Diversity in Media and Congress

The House of Representatives is the most diverse workplace in America. Where else is a liberal black woman from inner-city Los Angeles forced to work hand-in-glove with a conservative white man from rural Texas? Those Members might not get along, but their legislative success often depends on their ability to work through those differences. That is because, demographically, the chamber is reflective of the country as a whole. But it wasn’t always that way.

Fifty years ago, white men made up more than 97 percent of the House. Both parties were equally male and equally monochromatic. In the 50 years since, the palette has changed, dramatically. White men now represent a minority share of the House Democratic Caucus. In the current Congress, racial and ethnic minorities represent 40 percent of the Caucus and women comprise a third of all House Democrats. Both numbers have been on the rise for years and are expected to expand after the November elections. What’s more, these minority Democrats are expected to assume some of the party’s most powerful jobs. For example, minority Members are in line to assume as many as half of the 21 committee chairmanships.

House members also represent national voting trends: 40 percent of Hillary Clinton’s voters were minorities, right in line with the demographics of the House Democratic Caucus, while 88 percent of Donald Trump’s voters were white, slightly lower than the 93 percent of House Republicans who are white, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. In other words, Republicans and Democrats in the House both look like the voters who elected them to Congress. This matters because most House members are truly reflective of the districts they represent, making them better proxies for those communities. And the next Congress is expected to be even more diverse than this one, thanks to a historically high number of female candidates and prominent primary wins by minority Democrats who knocked off white Members of Congress. We can only hope that diversity extends to the staff, just 13.7 percent of whom are people of color, according to a recent report by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.

If House Members reflect the country’s growing diversity and political identification, the reporters and lobbyists covering those Members are stuck in an earlier era. In other words, the two institutions tasked with explaining Congress to the outside world look nothing like the members they cover. In fact, 83 percent of the workforce at the country’s daily print and online media outlets is white, and those same white reporters and editors occupy 87 percent of the leadership positions in those same newsrooms, according to a survey last year by the American Society of News Editors. Men represent 61 percent of the workforce at those news outlets and a similar share of the industry’s leadership positions. There isn’t a comparable survey of registered lobbyists, but anyone who attends regular consultant meetings in Washington knows the influence industry is just as white – if not whiter – than the media.

The upshot of this data is that Congress is more representative of the country’s shifting demographics – and political alignment – than the multitudes of reporters and lobbyists who interface with them every day. This disconnect matters because those two groups, reporters and lobbyists, don’t reflect big segments of the country. And that’s just with regard to race. The split would be even more pronounced if you compared lobbyists and reporters to the rest of the country on income and education. Legislative success requires understanding and navigating America’s diverse constituencies, so such disparities often produce ineffective campaigns that just generate more gridlock. We believe that when it comes to winning policy votes on Capitol Hill, labels matter, often more than the issue itself. That is what makes United By Interest so essential and so unique: Our firm is the only one in Washington that reflects the actual politics of diversity in America.