Senators are after all elected to staggered six-year phrases, with a 3rd of the chamber up each two years. To find out the favored vote for any given Senate, due to this fact, we’ve mixed every social gathering’s vote totals for each Senate election over a three-cycle interval. Nevertheless, since completely different election years have differing ranges of voter turnout that complicate the duty of aggregating votes throughout a number of years into an correct gauge of public sentiment, we now have additionally calculated the proportion of the 50-state inhabitants represented by every social gathering in a given election yr, though each metrics nonetheless yield related outcomes.
The figures for 1998, as an example, embody all Senate contests from that yr in addition to 1996 and 1994, plus the share of the inhabitants represented by the senators elected in these years. Taken collectively, as you possibly can see within the chart under, they present the GOP with a slim 50-48 benefit—the final time Republican senators gained extra votes than Democrats. And it’s a must to return two years earlier to search out the newest event when Senate Republicans represented extra of the nation’s inhabitants than Democrats.
Ever since then, Republicans have repeatedly gained management of the Senate regardless of shedding the favored vote and representing states with a minority of the U.S. inhabitants, from 2000 by 2004 and once more from 2014 by 2018.
That imbalance has solely grown extra excessive since. At this time, the 50 members of the Democratic caucus represent 56.5% of the 50-state population in comparison with solely 43.5% for the chamber’s 50 Republicans, which means Democrats have tens of hundreds of thousands extra constituents however the identical variety of seats. Democrats have likewise gained hundreds of thousands extra votes than Republicans throughout the three most up-to-date election cycles, but when Republicans had won just 1,018 more votes in New Hampshire in 2016, they’d nonetheless management the Senate 51-49 at present despite the general public’s decisive assist for Democrats.
Republican minority rule within the Senate has already had far-reaching penalties. 5 Supreme Court docket justices (and lots of extra decrease court docket judges) had been confirmed by senates where the GOP majority was elected with less popular support than Democrats. These right-wing hardliners at the moment are poised to make use of their management over the court docket to assault voting rights and protect Republican gerrymanders whereas placing down progressive insurance policies. This identical minority rule has additionally paved the way in which for enormous tax cuts for the wealthy underneath George W. Bush and Donald Trump which have facilitated an explosion in financial inequality.
The Senate’s malapportionment and bias toward rural white voters who favor the GOP in disproportionate numbers has turn into essentially the most essential institutional menace to democracy, much more so than the Electoral Faculty. Given the propensity of the social gathering controlling the White Home to lose seats in midterm elections, there is a significant risk that Republicans will regain the Senate in 2022 although Democrats might as soon as once more win extra votes and characterize extra individuals than the GOP, and this menace of minority rule will proceed for years to return.
Put one other manner, Democrats have to roll up decisive wins in a number of election years simply to have a shot at a naked majority. However with the nation’s inhabitants increasingly concentrated in just a handful of large states that management a tiny fraction of the Senate, the possibilities for majority rule may develop nonetheless worse within the coming years.
And this barrier doesn’t even handle the Senate filibuster, an accident of history the place the main use has been to block civil rights laws and now asymmetrically advantages the GOP. Republicans’ major priorities of enacting tax cuts for the wealthy and appointing conservative judges can already be managed with easy majority votes whereas Democratic priorities comparable to safeguarding voting rights, defending the surroundings, and reforming democracy require supermajorities.
Trotting out the insidiously misinformed catchphrase “we’re a republic, not a democracy,” Republicans like to assert that the framers of the Structure abhorred democracy and that institutional minority rule is a sacrosanct a part of our constitutional order, however these arguments couldn’t be extra fallacious. Whereas the framers disapproved of direct democracy, they repeatedly made clear that they sought to create a system of consultant democracy where the majority rules with limits, not where the minority rules—in different phrases, a democratic republic.
The Senate’s construction didn’t come about as a reflection of some high-minded ideal but rather was a compromise between self-interested delegates from small states looking for to guard their energy and delegates from bigger states who favored equal illustration primarily based on inhabitants. But even when the Senate was initially established, the biggest state only had 13 times as many people as the smallest state. That distinction has ballooned over the following centuries, with California now at 68 occasions the dimensions of Wyoming.
Luckily for the motion to make our electoral establishments fairer towards the events and to voters of shade, Democrats have one key software obtainable that would modestly assist rebalance the Senate enjoying area: admitting new states by ending the disenfranchisement of 4 million largely Black and Latino residents in Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, respectively. Doing so would solely require a easy majority vote—if Democrats comply with curtail the filibuster—reasonably than a brand new constitutional modification.
Congressional Democrats have already introduced a bill to grant statehood to most of Washington, which Home Democrats passed last year, following on the overwhelming support for statehood by Washington voters in a 2016 referendum. A statehood push can be underway for Puerto Rico, which passed a non-binding referendum in assist of the concept simply final yr.
Within the nineteenth century, the admission of latest states was frequently a tool for reshaping Senate politics. When confronted with tenuous majorities threatened by white supremacist voter suppression within the South, Republicans underneath President Benjamin Harrison solidified their maintain on energy not by protecting the rights of Black Southerners however by admitting six sparsely populated northwestern states in 1889 to 1890, together with splitting the Dakota Territory into two states. This determination by Gilded Age Republicans to gerrymander the Senate way back nonetheless occurs to favor the social gathering at present.
However even when Democrats admit Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico as new states, doing so would solely modestly scale back the Senate’s appreciable biases towards Republicans and in opposition to voters of shade, not eradicate them, for the reason that median seats within the chamber would still lean more conservative and whiter than the nation as a whole.
Over the long run, extra far-reaching measures will probably be wanted. The British, as an example, stripped from their upper chamber, the then-reactionary Home of Lords, the ability to dam payments accepted by the Home of Commons over a century in the past. Counting on a single chamber of presidency is feasible: Nebraska eradicated its state Home and adopted a unicameral legislature in 1934, whereas Washington, D.C. is ruled by a single 15-member council.
After all, proposals like these would require both a constitutional modification—which the GOP would oppose—or an outright break with the constitutional order much like the framers did when ditching the Articles of Confederation in favor of the Structure. Admitting new states is due to this fact essentially the most sensible choice for stopping the Senate from turning into much more entrenched as a bastion of white Republican minority rule.