Congress: Representation

Congress: Representation

Congressional Structure

  • The United States Congress is the legislative branch of the federal government, separated into two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate.
  • Each state is represented in both chambers, but the level of representation differs between the two.

House of Representatives

  • The House is made up of 435 members, with each member representing a specific geographic district within a state.
  • Representation in the House is determined by population - more populous states have more representatives, while less populous states have fewer. This is to ensure ‘proportional representation’.
  • Representatives have two-year terms, meaning every house seat is contested during the mid-term and the general elections.


  • The Senate consists of 100 senators, with each state, irrespective of its size, having two senators.
  • This ensures ‘equal representation’ of states, acknowledging the sovereign status of the states within the federal system.
  • Senators serve six-year terms, staggered such that one-third of seats are up for election every two years. This provides greater continuity and stability.

Role of Congress Members

  • Members of both chambers have a dual role: they are legislators on behalf of the country as a whole, but also representatives for their local constituents.
  • This often results in a ‘conflict of roles’, where what is best for the country and what is best for the local constituency do not match up.

Diversity in Congress

  • The question of how representative Congress is in terms of gender, race, and other demographic characteristics is always topical.
  • Over time, the diversity in Congress has increased, with more women, ethnic minority groups, and openly LGBTQ+ representatives than before, although it still does not perfectly replicate the US overall population.

Influence of Political Parties

  • Political parties have a significant role to prescribe policies and influence votes in Congress.
  • Party membership often influences the voting behaviour of Congress members, leading to the lack of bipartisan cooperation in most of the legislative procedures.

Criticisms and Debates

  • One often debated topic associated with Congress is ‘Gerrymandering’, in which the boundaries of House districts are manipulated by the state legislature to give one party an advantage.
  • Critics contest that the Senate is undemocratic by giving equal representation to all states rather than accounting for population size.
  • Despite efforts, Congress still lacks the diversity represented in the wider US population, leading to calls for reform.