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OPINION

The 10% Rule: These Congressional Districts All Elected Democrats

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AP Photo/Harry Hamburg

Call it the 10% rule: If 10% or more of the workers in a particular congressional district were civilian federal employees in 2022, then that district elected a Democrat to the House of Representatives.

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The Congressional Research Service this month published a report entitled "Current Federal Civilian Employment by State and Congressional District."

"This report provides a snapshot of recent statistics for U.S. government employment in each state and territory, as well as estimates for how many federal workers live in each congressional district," said the report.

It then noted that "these figures do not include uniformed military personnel or federal contractors."

The report included a table that listed each of the nation's 435 congressional districts with an estimate -- based on the Census Bureau's American Community Survey -- of the total number of federal civilian employees who lived in that district in 2022. The table also listed "a calculation of federal workers as a percentage of all employed civilians (aged 16 and older) who live in that district."

This table showed there were seven congressional districts in which more than 10% of all employed civilians worked for the federal government. Not surprisingly, each of these districts sits in Maryland or Virginia -- near Washington, D.C.

Last November, every one of these seven districts elected a Democrat to Congress.

Indeed, 12 of the 13 districts that had the highest percentages of federal civilian workers among their employed population were districts that elected Democrats. So, too, were 16 of the top 20.

Maryland's 5th congressional district led the nation with the highest percentage of federal civilian workers among its employed population. It was home to an estimated 80,643 of these federal employees, according to the CRS. That equaled 19.72% of all the civilians employed there.

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So, who did this district elect to Congress in 2022?

It elected Rep. Steny Hoyer, who has served in the House of Representatives for more than 40 years and was the House majority leader in the last two Congresses -- before the Republicans took back that chamber.

Virginia's 8th congressional district, which sits across the Potomac River from Hoyer's Maryland district, had the second-highest percentage of federal civilian workers. The estimated 72,872 of these government workers who lived there made up 16.36% of its employed population. Democratic Rep. Don Beyer represents this district.

Virginia's 7th congressional district sits just south of Beyer's 8th. It had the third-highest percentage of federal civilian workers. The estimated 59,210 who lived there in 2022 made up 14.56% of its employed population. Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger represents that district.

Maryland's 8th congressional district, which sits on the northwest border of Washington, D.C., ranked fourth. The estimated 56,878 federal civilian employees who lived there made up 14.33% of its employed population. Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin represents this district.

Virginia's 11th district, which spreads across the Fairfax County suburbs south and west of the nation's capital, ranked fifth. The 54,386 federal civilian workers estimated to live there made up 12.73% of its employed population. Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly represents this district.

Maryland's 4th district, which borders the nation's capital to the north and east, ranked sixth. The 46,549 federal civilian workers estimated to live there made up 11.91% of its employed civilians. Democratic Rep. Glenn Ivey represents this district.

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Maryland's 3rd district, which stretches northwest from Chesapeake Bay through suburbs and exurbs of Washington and Baltimore, ranked seventh. The 46,847 federal civilian workers estimated to live there made up 11.3% of its employed civilians. Democratic Rep. John Sarbanes represents this district.

Virginia's second district, which is not in the Washington area, ranked eighth -- and elected a Republican to Congress. But it also had less than 10% of its civilian workers employed by the federal government. In this district, which sits on the southern coast of Virginia, the estimated 34,015 federal civilian workers who lived there made up 9.36% of its employed civilian population.

The next five congressional districts with the highest percentages of federal civilian workers -- Virginia's 10th (9.2%), Hawaii's 1st (8.82%), New Mexico's 3rd (8.51%), Washington's 6th (8.49%) and Virginia's 3rd (8.47%) -- are all represented by Democrats in Congress.

The next district represented by a Republican is Alabama's 5th, which at 7.94% ranks 14th for the percentage of its workers who were federal civilian employees.

Is there any reason to believe it is anything more than a coincidence that the congressional districts with the highest percentages of civilian federal government workers elect Democrats to Congress?

In 2021, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a working paper entitled "Ideology and Performance in Public Organizations." It was authored by two faculty members at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and one at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.

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A subsection of this paper is headlined "Democrats are overrepresented among civil servants."

"Democrats make up the plurality of civil servants," the paper says. "(T)he share of Democrat-leaning civil servants hovers around 50% across the entire 1997-2019 period. By contrast, the share of Republicans ranges from approximately 32% in 1997 to about 26% in 2019, with a corresponding increase in the share of independents. To put these numbers in perspective, the share of Democrats in the universe of individuals in our voter registration data is 40.8%, while the share of Republicans is 30.7%.

"This," the paper says, "implies an overrepresentation of Democrats among federal civil servants of about 10 p.p., or about 20% relative to their share in the population."



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