The Small State Senate Bias
One of the factors that is often overlooked in discussions of the rise of the conservative movment in the past few decades is how this was supported by the way the US constitution was set up to give undue influence to the smaller states. As each state gets the same number of senators, those with smaller population are relatively more important on a per capita basis.
This may not have been too important when the plan was devised, most states at that time were not too large in either size or population and the distortions were not that evident. In the 200+ years since then the country has expanded into unforeseen directions. The results have produced unexpected results.
The most serious of these is the ability of a group of states with small, and most rural, populations to dominate the senate. The table shown below illustrates the effect. It shows the states arranged by population, with the smallest first. The most important columns for our purposes are the rightmost two. Notice that when the cumulative senate seats reaches 50 the cumulative population has only reached 16% (Kentucky). Notice this effect continues even further. By the time we have reached 70 seats we are still only at 34% of the population. The converse of this is that the eight or nine largest states contain about 50% of the population. They are mostly heavily industrialized and contain large cities and, in many cases, fairly large minority populations. Their interests are being under represented.
Within the twenty five states at this point only two (Maryland and Rhode Island) can be considered urban. The rest are primarily rural. So, in effect, rural states with about 1/5 of the population control the senate. Also note the color coding in the first column (red for Republican, blue for Democrat and purple for split party affiliation) for the senators. It is obvious from this that there is not a strong party effect. However, there is an important effect, nevertheless. These smaller, rural states represent the more conservative type of voters. Their concerns are far from those of big city states and the heavily industrialized larger states.
The result is that the political viewpoint has drifted rightward over the past twenty five years. One could argue that these states always had this power. This is true, but early in the 20th century, these states were rural farm states. Many of their citizens were directly involved in agriculture. They tended to side with, or at least sympathize with, the Progressive movement. So they also found themselves allied with industrial workers against the "trusts." The result of this commonality of interests was the passage of much of the progressive social legislation of the time.
Since then the family farm has essentially disappeared. Thus, those remaining in rural areas are no longer populists. The farms that remain are primarily big, corporate enterprises, and support the same sorts of policies as do those in other large industries. The result of this demographic shift is that the interests of the common man are overwhelmed by the power of corporatism in states representing a tiny fraction of the population.
The conclusion to be drawn from this is, that if progressives are to regain political power, they will need to find a way to overcome the institutional bias against their interests. Even Democrats from many of the smaller states take pro-business positions; that is where they get their funding for their political campaigns. There is no way to alter this built-in electoral distortion, so any progressive movement will have to find a way to shift the dynamics of the senatorial elections towards more progressive candidates. This means finding progressives who are willing to run for office and then finding enough financial support for them to be able to run an effective campaign in spite of the expected opposition from the moneyed interests.
With the popular vote in the country pretty evenly divided, the undue influence of the smaller states means that small changes in state elections can tip the senate to the Republicans. The Republican party knows this and can put the effort into influencing small-state elections at a much lower cost than a campaign in a larger state. The seats one wins are just as useful, however.
The progressives have their work cut out for them if they are going to change the political dynamics. Replacing Republicans won't be enough, they need to go after the "Republican-Lite" Democrats as well.
|State Name||Population 2004||Population Rank||Cumulative Population||Cumulative Senate Seats||Cumulative Pop %|