Analysis: 18% Of The U.S. Population Elects 52% Of The Country’s Senators
Party distribution in the current U.S. Senate highlights a growing problem in American democracy: The country is under minority rule. And this gross imbalance of power increasingly contributes to instability in the United States.
In an explainer on four features of America’s “anti-democratic democracy,” Vox notes that more than half of the U.S. population now lives in just nine states — meaning a large swathe of the country is represented by just 18 senators, and “less than half of the population controls about 82 percent of the Senate.”
A University of Virginia analysis of census projections indicates that the situation will only get worse. By 2040, just eight states will be home to half of the nation’s population, with about 70 percent of Americans living in 16 states. At that point, a mere “30 percent of the population will control 68 percent of the Senate.”
The most populous half of the states lean left, Vox noted, giving Democrats a majority in those states, 26-24. But in the least populous half of the states — where white voters tend to be concentrated — Republicans maintain their grip on power by a whopping 29-21, propping up the Senate majority they currently enjoy.
And give the present trajectory, the Senate GOP’s advantage will only grow. It is highly likely that “the Senate will routinely feature a majority that represents far less than half of the nation as a whole,” Vox wrote. Republicans’ current majority represents 15 million fewer Americans than the Democratic minority.
The old school notion that malapportionment protects smaller states from a “tyranny of the majority” no longer holds, according to Vox, because “there’s no reason to believe that residents of small states, as a class, make up a coherent interest group whose political concerns are in tension with residents of large states.”
The residents of Vermont (population: 623,989) vote more like the residents of New York (population: 19,453,561) than they do like the residents of Alaska (population: 731,545). The people of Wyoming (population: 578,759) vote more like the people of Texas (population: 28,995,881) than they do like the people of Delaware (population: 973,764).
Republican control of the Senate might be a relatively new development in American politics, but Vox noted that so long as white voters continue to sort themselves into the Republican Party — as they constitute a majority in less populous states — then the GOP advantage will not only continue but also grow.
The implications are many, but one particular point Vox made was that of the courts: “Two years ago, Neil Gorsuch made history, becoming the first member of the Supreme Court in American history to be nominated by a president who lost the popular vote and confirmed by a bloc of senators who represent less than half of the country. The second was Brett Kavanaugh.”
And that was made possible by the Republican majority holding open Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat when he died in 2016, even though the Democratic minority at the time represented 20 million more Americans.
Not only has undemocratic control of the Senate given Republicans control of the nation’s upper chamber, but it handed them control of the courts as well.