Religiosity of 116th Congress both does and does not reflect changes in American religion

Comparing the religious makeup of the newest Congress to previous Congresses shows several interesting patterns:

http://www.pewforum.org/2019/01/03/faith-on-the-hill-116/

A few patterns to note:

  1. The number of Protestants has dropped dramatically – roughly a loss of 100 from sixty years ago – even as the percent of Protestants in Congress (54%) continues to be higher than the percent of Protestants in the U.S. population (48%).
  2. The number of Catholics in Congress increased from the 1960s into the late 1970s and early 1980s and then has stayed relatively stable. There are more Catholics in Congress (30%) than in the U.S. population as a whole (21%).
  3. The number of religious others is still low and hasn’t changed much over time.
  4. As noted in the summary of the findings:

But by far the largest difference between the U.S. public and Congress is in the share who are unaffiliated with a religious group. In the general public, 23% say they are atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular.” In Congress, just one person – Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who was recently elected to the Senate after three terms in the House – says she is religiously unaffiliated, making the share of “nones” in Congress 0.2%.

When asked about their religious affiliation, a growing number of members of Congress decline to specify (categorized as “don’t know/refused”). This group – all Democrats – numbers 18, or 3% of Congress, up from 10 members (2%) in the 115th Congress. Their reasons for this decision may vary. But one member in this category, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., announced in 2017 that he identifies as a humanist and says he is not sure God exists. Huffman remains categorized as “don’t know/refused” because he declined to state his religious identity in the CQ Roll Call questionnaire used to collect data for this report.3

In summary, Congress is overwhelmingly religious and Christian. While America as a whole is still solidly majority religious and Christian, Congress is even more so. This seems to suggest Americans still like to elect people who have a faith affiliation even if there is less information on the actual beliefs and practices of the Representatives and Senators (this data “does not attempt to measure their religious beliefs or practices. “).

“Why Congress won’t raise the gas tax”

Gas prices are lower and the money is needed for highways but one writer suggests Congress is nowhere near raising the gas tax:

Fuel prices are plunging to their lowest level in years. The Highway Trust Fund is broke, and Congress faces a spring deadline to replenish it. The obvious answer—the only answer, according to many in Washington—is to raise the 18.4 cent-per-gallon gas tax, which hasn’t gone up in more than 20 years. Since prices at the pump have dropped more than a dollar per gallon in some areas, drivers would barely notice the extra nickel they’d be forced initially to pay as a result of the tax hike. That wasn’t true until recently: For years, the pocketbook punch of the Great Recession combined with gas prices that peaked above $4 made an increase both politically and economically untenable.

Yet even with prices at a four-year low, the odds of Congress touching the gas tax are as long as ever. “I think it’s too toxic and continues to be too toxic,” said Steve LaTourette, the former Republican congressman best known for his close friendship with his fellow Ohioan, Speaker John Boehner. “I see no political will to get this done.”…

Advocates on and off Capitol Hill are mounting a new push to lift the gas tax as Republicans prepare to assume full control of Congress in January. Funding for the Highway Trust Fund will run out May 31. On 60 Minutes last month, officials including former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell used the specter of a major bridge or highway collapse to warn of the need for new investments. LaHood, a Republican who was once rebuked by the Obama White House for suggesting a switch to a mileage-based tax, is now going public on the gas tax, in his typically colorful style. “The best argument for doing it is is that America is one big pothole,” he told me in a phone interview, “and America’s infrastructure is in the worst shape that we’ve seen in decades.”…

In a separate interview, Blumenauer said the administration had recently “dialed back” its opposition, with senior officials telling lawmakers that if Congress could somehow pass a gas tax hike, he would sign it. Yet just a few hours after his and Petri’s press conference, Obama himself seemed to put their plan back on ice. At a business roundtable at the White House, FedEx CEO Frederick Smith asked Obama why Congress couldn’t just raise the gas tax and solve the infrastructure problem. “In fairness to members of Congress, votes on the gas tax are really tough,” the president replied, after first chuckling that if it he were in charge on Capitol Hill, “I probably already would have done it.”

It sounds like Congress thinks that such a move would be very unpopular. Americans like driving (even if they have cut back in recent years), prefer cheaper gas, believe the country is still experiencing tough economic times, and many don’t want to personally pay more in taxes. Yet, it makes some sense that highways should be funded by the gas tax: if you use the highways and associated infrastructure, you should help bear some of the cost.

Is Congress responsible for this or the American people? The article suggests Congress won’t act but Congress suggests the American people wouldn’t want it. Are both groups pretty blind to infrastructure needs or long-term investments? In the short-term, few people want to pay the necessary costs but no one will like it if the situation becomes dire.

Even if Northeastern states have lost 40% of their House seats, has the region lost that much influence?

Large-scale population shifts can have all sorts of effects including the loss of seats in Congress:

The Census Bureau reports that population growth has shifted to the South and the result is that the 11 states that make up the Northeast are being bled dry of representation in Washington…

Deep in a recent report, for example, the American Legislative Exchange Council tabulated how the drop in population relative to the rest of the nation cut the region’s power in Washington. While the states from Pennsylvania to Maine had 141 House members in 1950, they are down to 85 today, a drop of some 40 percent.

California and Texas combined have more House representatives..

“This result is one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in American history. This migration is shifting the power center of America right before our very eyes. The movement isn’t random or even about weather or resources. Economic freedom is the magnet and states ignore this force at their own peril,” said the report.

