Thursday, September 25, 2008

Guest post by Dr.Pete

This was sent to me by a friend of mine:

The Senate’s Glass Dome

Unless you’ve been living in the basement of a sealed-off cave on the dark side of the moon, you’re probably aware that the 2008 election is “historic”. We’ve heard a lot about the barriers being broken by the Obama and Clinton campaigns, and rightly so, but what about the rest of our Federal government? As we edge closer to the possibility of a black president, are we making strides in other areas?

Since Barack Obama is a sitting Senator and the Senate has the mathematical virtue of having exactly 100 members, I thought it would be interesting to see how the Senate’s make-up compares to the country at large. Currently, the Senate’s official ethnic diversity page reveals that we have 5 sitting Senators who are racial minorities: the Senate is 95% white, 1% African-American, 1% Asian-American, and 3% Hispanic/Latino. At the time of the 2000 U.S. Census, the country at large was roughly 69% white, 12% African-American, 4% Asian-American, and 13% Hispanic/Latino.

According to that same census, women made up 51% of our population. The ratio of currently serving female Senators is 16%. Now, you may think that 16% is reasonably high, and that this could just be pure chance, the same as getting heads 16 times on 100 coin tosses. Just for the record, if we picked our Senators at random, the odds of getting 16 (or less) women are roughly 1 in 768,000,000,000.

So, how are we doing? I’m afraid the answer is “not very well”. While the make-up of any body will never completely mirror the country at large, and merit should always be our primary qualification for office, it’s painfully clear that we have a long way to go. We need to work to understand the forces and social pressures that still act to keep women and racial minorities from serving in the highest offices. Hopefully, the 2008 presidential election is at least a beginning to that conversation.

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