Following the recent midterms that positioned Republicans to control the Senate until at least 2022 (due to the size of the Republican majority relative to the number of flippable seats in 2020), some liberal pundits are now claiming that the Senate is a threat to our “democracy.”
Perhaps the funniest argument spawned against the Senate is this new concept of a the “Senate popular vote” (yes, really). “Republicans lost the popular vote in Senate races by over 15 percentage points, but still gained two seats” wrote Salon writer Amanda Marcotte following the midterms. “Our country is not a democracy,” she continued, which is actually a true statement, just not for the reasons she believes. Another activist wrote “For everyone depressed about ‘Democratic’ performance in the Senate yesterday, remember that the Senate is not a ‘democratic’ institution. Popular vote: Republicans: 31,490,026 (43.0%) Democrats: 40,558,262 (55.4%) Republicans picked up 3 seats. They should have lost 4.”
I’m at something of a loss as to what they actually believe this all means. Do they think that votes for Democrat Senators in California should somehow impact Montana’s Senate races? In the case of California specifically, Diane Feinstein’s greatest challenger (who received 805,446 votes) was also a Democrat. That’s 805k votes added to the Democrats lead in this so-called “Senate popular vote,” but only one Democrat could win that race. Blue States tend to have larger populations, so it’s not at all surprising that more votes can be cast for Democrats overall, while more Republican candidates still defeat Democrat candidates individually.
If they think States with larger populations need more representation, perhaps they should be reminded what the House of Representatives does?
The Senate Has Historically Been Dominated by Democrats
Anyone arguing that the Senate is rigged to favor Republicans has to ask themselves why then it’s Democrats that have historically dominated it.
Over the past 100 years, from 1919-2018, Democrats have controlled the Senate for 62 years, and Republicans for 38 years. While the 107th Senate began split 50/50, Republican Jim Jeffords became an Independent just months in and began caucusing with Democrats, so I’m including the 2 years of the 107th Senate as “Democrat rule.”
It’s also notable that even when the Republican party is the controlling party in that they have more seats than Democrats, it’s more often the case that they still don’t have a majority vote guaranteed. For example, in the 66th Congress Republicans controlled the Senate 48-47 (as there were 96 Senators at the time), but there was one Independent. A similar scenario was present in the 70th and 72nd Congress, where Republicans held a one-seat majority, but an Independent that could threaten that majority. In the 83rd Congress, the GOP held a two seat majority with two independent Senators in office. There were only two cases, the 82nd and 84th Congresses, where a Democrat majority was threatened by Independents if they were to side with Republicans.
Where were the op-eds on the “undemocratic Senate” biased towards “rural Republicans” when Democrats were running the show? The “fairness” of each State having two Senators aside, it hasn’t seemed to matter much for Democrats historically.
The narrative that the Senate is rigged towards Republicans has only sprung up because Republicans are controlling it, and it’s depressing to see so many uncritically accepting the narrative. Claims that the Senate is rigged towards Republicans due to population differences between States are no more credible than when The View’s Joy Behar blamed the recent Republican Senate victories on gerrymandering (who knew Senators had districts to win?).