Rural v. Urban Representation and the Quality of Democracy

Minority rule and self-reinforcing cleavages are not a a healthy combination.

This post is related to my recent series (and I am sure it is a theme I will pick up again later).

Let’s consider the following facts:

  1. Two of the last five presidential elections (2000 and 2016) were won by candidates who lost the popular vote contest.
  2. Two members of the US Supreme Court were appointed by a president who lost the popular vote by almost 3,000,000 votes and two others were appointed by a president who initially came to office with a popular vote loss (Bush’s appointees were in his second term).
  3. The most recent seat on the Court was confirmed by a Senate majority that represented only 44.2%of the population.   As Jamelle Bouie noted recently in an essay at Slate: “With Kavanaugh’s confirmation, an electoral minority is now essentially dictating the terms of constitutional interpretation, thanks to two institutions: the Electoral College—which favors the geographical distribution of supporters, not the total number—and the Senate, which creates huge disparities of representation.”
  4. In 2012 the party that won the national popular vote did not win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives (and such spurious majorities have happened a handful of times over the years–see here). Indeed, as analysis at FiveThirtyEight shows (fourth chart down), one party has a built-in advantage:  they need a smaller share of the popular vote to win the chamber than does the other party (and, indeed, can lose the national popular vote and still win the chamber). Again, Bouie: “Democrats will have to win the House by at least 7 points to claim a majority of seats. At least one report says Democrats need to win by double digits to gain a majority. By contrast, Republicans could win just 45 to 46 percent of the overall House vote and still hold on to the lower chamber.”
  5. The size of the House, 435 seats, has been set in law since 1912 when the population was ~92 million and each congressional district held 210,328 residents. Now (using 2010 census data, those numbers are ~324 million and 710,767.  This creates inadequate representation (and favors, as do all our rules, rural voters and low population states relative to urban voters and large population states). Theories of representation suggest that the US House should be 687 seats.
  6. A Senate majority can be obtained with Senators representing only 17% of the population (i.e., the 25 least populated states contain just under 17% of the overall population).

In other words, our current system doesn’t do a very good job of representing the population and of late has put us in a position of minority rule.  This affects all three branches of the federal government.  I know that many see this observation as a partisan point, since the systematic advantage goes to Republicans over Democrats.  However, the concern here is not about party, but about the long-term health of the system as well as a concern for basic fairness and the fact that, as a general proposition, a representative democracy is supposed to be representative of the people in some significant fashion.

Not to sound overly dramatic, but a system that on the one hand promises “government of, by, and for the people” wherein “all men are created equal” and then produces government by the minority is a system headed for serious crisis. Our system diffuses power, and it even makes pure majority rule difficult, but the goal was never minority rule.

All of these factors are a direct result of the over-representation of rural voters over urban voters. This violates the notion of the equality of citizens. This is especially problematic as we have increasingly seen one party predominantly represent rural voters/states and the other party represent urban voters/states.  Such a self-reinforcing cleavages will exacerbate the potential for crisis.

Some readings on this subject:

FILED UNDER: Politics 101, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    If your electorate keeps voting for Obamas, but due to an archaic compromise over slavery, number-crunching gerrymanders, and cheating by state republicans, the system keeps empowering Trumpers, there’s only so long that system will be tolerated.

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  2. @Teve: Indeed, the post does not even address the issue of voter suppression.

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  3. Gustopher says:

    Not to sound overly dramatic, but a system that on the one hand promises “government of, by, and for the people” wherein “all men are created equal” and then produces government by the minority is a system headed for serious crisis. Our system diffuses power, and it even makes pure majority rule difficult, but the goal was never minority rule.

    The original goal was minority rule: white, male property-owners.

    The myths of our country’s founding are all much more egalitarian though, and are much more widely believed in than the reality, to the point where the reality almost doesn’t matter anymore.

    And, those myths are all hard to square with the last 20 years of electoral votes.

    A lot of the voter id laws end up targeting minorities (sorry, Mr. Pirhaña, your registration doesn’t have the squiggle your id has or vice versa), renters (your address on your id no longer matches) and women (I’m sorry, Mrs. Maiden-Huband, your name doesn’t match our records) — ironically bringing them closer to the original intent, and pointing out how repugnant the original intent was.

