Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wanted: More House Members. Must Be Willing To Feel Less Important Than Current House Members

Watching interviews with MP-elects in the Canadian elections, it's striking how normal most of the winners looked. Partly this was a function of the NDP's motley crew of candidates, including four McGill students, a woman who barely speaks French but represents francophone portions of Quebec, and so forth. But another reason for the plainness of Canadian legislators is that being an member of parliament is a much less important job than being a member of the House of Representatives. And the United States is the real outlier here. Let's just take a look at how.many constituents a member of Congress answers to, and compare that to their counterparts in Canada, as well as some other large democratic nations



If Congressional districts were roughly the size of constituencies even in Japan, primary elections would be sized such that a challenger could personally meet every likely voter in a six month time span. House members would be roughly important as your State Senator is today. Large legislative bodies tend to strengthen the hand of the leadership, so we would likely have more cohesive parties. It's win-win all the way around!

Tripling the size of the House would put our districts at a size somewhere between those in Germany and Japan. Capitol Hill architects would have some trouble finding space for 870 new members, but I'm sure there's a way to work it out. Update: as people commenting my twitter feed point out, such a change would likely have salutary effects on D.C. urban planning issues.

7 comments:

Rousseau said...

The chart isn't very convincing you know. The first read from it is "most legislative bodies have 300-600 members, and don't want to go above that". The US just has way more population than those countries.

John Thacker said...

For a strategy to reach a larger House, try suggesting an apportionment change like this:

"The size of the House will be set such that no state loses representation from the previous Census."

Politicians would have a lot of incentive to support that (who likes their seat getting eliminated), and it would cause a steady increase in size.

Nicholas Beaudrot said...

Peter Levine pointed me to some study that shows that Lower House size tends to grow with the cube root of the population. Which would put the U.S. at something like 660 members; 10 more than the U.K. That would get us down to 450k constituents/district, which is better but not really appreciably smaller :/.

Anonymous said...

Last time I checked (a) the US was larger than any of the countries you are comparing it to and (b) the US had state legislatures that also represent their constituents. How about the other countries?

Anonymous said...

Um...what about India? You know, the world's largest democracy. Actually, including India in here would make the U.S. look really good in terms of the number of people represented by each member of the lower house.

Nicholas Beaudrot said...

Canada, the UK, Germany, and France all have some form of government with a legislative branch between the level of city and country. It is true that those governments are less important than our state governments, which may explain why we attach more importance to a smaller number of federal legislators. Not sure about Japan, Spain, or Italy.

Yes, India is more of an outlier than the US, w/ 545 legislators per. But India is much more different from the US in many other respects. Per capita GDP, literacy rates, the ability to provide safe drinking water to 99% of its citizens, etc.

Anonymous said...

You say: Yes, India is more of an outlier than the US, w/ 545 legislators per. But India is much more different from the US in many other respects. Per capita GDP, literacy rates, the ability to provide safe drinking water to 99% of its citizens, etc.

And that therefore makes it not a major democracy? If your intent is to compare the size of Congress to that of the lower houses of other countries that meet some criteria you have established, it would be helpful to know that in the main article.