There was a moment this time last year following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre when the U.S. government contemplated passing stricter legislation for gun background checks. Public sentiment was surging. It seemed inevitable. At least that’s what the data showed. One ABC poll, for example, found that 91% of Americans would support a law requiring background checks on people buying guns at gun shows .
But nothing happened.
The U.S. Congress did what the U.S. Congress does best: nothing.
I wasn’t necessarily upset by this. I wasn’t happy either. I wasn’t pissed nor pleased nor particularly fearful. I was, more than anything, confused. Because as the the word ‘democracy’ — which comes from the Greek dēmo meaning ‘people’ and kratía meaning ‘rule’ — so clearly suggests, there should be some relatively quantifiable relationship between the things that the citizens demand and the things that the government delivers.
To be clear, I work in advertising. I know very little about the culture of federal politics. Partisan posturing. Legal lexicons. Too much of it makes too little sense to me. But I don’t think you necessarily need to work in a creative industry to feel this lost. You just need to be a normal, everyday American citizen.
Consider this: at the end of 2013, the approval rating of Congress slumped to 9% — the lowest Congressional approval rating on record . Which, to me, is all the more confusing considering that over 90% of these Congressional representatives got re-elected that same year . Maybe I should stick to coming up with ideas for ads.
One of the (few) job requirements of mine that may bear some relevance is the study of consumer attitudes and demographic segmentation. I spend hours upon hours exploring trends, conducting interviews and combing through nationally-syndicated consumer research databases where I can explore, for example, how often Asian American homeowners in Southern California with a median income range over $100,000 tend to purchase organic produce at mass merchandisers like, say, Walmart. There’s obviously much more to it than this but you get the point. Now while I caution my colleagues and clients ad nauseum on the dangers of overextrapolating specific data points, some things are just too peculiar not to poke holes in. Especially when it all starts stacking up like this:
- In the 113th United States Congress, there are still only 102 women — less than one-fifth (19%) of all representatives and delegates .
- Despite accounting for 17% of the American population, Hispanics only represent 8.5% of Congress .
- There are only 42 African Americans out of 535 Congressional seats .
- More than 9 in 10 members of Congress hold a Bachelor’s degree (as high as 99% in the Senate) although that number is a little less than 3 in 10 of all Americans over the age of 25 .
- For the first time ever, members of Congress had an average net worth of $1 million or more, whereas nearly 50 million Americans today still live below the poverty line .
- No one on the Supreme Court has ever been a blue-collar worker and the average member of Congress spent less than 2% of his or her pre-congressional career in working class jobs .
- And the average age of House lawmakers and Senators is 57 and 62, respectively, which may help explain why there’s so much CSPAN footage of guys like Robert Byrd (RIP) in mid-snore during Senate hearings .
So color me a cynic but I just can’t seem to rationalize, given such vast disparities in demographic (and, consequentially, psychographic) data, how these members of Congress could ever be considered ‘representatives’. Not in the way that word suggests. Not for me at least. But then again maybe that’s just the unmarried, middle-class, under thirty-years-old Millennial with a household income sub $100,000 in me talking. What do I know?
In the end, we’re all just numbers.
 Pew Research Center, 2014