Creating New Models to Understand Representation
Earlier this year, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), a unit of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, released two reports on the demographics of political officials in New Jersey. The From Data to Diversity reports point to persistent issues of inequitable representation among both New Jersey’s elected officeholders and officials appointed to the state’s powerful boards, commissions, and authorities. These reports also lay out recommendations to make the data collection process more efficient, thorough, and robust that are broadly applicable to other states preparing for a similar undertaking.
Both Data to Diversity reports find that white men are vastly overrepresented in public office in New Jersey, with white men holding half or more of elected positions at every level of office for which we collected race/ethnicity data; they are likewise 44.6% of appointed officials on selected boards and commissions included in the study. White men are 27% of New Jersey’s population. Because of the extreme overrepresentation of white men, women and people of other racial and ethnic groups remain markedly underrepresented in New Jersey politics. In almost every instance, no other racial/ethnic group achieves representation in elected or appointed office close to their share of the population. Given that New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the country, the reports' findings are exceptionally troublesome and serve as a call to action.
"The reports' findings, while not entirely surprising, are alarming and serve as a call to action," said report co-author and CAWP associate director Jean Sinzdak. "The life experiences and perspectives of vast portions of the state's population are kept out of critical policymaking decisions. It cannot be overstated how dangerous this is for democratic government."
These reports are the product of legislation passed by the New Jersey legislature and signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy. CAWP’s recommendations for improving the data collection process here in New Jersey that are applicable in other states include strategies that state governments can employ to collect demographic data on officeholders at early stages of their interaction with state government, store this information in regularly-updated databases, and provide it to the public. CAWP also makes recommendations for legislative and structural interventions aimed at supporting greater participation among the citizens in state government.
Read more at the From Data to Diversity: The Demographics of New Jersey’s Elected Officials and From Data to Diversity: The Demographics of New Jersey’s Appointed Officials sites, and see also our op-ed in the Star Ledger, “In a ‘bleak’ new portrait of NJ’s political diversity, white men still hold most political offices.”
Daniel De Simone: firstname.lastname@example.org; 760.703.0948