Thursday, April 18, 2013

Gun Control: a reminder that, in the Senate, 1 person=1 vote does not apply

I was just reading the NY Times Article about how gun control never had a chance, and it got me thinking about how the elephant in the room - that American Citizens are not equally represented in the Senate - was not mentioned once.  I don't fault author Jennifer Steinhauer for leaving out this fact.  After all, what is to be done? But still, I thought it was worth taking a closer look to see if unequal representation of voters in the senate is, in part, to blame for this enormous legislative failure.

 Near the beginning of the article, author Jennifer Steinhauer quotes President Obama citing a now widely-publicized statistic: that 90% of Americans support more gun control legislation. How is it that the senate can't pass legislation that's supported by over 90% of Americans, Obama asked.

Steinhauer's answer is, "the [same] reason Democrats have avoided gun control fights for years: combination of the political anxiety of vulnerable Democrats from conservative states, deep-seated Republican resistance and the enduring clout of the National Rifle Association."

That makes sense, especially when you look at the number of democratic senators who represents states which voted against President Obama in the 2012 election.  But there is a big piece that's missing: U.S. Voters are not equally represented in the senate. Each state, regardless of population size, has 2 senators.  That means that the state with the smallest population, Wyoming (which has .18% of the country's population) has the same number of senators as the state with largest population, California (which has 11.91% of the country's population) each receive 2 senators.  Therefore, the person living in Wyoming's vote "matters" 66 times more than the person in California's vote. Another way to think about this unequal distribution is that less than 20% of the country's population elects 50% of the U.S. Senators.

So how did this weighted vote system affect gun control?

There were 21 states in which both senators from that state voted "No" on the legislation. The states that those Senators hail from contain, cumulatively, 33.08% of the U.S. population, based on the 2010 Census.   And those 21 states control 41% of the Senate vote (because they each have two senators: 21x2=42). So, that's not that bad, right?  33% of the population controlling 41% of the vote.  It's not totally equal, but it's nothing to write home crying about.  However, when Texas, the country's second most populous state (which contains 8.04% of the U.S. population), is removed from the analysis, the numbers are a bit more disturbing.  Then, there are 20 states with the cumulative population of 25.04% and 40% of the senate votes. 25% of the population controlling 40% of the vote.  And, because of the modern use of the filibuster, all you need in the senate to keep a bill from passing is 41%.  They only need one more vote.  And they had it.

That's why something that 90% of the U.S. population approves of didn't pass the Senate.  Because those 90% are not all equally represented.  25% of the U.S. population has the ability to control the Senate.  

That makes no damn sense.


1 comment:

  1. You're right. It makes no damn sense. I'll have a longer response soon, but today I just want to say you nailed the issue, right in its center.
    And veering off a bit, I'm offering this newsstory, which you're probably already aware of, to show that even when he or she actually pledges to vote for background checks, a senator may--um--FLAKE on that promise. Yes, unequal distribution of representation is part of the reason, but there are other forces that worked to override the will of the people, too: