The Corner

Elections

The Senate Results Are Not Unfair to the Democrats

This from a political-science professor has been retweeted thousands of times, and I’m seeing a lot of similar complaints as well:

This does not make any sense whatsoever as an indictment of the Senate, even setting aside that not all the races have been called yet.

The usual point about the Senate — or the Electoral College, or gerrymandering in the House — is that when Republicans win X percent of the popular vote, they typically win more than X percent of the available seats. (There’s a whole argument to be had about why things are set up this way, of course, but I won’t get into that here.) It is not that winning a majority of the vote should entitle you to an increase in seats no matter what the previous balance was.

Okay, you might say, but Republicans started out with a Senate majority and added to it, so the Senate still doesn’t reflect the popular vote. But this ignores that the entire Senate isn’t elected every two years, as happens in the House. Instead, senators serve six-year terms, with one-third of them facing reelection every two years — and the Democrats had a good year in 2012, which forced them to defend a lot of seats yesterday in states where Republicans have a chance. Of the 35 seats that were up for election (including two special elections), 26 are currently held by Democrats (including independents who caucus with the Democrats).

If you compare the percentage of yesterday’s popular vote with the percentage of seats won last night, you actually reach an uncomfortable conclusion: While Democrats won 55 percent of the popular vote, even losing three seats they’ll get 66 percent of the ones up for grabs (26 minus 3, divided by 35).

This doesn’t undermine the general point that the Senate is undemocratic — it’s designed to be — but perhaps this election isn’t the best example of its bad effects on Democrats.

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