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On the eve of U.S. midterms, experts say unrepresentative government remains a major issue

November 4th, 2014
10:57 AM ET

By Madalena Araujo, CNN

As Americans prepared to vote in crucial midterm elections, two experts told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday that despite some improvements the misrepresentation of the electorate remains a major problem in the country.

“Fundamentally, we have a democracy that does not represent America and particularly the face of America is changing,” said Tamara Draut, Vice President of Policy and Research at the think-tank DEMOS.

“There's been some progress. It's very slow, though, and it's the same - if you step back - this is research done by the Women's Donor Network - the statistic that really just sticks out to me is that we actually have a third of our population, which is white men, controlling nearly two-thirds of all elected offices in this country, from the county, city all the way up to the national level,” Draut added.

According to the Reflective Democracy campaign, 33% of New York City's population is white, but 51% of the New York City Council is white.

Amanpour also talked to Errol Louis, Political Anchor at New York One News and a CNN political commentator, who started by saying that “it would have been a lot worse if you had looked at this [statistic], say, 20 years ago.”

“There have been incremental reforms that were specifically designed to encourage participation. One of the biggest ones that almost never gets talked about we have a campaign finance system here as a result of many lawsuits and reforms that enables you to get 6:1 matching funds,” he said.

Louis acknowledged that many New Yorkers “might feel that whoever's representing them maybe doesn't quite have all of their interests in mind,” but that the city “has been Balkanized along ethnic and religious lines since its founding hundreds of years ago. And so those kinds of ethnic contests are really very much a part of what politics is in New York,” he said.

Draut agreed that public funding would contribute to a more representative government.

“The reason why public financing works is it prevents that question, which is do I know ten people that can give me a thousand dollars and allows particularly women and people of color to run competitively because they often don't have access to the old boys' network of donor, high donor money and public financing really does make a big difference,” she said.

Opinion surveys predict it is likely that, for the first time during Barack Obama’s presidency, Republicans will control both houses of Congress.

“If the Republicans do take the Senate, then I think they're going to have to actually get something done and can no longer just govern by saying no. So maybe we'll see. The big grand bargain that the president has always wanted on taxes, maybe we'll see a grand bargain around immigration reform. I think that's the positive implications,” Draut said.

“The voters are people and people are inconsistent about what they want. So you've got hundreds of thousands of people in a state like Kentucky, who have gotten health care, affordable health care for the first time in their lives, I mean, an extraordinary achievement. They're all set to go to the polls tomorrow and punish the president for making this possible for them.” Louis said.

Amanpour asked why voters would do that. “It is what it is. Winston Churchill wins World War Two - at the first chance they get, the voters throw him out,” Louis said.


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