
Respondents, regardless of party affiliation, also overwhelmingly supported policies that would help elect more women and people of color. The survey’s results show a U.S. American public that recognizes the problem of a lack of reflective democracy and understands now is the time to fix it. Leaders have to look and live like U.S. Americans if their constituents are to trust them to lead.
It is time for U.S. Americans to change the composition of U.S. leaders, to support the integration of women and people of color into the world of policymaking and to leave the “old boys’ club” nature of U.S. American politics in the past. In order to enter the future as a strong nation that leads by example, the U.S. must work to support groups who are traditionally underrepresented in politics and bring their voices to the table. It is only when U.S. American leaders truly represent the U.S. American public that we will generate the best progressive policies and see an effective democracy that truly reflects its citizens.
Jessica Herrera is a contributing writer. Email her at
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