The Senate Is an Institutional Barrier to Democracy

The 2018 midterms offer more proof that the US Senate must — someway, somehow — be democratically reformed or abolished. Unless projected outcomes in Arizona or Florida change, the Democratic Party stands to lose a net two Senate seats despite its senatorial candidates racking up, as counted so far, 46.7 million votes versus Republicans’ 33.8 million. Even entirely excluding the more than 6.4 million votes cast in California, where no Republican senatorial candidate appeared on the general ballot, Democrats still secured 6.4 million more votes nationally, an 8-percentage point lead.

Yes, the 2018 Senate map was historically bad for Democrats — but the map is always bad for Democrats. The 2020 map is no exception. While Republicans will be defending 21 seats to the Democrats’ 12, as the Cook Political Report notes, “The GOP has just three of their 21 seats that are up in states that Trump either lost or won by 5 points or less.” In order to take back the Senate, Democrats will have to: hold all of their seats, including Alabama; win both Maine and Colorado; and flip several seats in red states, an exceedingly unlikely outcome.

None of this should be surprising for a legislative body that gives 580,000 Wyomingites the same representation as 40 million Californians. Conservatives may counter that there are also “small” blue states, but the fact is that Republicans consistently benefit more. Senate Republicans have now captured the majority in 6 out of the last 10 Congresses without representing a majority of the public even once.

Short of a party realignment that decouples party politics from the small/large state divide (unlikely as long as rural voters remain more conservative and urban voters more progressive), malapportionment in the Senate will only get worse for Democratic voters. The Democratic Party could move further to the political right in an…

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