Who is the proverbial 1 percent when it comes to elections in America? This year, it's maybe a tiny swath of rural conservative voters.
Republicans could take control of the U.S. Senate by winning the votes of roughly half a percent of all Americans in six sparsely populated, increasingly red states, according to this drive-by election analysis by Neil King Jr. on WSJ's Washington Wire blog:
Grabbing the Senate may not equal territorial gains for the GOP. Republicans could take the Senate by picking up seats in six of the most vulnerable states, assuming they hold what they have already: Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. But those states lean heavily to the right already; they gave Mitt Romney an average win margin of 19 points in 2012. (They also represent, by the way, 3.7% of the U.S. population.) So grabbing hold of the Senate via that path will mark a victory, and an important one, but it won't represent an inch of new territory for the GOP.
King points out that Republicans' easiest path to Senate control is basically to win over an already-friendly electorate in states that are collectively home to less than 4 percent of all Americans. But not everyone in those states will vote. Perhaps only half of registered voters in those states will turn out, and only a fraction of those who turn out will vote for the winners.
So, using the 2010 turnout and population totals in those states, I tried to estimate just how many voters there could flip the Senate. (My sources and methodology and many many many caveats for this back-of-the-napkin analysis are in the comments below.) It's not a lot.
Let's assume the Republican candidates in each of these races win with about 51 percent of the votes. It's a debatable assumption: Some may win bigger shares in head-to-head contests with Democrats, and some may squeak through with a bare plurality in three-way elections.
Nevertheless, on this model, those six Senate seats and control of the upper chamber of the legislative branch could be obtained with fewer than two million votes in those states, or roughly half a percent of all citizens of the U.S.
Here's a visualization of that:
As King and many other commentators (with better numbers and models than mine) point out, there are plenty of other ways the Republicans can win (or not win!) Senate control this year. The final voting results and composition of Congress may well look very different from this.
But this rundown is plausible—and it illustrates how the Senate not only privileges small states in the expected Madisonian way, but potentially grants vast power to a mere fraction of the populations of those states to change policy for all Americans—an outsized influence that Madison couldn't possibly have foreseen when setting up a largely homogenous, low-population, preindustrial, sparsely urbanized, slave-dependent 18th century experiment in republican governance.
Practically speaking, though, what would Republican control of the Senate mean in 2015? Not much. It isn't as if a Democratic Senate has accomplished a great deal in its business with an idiotic GOP-led House and a gear-grinding, foot-shooting presidential administration. Expect some anti-administration show trials, a government shutdown or three, a debt fight, an abysmal and unchanged minimum wage, a slashed safety net, and a circular firing squad of toxic recriminations. So, more of the same. At least until the 2016 elections or the Second Civil War, whichever comes first.
[Photo credit: AP Images]