Every so often, the U.S. Senate takes center stage in American politics, as it did last week in the dramatic showdown over Trumpcare.
About last night. https://t.co/odHqpKTifs
— Sarah Kliff (@sarahkliff) July 28, 2017
As you may recall, Senator John McCain managed to heroically save the ACA, after having the way cleared for him by Senators Murkowski and Collins. Three votes defecting from the GOP party line prevented is all it takes to prevent a bill from passing, given the current composition of the Senate.
This slim margin of victory/defeat brings to mind a perennial question: How unrepresentative is the Senate of the nation as a whole? Is there some sort of systemic bias which gives voters in sparsely populated states an advantage over voters in more densely populated states? The answer may become clear by comparing “blue” states (having two Democratic senators or the practical equivalent thereof) with “red” states (those having two Republican senators).
As you can see from the map (thanks unto Wikimedia) Americans living in Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Wisconsin are all represented by one Senator who caucuses with the Democrats and one who caucuses with the Republicans. Any time we see pure party line voting in the Senate, these (mostly demographically purple) States will cancel themselves out in the final roll call.
The remaining states are firmly red or blue, having two Senators caucusing with one party or the other. These are the states which ultimately decide which bills are passed in the Senate, in the event of strict party line voting.
The blue states of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington have between them 36 senators representing the interests of approximately 140 million residents.
The red states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming have between them 40 senators representing the interests of approximately 106 million residents.
tl;dr — Blue states currently have 10% fewer senators despite having 32% more residents, relative to red states.
This situation is nothing new, though the specific imbalance is bound to change over time, and likely to worsen in 2018. I can think of no remedy for this which doesn’t require resettling the Great Plains from the coastal urban centers such as New York and Chicago, or something even more drastic such as amending the U.S. Constitution.