The recent wave of populism and anti-establishment voting behavior in the United States made me want to take a closer look at how the structure of the U.S. political representation system might be contributing to the development of these sentiments. In what ways has this system fallen short, for example, in responding effectively to U.S. population growth and distribution over time—perhaps aggravating a sense of political alienation among voters?
Part of the problem is that the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives—the “people’s chamber”—has been frozen at 435 for over a century despite the addition of four new states to the Union and an increase of nearly 220 million residents to our nation’s population during that time. As the graph below demonstrates, the average number of people served by each House member has increased from 34,436 in 1790 to 710,767 in 2010 and could potentially reach over 874,000 by 2040 if the cap on House size is not removed.
Sources: Population Data – U.S. Census Bureau, 1990 Census Apportionment Data, Table B; 2000/2010 Census Apportionment Data, Table 1; 2014 National Population Projections, Table 1
*No apportionment was made on the basis of the 1920 Census.