Brown Vs Coakley: Why Gender Demographics Are Against Coakley


There’s an interesting subtext to today’s election in Massachusetts. The Senate’s two best-represented demographics are facing off: a woman and a white man.

When I say “best-represented”, though, it’s like the joke in Inglourious Basterds:

Lt. Aldo Raine: Well I speak the most Italian, so I’ll be your escort. Donowitz speaks the second most so he’ll be your Italian cameraman. Omar speaks third most, so he’ll be Donny’s assistant.
Pfc. Omar Ulmer: I don’t speak Italian.
Lt. Aldo Raine: Like I said, third best.

Saying women are the second best-represented demographic is like saying Scottie Pippen was the second-best player on the Bulls in the ’90s – the leader is so far ahead of the pack, the appellation doesn’t mean much. To use an expression I picked up from King Kaufman, the first-place demographic for Senators is white males, then daylight, then women.

The 17 female Senators comprise (in an easy math question) 17% of the Senate. In a nation that is 50.7% female, they’re underrepresented in the Senate by 33%. White males, on the other hand (disclosure: I’m one of those), comprise approximately 32% of the population – but 78% of the Senate.

The difference is striking when viewed on a map of the United States:

You may note, however, that some of the states that have a female Senator are the most populous in the nation. Let’s adjust for population, using the numbers from Wikipedia.

Both Senators represent the entire state, of course, so if a state has even one female Senator, she represents the entire population. Likewise with the white men. Under this calculus, 134,976,372 Americans are represented in the Senate by a woman, or 44%. This is closer to a fair representation of the population, but still off by a yawning margin.

Most of those represented by a woman are, of course, also represented by a white man. 260,167,555 Americans are so represented – 85% of the country. With the exception of people in California (for now, anyway), Hawai’i, Maine and Washington, every person in the United States is represented by a white man in the Senate.

Today won’t shift the demographics significantly one way or the other, of course, but, particularly in the shadow of Martin Luther King Day, it’s hard to escape the dichotomy between leadership and those they lead. Most dramatic, of course, is hugely obvious lack of non-white members of the Senate: there are only four, two of whom are from Hawai’i, and none of whom are women.

Then again, Senators of color are the third best-represented demographic. Just like how Omar speaks the third-best Italian.

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