The Senate is a profoundly undemocratic institution. Because representation is apportioned by state, people in California (pop: 38.3 million) has the same number of representatives as Wyoming (pop: 582,658). California has one Senator for every 19.5 million people, while Wyoming has one for every 291,329 people. This leads to all sorts of distortions, since the mostly conservative, rural middle states have a stronger influence on policy than metropolitan areas. Dylan Matthews calculates that you can get a majority in the Senate using only senators representing 17.82% of the population. Adam Liptak writes that the political implication of this bias:
Beyond influencing government spending, these shifts generally benefit conservative causes and hurt liberal ones. When small states block or shape legislation backed by senators representing a majority of Americans, most of the senators on the winning side tend to be Republicans, because Republicans disproportionately live in small states and Democrats, especially African-Americans and Latinos, are more likely to live in large states like California, New York, Florida and Illinois. Among the nation’s five smallest states, only Vermont tilts liberal, while Alaska, Wyoming and the Dakotas have each voted Republican in every presidential election since 1968.
The upcoming midterm election gives us a great example of how profoundly undemocratic the Senate is. Assuming the Republicans hold the seats they have, they can gain a majority by picking up Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. Those six states represent 3.7% of the U.S. population. But not everyone votes. I pulled up the 2010 Census data (Table 4C) and ran some calculations. Let’s assume that turnout is the same and that these states still have roughly the same share of the population. If that’s true, the Senate will be be decided by 4.8% of voters, 2% of the U.S. Voting Eligible Population (VEP)* and 1.5% of the total population of the United States. Democracy.
Here’s my calculations:
* Citizens over 18.