The House of Representatives will probably get more representative in 2018 (a Virginia story)

Thanks to a name pulled out of a film canister, the race for control of the Virginia House of Delegates race has probably been settled. Republican incumbent David Yancey will likely hold onto his seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, defeating challenger Shelley Simonds and giving Republicans a 51-49 seat edge.

But Yancey does have something in common with 14 of the 15 Republicans who were not so lucky on election night (or thereafter): he’s a white dude. Remarkably, just 3 of the incoming Democrats can say the same for themselves. This fact, on top of the generational trends seen in the electorate and the evidence that there is an unprecedented surge in women – the vast majority of them Democrats – running for the U.S. House of Representatives, got me wondering just how much of a demographic change the Virginia House of Delegates will undergo when the new class is sworn in on January 10th.

I took a look under the hood, and the numbers really are pretty striking. Below is a chart showing how the make-up of the Virginia House of Delegates will change following the results of the election on November 7th, 2017 (all the numbers used here assume Yancey will keep his seat).


There are 100 delegates, so each percentage point shift technically represents one delegate, but as you will see below it is useful to keep the percentages for some further comparisons. First, however, let’s review the overall damage.

Overnight, the share of white men in the Virginia House of Delegates will fall by 12 points, from 71 percent to 59 percent. Meanwhile the share of women in Virginia’s lower house nearly doubles, from 17 percent to 30 percent, as does the share of delegates under the age of 40, from 10 percent to 19 percent. Delegates from communities of color increase more modestly, from 19 percent to 23 percent.

These are some pretty big changes, though this composition falls notably short of being fully “representative,” which seems like a decent benchmark. Below I’ve copied the chart from above, but included some dotted lines to show what the actual demographic composition of the Virginia population is (according to recent Census estimates). Roughly 31 percent of Virginia’s population are white men. Fifty-one percent are women. Nearly 53 percent are under the age of 40, and 38 percent come from communities of color*.


This may not be the best way to look at the numbers – it certainly isn’t the only way. After all, the election was big news because virtually all of the new delegates are Democrats. So it seems worth looking at the shifts (or lack thereof) within parties as well as overall.

For Republicans, the changes are notable in how small they are. All but one of the defeated Republicans were white men – and, of the three Republicans newly elected to replace fellow Republicans who are retiring, one was a woman** – but the share of the remaining Republicans who are white men barely budges from 89 percent to 88 percent, because the outgoing Republicans are fairly representative of the group as a whole. The share of women in the Republican caucus does increase from 6 percent to 10 percent, though that’s due to the addition of one woman to the existing four, along with the decline in the number of Republicans (from 64 to 51) overall.


Among the Democrats, the changes are more dramatic. Nearly all of the new Democrats are women, and as a result, the number of Democratic women in the caucus virtually doubles from 13 to 25. In percentage terms, that means the share of women in the Democratic caucus of the Virginia House of Delegates will be 51 percent – exactly representative of Virginia’s population. The influx of new Democratic delegates is slightly whiter as a group than the incumbents so, overall, the share of Democrats from communities of color falls from 47 percent to 43 percent even as the share of white men in the caucus falls from 35 percent to 31 percent. The biggest change, however, is generational. The share of Democrats who are under 40 years old more than doubles from just 12 percent to 27 percent.


One way to interpret these trends is to note that in nearly every case the Democratic caucus comes much closer to looking like the population of Virginia, particularly in the case of gender and age.


What does it all mean – beyond Virginia? Maybe nothing.

But, as my headline suggests, we might look at this as a harbinger of what to expect in 2018, when the entire House of Representatives and many Senate seats are up for re-election. I have not seen the numbers broken down by age or race, but, as I mentioned above, there is a stunning, unprecedented number of Democratic women running for office next year. The Virginia story may be reflective of demographic trends occurring within the broader Democratic Party, both among Democratic voters and among Democratic candidates – trends that have been virtually absent within the Republican Party, and which have in some ways been hidden from view because it’s been Republicans winning the majority of elections since 2008.

As it stands, there are 62 Democratic women in the House of Representatives. That’s about 74 percent of all the women in the chamber, but still just 32 percent of the Democratic caucus – far short of representative of the country. Virtually all (around 95 percent) of Democrats in the House are 40 or older; most are over the age of 60.

I would put some money on that changing quite a bit next year.***

* For this analysis when I say “persons/communities of color” I include Hispanic/Latinx people who may otherwise identify as “white” when responding to the Census.

** This one Republican woman – Emily Brewer – replaced Republican man Rick Morris, who decided not to seek re-election after being indicted for domestic violence and child abuse.

*** As with the Virginia House of Delegates, if Democrats win a lot of U.S. House seats their caucus may actually get whiter even as the overall House gets more diverse. For a number of reasons (the Voting Rights Act, gerrymandering and geography I suspect are the biggest ones), some of the safest Democratic seats are held by persons of color. So I would guess the new cohort of Democrats – who will naturally win more competitive seats – will be more diverse than the Republicans they replace, but whiter as a group than the current class of Democrats. That said (once again, similar to the Virginia case) this will technically make the racial mix of the Democratic caucus more representative of the nation as a whole, because 43 percent of the current Democratic caucus are racial or ethnic minorities, versus 39 percent of all Americans.


The House of Representatives will probably get more representative in 2018 (a Virginia story)

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