Friday, May 6

On representin'.

Re the filibustering/"nuclear option" controversy of late, there's been a lot of talk, and by "talk" I mean "bitching and complaining," from the right wing about how the Senate Democrats are supposedly trying to subvert the will of the majority. (Sometimes I think about all the other judicial nominees that the Senate Dems have permitted to sail through and I wonder when they're ever going to get thank-you notes for those, but I guess Bill Frist was too busy stepping and fetching for Focus on the Family to write them.)

But the "will of the majority" . . . yeah, I know, the Republicans have 55 seats in the Senate compared to only 44 for the Democrats (45 if you count James Jeffords of Vermont, who's officially an independent but votes with the Dems more often than not), but I remember reading an article that appeared in Harper's last year around this time that made the case for doing away with the Senate entirely. The piece made some very interesting points about how the Senate is an inherently undemocratic institution because it gives inordinate power and influence to small, sparsely populated states, which allows them to juice the federal government for way more money than they'd get otherwise, and also screws with the Electoral College (since electoral votes are based on number of representatives plus number of senators), and on and on and on but you could pretty well sum it up with this:

In America today, U.S. senators from the twenty-six smallest states, representing a mere 18 percent of the nation's population, hold a majority in the United States Senate, and, therefore, under the Constitution, regardless of what the President, the House of Representatives, or even an overwhelming majority of the American people wants, nothing becomes law if those senators object. The result has been what one would expect: The less populous states have extracted benefits from the rest of the nation quite out of proportion to their populations. As Frances E. Lee and Bruce I. Oppenheimer have demonstrated in their Sizing Up the Senate, the citizens of less populous states receive more federal funds per capita than the citizens of the more populous states. And what happens if the larger states, with a majority of the people, object? Not much. Today, the nine largest states, containing a majority of the American people, are represented by only 18 of the 100 senators in the United States Senate.


Put this together with the fact that Bush won a whole lot more states than Kerry did in the 2004 election, yet not that many more electoral votes (because he won a whole lot of small states while Kerry won most of the heavily populated ones), and you start to wonder -- just whom does the Senate represent, anyway? I decided to find out.

First of all I decided to measure by straight-up population: Some states have Democratic senators, some have Republicans, so which senators are representing the most people? First I took down the populations of each state as indicated by the most recent Census data, and then I divided them out into the state populations represented by Democrats and the populations represented by Republicans. Since there are two senators to each state, I figured each senator represents one half of their state's population -- maybe an overly simplistic way of looking at it, I guess, but not terrible in the grand scheme of things. For instance, in a state like California (two Democratic senators) or Oklahoma (two Republicans), it's not unreasonable to say the entire state's population is represented by one party in the Senate, and for states like Florida that have one of each . . . well, just split 'em down the middle. Unless one of y'all has a better idea.

Aaaanyway. What I found was that Senate Democrats represented 146,849,457, while Senate Republicans represented 143,087,383 -- meaning that percentage-wise, Dems hold a 50.59-49.30 advantage. And that's without counting Jeffords on the D side -- if you throw him in with the Democrats, they get an additional 309,554 Vermonters and the gap widens to 50.7-49.3.

Now, like I said, simply splitting each state's population down the middle and giving half to each senator isn't the most accurate way of doing this, particularly in a divided state like, say, Florida where the state as a whole might like Democrat Bill Nelson or Republican Mel Martinez better but we really have no way of knowing head-to-head. So I went back and found how many people voted for each person in the 109th Senate. This isn't entirely accurate, either, given that some current senators were last elected in 2000, some were last elected in 2002, and some were last elected just last year, and there's reason to believe that the people who voted for, say, Rick Santorum in 2000 might not be inclined to do so again. But anyway. I went back to the election results to find how many votes each sitting senator got the last time he/she had to be elected or re-elected, and tallied them up to find out how many votes each senator "represents" in Washington.

This time around, Democratic senators represented 59,749,731 popular votes, while the Republicans represented 57,626,077 -- a Democratic advantage of 50.82 percent to 49.02. Count Jim Jeffords as a Democrat and the gap widens once again, with the Democrats now representing 50.98 percent.

(I have all this in a Microsoft Excel worksheet that I'd link or post on here somehow if I was smarter and could figure out how to do it; as it is, you'll just have to e-mail my virtually Web-illiterate ass and request one if you want to see the exact numbers, broken down person by person, state by state.)

Go back to the most recent senatorial elections and measure things a different way, and the difference widens even further: As Andrew Sullivan (somewhat grudgingly, it seems) admitted on his blog yesterday, 41.6 million Americans cast votes for Democratic Senate candidates, while only 38.1 million cast votes for Republicans. Which (roughly) works out to a 52.2-47.8 advantage for the Democrats.

So anyway -- the point of all this number-crunching is that the Republicans' 55-44 advantage in the Senate, which they would have you believe grants them the right to do whatever they want, bears virtually no resemblance to the actual breakdown of the U.S. population or voting public. That's the polite way of saying it; the impolite way -- and the one I prefer, you will not be surprised to know -- would be to tell the Republicans, when they start busting out with the "will of the majority" crap again, to suck it.

1 comment:

Shem said...

Y'know, I needed a breakdown just like this today, and you were the lucky Google hit. Good job.