The United States Congress Quick Facts

Current Congress: 111th

Next Election: November 2010

Membership:

House of Representatives 435 Members (256 Democrats, 178 Republicans, 1 Vacancies Florida 19th)
Updated Information on Party Balance in the House

Senate 100 Members (57 Democrats, 41 Republicans, 2 Independent,)

Leadership:

Speaker of the House - Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)
House Majority Leader - Steny Hoyer (D-MD)
House Minority Leader - John Boehner (R-OH)
President of the Senate - Joseph Biden (D-DL)
President pro tempore of the Senate -Robert C. Byrd (D-WV)
Senate Majority Leader - Harry Reid (D-NV)
Senate Minority Leader - Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Organizational Chart in the Senate

Updated 4 February 2010

What is the composition of the Congress in terms of race, sex, and political party?

Members of the United States Congress--the House and the Senate--are elected to represent the people of the fifty states. But does the Congress look like America? How many men and women are there in the Congress? What is the partisan and racial composition of the House? Do these characteristics of the Congress have any influence on its ability (or inability) to effectively represent the people?

The current Congress is the 111th to convene since the ratification of the Constitution (each Congress sits for the two-year period between House elections). The last congressional elections took place in November of 2008. The figures presented below reflect the composition of the Congress as of January 2009. 

Men and Women in the 111th Congress

While the partisan composition of the Congress is fairly close to that of the electorate, there are larger disparities between the Congress and the general citizenry in term of sex and race. In the House, there are currently 357 men and 78 women. In the Senate, there are 18 women and 82 men.


 

Racial Composition of the 110th Congress

 

U.S. House

U.S. Senate

White

332

81

Black

42

1

Jewish

30

14

Hispanic

25

2

Asian

5

2

Native American

1

 

The more important question is whether or not these statistics make a difference in the way the Congress functions as a representative body. The most obvious (and short) answer is, yes. However, the way these characteristics of the House matter is not always straightforward. In fact, the composition of the House as a whole is comparatively less important than the degree to which individual House members and Senators reflect the views and characteristics of the people in their individual districts or states. Decisions in Congress are made collectively, but representation occurs primarily at the level of the individual member.

While some people believe that a representative should, at the individual level, share important physical characteristics with the people he or she represents, others hold that "descriptive" or "demographic" representation is much less than "substantive" representation. From this perspective, a white woman could represent a black man or a Hispanic man could represent a black woman if the focus was promoting the interests of the represented individual or individuals. Indeed, James Madison observed in The Federalist No. 10 that the true test of a representative is his or her ability to make difficult decisions that promote the long-term best interests of the people back home. A representative government, he wrote, ought to:

. . . refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations. Under such a regulation it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves, convened for the same purpose.

It is likely that Madison would have thought any discussion of the demographic dimensions of representation irrelevant. Because America is much more diverse today than it was during Madison's lifetime, however, a significant number of voters expect their representatives to not only think like them, but to look like them as well.