The last quote is particularly interesting as the population center of the United States has indeed kept moving further and further west (and a little south). Yet, even with the loss of seats from Northeastern states, New York City is still the #1 global city. Additionally, this region is close to the city of Washington D.C. which seems to be doing just fine in terms of wealthy counties and communities and a growing presence among large cities. Does having less seats in Congress necessarily mean the Northeast has lost 40% of its influence in American life? How many lobbyists are located in the Northeast compared to other places? Where are the institutions of higher learning from which many politicians and other elites come from? Where are the large media organizations?

It would also be interesting to see where these Northeast house seats have been lost. Is it primarily from large cities or more from mid-sized cities and more rural areas that have had steady population losses? Is this more of a Rust Belt phenomenon that affects cities like Buffalo, Rochester, and Worcester more than Boston, New York, and Philadelphia?

Congressional Research Service estimates foreign-born population in 2024 of 58 million

One projection of the foreign-born population in the United States is that it will rise steadily to 58 million by 2024:

 

CRSForeignBornProjections2024

The full report has some interesting data on immigration as well as the methodology behind estimating some of the figures. And, the report notes that these projections assume consistent rates of growth with no policy changes, both unlikely occurrences. Predictions like these are hard to make. At the same time, this is a reminder that large flows of immigrants into the United States is not just a historical fact kids learn in history class but rather is an ongoing phenomenon.

Congressional town halls not necessarily indicative of public opinion

I heard two news reports yesterday from two respected media sources about Congressional members holding towns halls in their districts about possible military action in Syria. Both reports featured residents speaking up against military action. Both hinted that constituents weren’t happy with the idea of military action. However, how much do town halls like these really tell us?

I would suggest not much. While they give constituents an opportunity to directly address a member of Congress, these events are great for the media. There are plenty of opportunities for heated speeches, soundbites, and disagreement amongst the crowd. One report featured a soundbite of a constituent suggesting that if he were in power, he would put charge both the president and his congressman with treason. The other report featured some people speaking for military action in Syria – some Syrian Americans asking for the United States to stand up to a dictator – and facing boos from others in the crowd.

Instead of focusing on town halls which provide some political theater, we should look to national surveys to American public opinion. Focus on the big picture, not on towns halls which provide small samples.

Going rogue

Wired’s Nate Anderson has a great write-up over at Ars Technica of the “Legitimate Sites v. Parasites” hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee today, and it’s not looking good for Internet intermediaries:

[T]he general mood of the hearing was that tough new steps must be taken. As Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) asked [Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John] Morton during his questioning, “What change in the law would allow you to pursue everyone?”

In his written testimony before the committee (PDF), Kent Walker, Google’s Senior VP and General Counsel noted that such an all-inclusive approach would be impossible and counterproductive:

When it comes to offshore rogue sites, no one should think that imposing additional obligations on search engines, social networks, directories, or bloggers beyond the DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] will be a panacea. If the site remains on the web, neither search engines nor social networks nor the numerous other intermediaries through which users post links can prevent Internet users from talking about, linking to, or referencing the existence of the site. These links or references will themselves appear in search results, and will enable users to reach the site. Simply put, search engines are not in a position to censor the entire Internet, deleting every mention of the existence of a site. If a rogue site remains accessible on the Internet, relying on search engines to try to make it “unfindable” is an impossible endeavor. [emphasis added]

I recommend reading Walker’s full comments for a robust defense of why the notice-and-takedown immunity provided by the DMCA is essential for innovation.

Additional coverage by Politico, Techdirt, CNET, TorrentFreak, RIAA Blog

The new Congress marked by more suburban, rural, and small town members?

Joel Kotkin continues to make the case that the political changes in the new Congress are marked by a city/suburb split. Kotkin explains this shift:

This contrasts dramatically with the last Congress. Virtually its entire leadership — from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on down — represented either the urban core or affluent, close-in suburbs of large metropolitan areas. Powerful old lions like Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) of Harlem, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) of Los Angeles and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) of Newton, an affluent, close-in Boston suburb, roamed…

The new House leaders are, for the most part, from small towns, suburbs and interior cities. Most GOP pickups came from precisely these regions — particularly in the South and Midwest.

Kotkin then goes on to talk about the possible consequences of the change in leadership:

This change in geography also suggests a shift in the economic balance of power. The old Congress owed its allegiance largely to the “social-industrial” complex around Washington, Wall Street, public-sector unions, large universities and the emergent, highly subsidized alternative-energy industry. In contrast, the new House leaders largely represent districts tied to more traditional energy development, manufacturing and agriculture.

The urban-centered environmental movement’s much-hyped talk of “green jobs,” so popular in Obama-dominated Washington, is now likely to be supplanted by a concern with the more than 700,000 jobs directly related to fossil fuel production. Greater emphasis may be placed on ensuring that electric power rates are low enough to keep U.S. industry competitive.

The Obama administration’s land-use policies will also be forced to shift. Sums lavished on “smart growth” grants to regions, high-speed rail and new light-rail transit are likely to face tough obstacles in this Congress.

Kotkin is not alone in discussing these potential consequences: the Infrastructurist has been tracking for a while how Republican control might threaten plans for high-speed rail, infrastructure, and green programs.

But I wonder if suburban/exurban/more rural Congressmen will really express these kinds of political sensibilities in Congress. Traditionally, local suburban politics has been marked by a lack of partisanship (with many municipal races not involving the two major parties) and an emphasis on issues like keeping property taxes low, ensuring property values, and keeping crime rates low. Do these concerns translate to a national level where everything becomes a political skirmish and politicians consider the national budget, defense spending, entitlement programs, and so on? Can Kotkin or others point to a current or past member of Congress who has exemplified a suburban or exurban approach to national government that is distinct from an urban approach?