After citizens across the nations elected new leaders and the states announced the results, a recent report found that the incoming Congress is the most racially and ethnically diverse congress in U.S. history.
On Jan. 3, the 116th Congress swore in 10 new senators and 101 new representatives.
“If we are going to have a representative democracy, it needs to be accurate; this congress is more proportionally representative to the US population,” political science and intercultural studies major Brooke Kramer said.
Congress added 42 women in January, making the House of Representatives 23.4 percent women. While termed the “Year of the Woman” by some, according to the New York Times, only four of the women elected were republicans.
Military representation also increased in Congress, with 22 of the new members having formerly served in the military or the CIA. Florida elected the first-ever Green Beret, Michael Waltz, as its representative.
The new freshman class included 24 people of color, including the first ever Native American women from Kansas and New Mexico, and several African-Americans. The first-ever Palestine-American woman, Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, as well as the first-ever Somali-American woman, Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, were elected as the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
“In my experience, diversity in Congress has led to more animated and controversial discussions, even amongst members in the same political party,” political science major Moriah Lawrence said. “I also think that as religious diversity specifically becomes more widespread, it will lead to more controversy in Congress. It will be fascinating to see where this takes the U.S., especially as people begin to join Congress who have religious/political ties that do not always align with those of what the US has typically held.”
Already, controversy has arisen with Omar regarding U.S. and Israel relations. She made remarks accusing Israel of “evil doings” on Twitter and has criticized some representative’s pro-Israel stance because of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Some in Congress saw her remarks as anti-Semitic, bur Omar defended her remarks, saying she didn’t mean to offend anyone. “I think [the controversy] is actually exciting because we are finally able to have conversations that we weren’t really willing to,” Omar said in an interview with CNN.
“Overall, diversity in Congress has benefitted the Democratic Party, which generally attracts younger people, racial minorities and women,” Daniel Bennett, assistant professor of political science, said. “As a result, legislation coming out of the House of Representatives has been more progressive than in recent congresses, thanks to the Democratic Party’s new control of the chamber.” Regardless of the change in Republican and Democratic representation, Bennett said that having a more diverse Congress can help connect more people to the U.S. political process.
“There’s a lot of research on the effect of descriptive representation on political efficacy. That is, having someone who shares characteristics with you in a position of political power will make you feel more connected to the political process and also increases levels of trust in government among those in minority positions,” Bennett said.
Kramer agreed with Bennett. “Representation is important for a number of reasons, one of which is that young people can picture themselves in positions of power as they look to those they can identify with,” she said. “The American dream can become more vibrant and alive to young people as they know folks who’ve overcome great obstacles similar to their stories.”