The Senate may be developing an electoral college issue
By Philip Bump
Apr 10 2017
Theoretically, a bill or nomination could pass out of the Senate with the support of senators representing only 16.2 percent of the population. If the two senators from the 25 smallest states agreed to support a bill — and Vice President Pence concurred — the senators from the other 25 states and the 270 million people they represent are out of luck. (Residents of D.C., of course, are always out of luck.)
Generally speaking, though, that’s not how it works. Big states and small states come from both sides of the political aisle and can vary widely in constitution, meaning that Wyoming and Rhode Island don’t often land on the same side of political issues. What’s more, the nature of the Senate is that its members generally pride themselves on the comity of their body. For a long time, that comity has been powered in part by the filibuster, providing a way for any senator to hold up legislation — and requiring a super-majority to get that member to be quiet.
But the times are changing. Last week, the Republican majority changed the rules of the filibuster to allow confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, several years after Democrats, frustrated at not being able to approve judges of their own, changed the rules on Republicans. Those moves, coupled with the fervently partisan moment on Capitol Hill, has meant a much-less-congenial Senate — and a Senate that, by one metric, is closer to allowing outright minority rule.
This is tricky to measure, in part since the two senators from a state don’t always concur. If, for example, we say that the population of a state stands in support of a bill or a nomination if either one of their senators supports it, the percentage of the U.S. population supporting each bill in every such vote since 1991 looks like this. (Data for these visualizations are from GovTrack.us and the Census Bureau.)