Tech Law Journal Congressional Scorecard 1998

The Digital Divide in Congress

(January 5, 1999)  Tech Law Journal examined the role of race in support for high tech issues to see if there is any "digital divide" in Congress.  The average high tech support score of black Representatives is lower than the average for the whole House of Representatives.


Senate Scores
House Scores
Scorecard Criteria
Notes on Methods


Senate Top 10
House Top 10


Regional Patterns
Urban vs. Rural
Party Affiliation
Digital Divide
Gender Gap?
Age and Seniority

This article is a part of the Tech Law Journal Congressional Scorecard 1998 series.   All 100 Senators and all 435 Representatives were rated on a 0 to 100 scale on the basis of their support for high tech.  The scorecard utilized five objective criteria (roll call votes on, and sponsorship of, bills pertaining to encryption, Internet tax moratorium, securities litigation reform, H1B visas, as well as membership in the Internet Caucus). 

Two questions were addressed. First, do black legislators differ from white legislators in their level of support for high tech? Second, do legislators from states or districts with higher proportions of black voters differ from legislators from states or districts with lower proportions of black voters in their level of support for high tech? The answer to both questions is yes.

There was only one black Senator in the 105th Congress, Sen. Carol Braun. There were 38 black Representatives. Sen. Braun had a score of only 20. However, one cannot generalize from just one example. Moreover, Sen. Braun lost her bid for re-election. There will be no opportunity to see how supportive of high tech she would have been in the 106th Congress.

There were thirty-eight black Representatives.

First, do black legislators vote differently? The data from the House of Representatives indicates that there is a large difference in the level of support for high tech. The average score for black Representatives was only 24.74, while the average score for the House as a whole was 49.29.

  Number Average Score
White 397 51.67
Black 38 24.74
Entire House 435 49.29

It is also noteworthy that of the twenty-three Representatives with perfect scores, none was black. In contrast, of the thirty-two Representatives with scores of 0, eight were black.

Second, is there a connection between the percentage of voters in a district or state who are black, and the high tech support score of legislators? Here too the data indicates a strong relationship. One way to demonstrate this is to measure the statistical correlation between the high tech support score for each legislator and the percentage of the district that is black. For the House of Representatives, the correlation coefficient is -.27.

Of course, House districts with a majority or near majority of black voters tend to be represented by black Representatives. Do low support scores have something to do with the race of the Representative, or the race of the district? Or perhaps both relationships are spurious. However, in the Senate, where all but one Senator was white in the 105th Congress, the same statistical relationship between the high tech support score and the racial makeup of the state prevailed. The correlation coefficient for the Senate was -.17.

This is merely an analysis the actions of elected officials. No attempt has been made here to examine the voting behavior of the general electorate. That would take polling data.

Also, the lack of support for high tech is not uniform for all black elected officials. Two Representatives stand out: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX, Score 80) and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL, Score 40). Lee, with a high tech support score of 80, is the only black to score above 40. Had she cosponsored the Internet Tax Freedom Act, she would have had a perfect score. At 48 she is younger than the average Representative. Also, she is new to Congress, first winning election in 1994. Her district is the center of Houston.

Bobby Rush only scored 40, but he holds a seat on the Commerce Committee, and has been active in some tech issues. He has been one of the more active defenders of the Federal Communications Commission's handling of the "e-rate" program for subsidizing computer networking, telephone services, and Internet access for schools and libraries. He was a cosponsor of the House encryption bill (HR 695). He voted for the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act. He also cosponsored a pro tech Year 2000 litigation bill (HR 4455). The lead sponsors were David Dreier (R-CA, Score 100) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA, Score 100).

Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK, Score 40) cosponsored the encryption bill, and voted for the SLUSA. He is a member of the House Republican leadership. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI, Score 20) supported the encryption bill. If the Democrats retake control of the House in 2000, he would become the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.