Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Electing the 114th Senate: Votes and Seats

With Louisiana’s Senate runoff election complete, the makeup of the Senate in the 114th U.S. Congress is now fully determined. Republicans netted nine seats to take a 54-46 majority*, returning to control of the chamber for the first time since their defeat in the 2006 midterms. 

As a body designed to represent states rather than citizens, the Senate’s partisan makeup tends to bear a fairly loose relationship to the raw numbers of votes that were cast to elect its members. With the final election results in hand, let’s take a look at how votes cast for Senate candidates translate to seats in the world’s greatest deliberative body. 

In all, Americans cast 202.5 million votes to elect the current Senate, spread across three election cycles in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Of these, 49% were cast for Democratic candidates and 46.6% for Republicans. Here's how votes cast equated to seats won for the two parties in each of the past four election cycles, with the far-right bars showing this relationship for the entirety of the currently elected Senate (click the image to expand):

Source: The Green Papers, FEC.

In the aggregate, Democratic voters are underrepresented in the Senate and Republican voters are overrepresented compared to their respective strengths in the electorate, although Democrats outperformed their raw vote totals in two of the past four individual elections. 

The 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes. This is in part a reflection of differences in turnout across elections and partly a reflection of the slight tendency for small states to elect Republicans and large states to elect Democrats. California Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, for example, won over 13 million votes combined to win their seats, while Wyoming Republicans Mike Enzi and John Barrasso combined for just over 300,000 (2.3% of the California delegation’s total). 

Most of the U.S. population is represented by two Senators from the same party. The below chart breaks down the country’s population (2013 Census estimates) by representation in the Senate: 

Thirty-four states with a combined population of 191.8 million are represented by at least one Republican Senator, compared to 30 states and 213.1 million represented by at least one Democratic Senator. 

Stay tuned for more FairVote analysis of the 2014 midterms and their implications for American democracy. 

*Independent Senators Bernie Sanders (VT) and Angus King (ME) caucus with the Democratic Party. Lisa Murkowski (AK) was elected as a write-in candidate in 2010 but caucuses with the Republican Party. All three are classed here as members of the party they caucus with. 


  1. Maybe I don't understand the charts correctly, but it seems to me that at least the last columns are incorrect, given the 47-to-68 vote totals? Why do the vote bars appear roughly equal?

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  3. The Democrats need some cheese to go with their whine. Once again, the Constitution, and via it, Federalism, always seems to get in the way of their holding onto power.

  4. The problem is quite obvious, we have two legislative bodies that are elected in the same manner. The problem is the 17th amendment to the Constitution. The Senate is supposed to represent the interest of the states and should be appointed by the state legislatures. To clear this problem we should repeal the 17th amendment.

  5. Thank you, Scott, for your very thoughtful response. Now I see: Paragraph three concerns both winners and losers; paragraph five, only the winners.

  6. I don't know that this is so un-democratic. The system of representation was designed so the smaller states were not overwhelmed by the more populous states. Another system may see NY and Ca. and some others dominate the senate. The more un-deomcratic issue is the first-past-the-post voting system used in most HoR districts. That eliminates most third party candidates and gives the two major parties a dominance which is rife for corruption.

  7. I have a question regarding this statistic: "As for the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes."

    How was the vote total calculated for senators who were not elected in 2014, but in previous years? Since they are included in the total number of caucus members, I'm guessing their votes from 2010/2012 are somehow added into the total number of votes per party?

  8. "I don't know that this is so un-democratic. The system of representation was designed so the smaller states were not overwhelmed..." Democracy means "rule by the people" (demos=people). Notice that you pivoted quickly from people to states. The two are not equivalent. Representation is currently determined by abstract entities and geography, not peoples. That's, by definition, undemocratic. Wyomans have roughly 75x the voting power as Californians, per capita. If it were a true democracy, each American vote would have equal or near equal weight.

  9. But the current arrangement allows the smaller States, allowing for gerrymandering, to overwhelm the larger.

  10. Once again, record is usually in relation to replicate itself within United states Nation-wide politics. It looks like for just two diverse causes Many individuals get felt the need intended for a third party within politics. Both they also believe in 1 or 2 political conditions they really feel are not provided an enormous plenty of role within often from the a couple of large get-togethers programs or maybe they do not also believe in anything at all and are irritated using the way democracy along with discussion work to solve political issues within modern society. Third-party candidate, typically