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  4. @Gustopher:

    The original goal was minority rule: white, male property-owners.

    Well, of course. But it was not designed that a minority of those folks would govern. That is the point.

  5. (But I take your point).

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    The Founders made a number of mistakes in the Constitution: the tolerance of slavery, the second-class citizenship of women, the 2d Amendment. . .

    One of those mistakes was assuming a future United States that would function as separate mini-nations, almost all heavily dependent on agriculture, with at least a plurality living on or near farms. Well, we are not 13 or 50 little mini-nations, and we are not an agricultural power but a technological, cultural and military one. The more relevant political entity is not the state except in a few cases, but the city.

    And at risk of angering rustics, rural America is not a cross-section of America, it’s where people live who lack the talent or ambition to get the hell out and move to a city or its suburbs. Colloquially known as ‘losers’, they hold the balance of power over the better-educated, the more successful, the more relevant to the future. Los Angeles – just the city, not the CSA – has a larger population than 22 states. Any given block in Manhattan has a GDP higher than Vermont or Wyoming.

    The basic organization of the country is absurd. The system no longer fits the country. It is obsolete. You simply cannot have the world’s economic and military superpower run by people who believe in angels, think Obama was Kenyan and have never been 100 miles from whatever cowtown they were born in. But because of the way the system is currently configured, there is absolutely no chance of ever fixing the system, short of a revolution. And revolutions have a poor record.

    Our political system is and will remain dominated by the dumbest, the narrowest and the most out-of-touch. See also: Trump.

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  7. Kylopod says:

    You also need to consider that at the time of ratification, just 5% of the country lived in cities. From the beginning the system was set up to disproportionately favor rural voters, but at the time this wasn’t anywhere near the distortion of the popular will that it is today, since rural voters were the majority, and nobody foresaw a day when that would no longer be the case.

    In other words, I don’t want hear any more crap (even though I know I will) about the “wisdom of the Founders.”

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  8. EddieInCA says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Micheal –

    That post is why you’re a Writer and I’m a Producer. You wrote what I wanted to but cannot, no matter how hard I try.

    I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life living and working in So. Florida, Texas, Georgia, and a bit in Los Angeles. The disconnect I have when being in “rural” areas is still shocking to me. That so many Americans don’t travel or even have a curiosity of how most of the rest of the world works still perplexes me. I’ve seen the ignorance first hand way too often.

    I’ll be accused of being an elitist. I’ve gotten over taking that as an insult. I realize now I’m fortunate, despite my upbriging (Poor. Very, very poor.), I am fortunate to have had a single mother who pushed upon me the value of other cultures and ideas.

    Americans would have a better understanding of “socialism” if they visited the Scandanavian countries.

    Americans would have a better understanding of immigration – legal and illegal – if they actually visited Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, or Venezuela.

    And so on and so on.

    But we’re a lazy people, and too many are still for just god, against gays, and for guns.

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  9. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    You simply cannot have the world’s economic and military superpower run by people who believe in angels, think Obama was Kenyan and have never been 100 miles from whatever cowtown they were born in.

    1. What’s wrong with believing in angels? Ok, it’s dumb, but the vast majority of humans believe in a sky god in one for or another.

    2. Yeah, that’s just dumb.

    3. The people who run the country are those who were smart enough to get out of their cowtowns, but go back to their cowtown to get elected and pretend to represent them.

    The solution isn’t to just look down on middle America, but to find a way to get some of the prosperity that is currently clustering in a few cities to spread out. It may not happen for the rural areas, but at least the middle to smaller cities. We need to spread the benefits of our society wider.

    We can create a country where people have common beliefs again. It’s like gay marriage — everyone was opposed until the internet came along and the cowtowns discovered lesbian porn.

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  10. R. Dave says:

    One counterpoint – or at least countervailing factor to consider – is that government is just one of the power centers in society, and many (if not all) of the others are largely populated by and reflect/cater to the preferences of the urban majority. The media, the academy, corporate branding/marketing and internal culture, etc. have all been shifting the baseline norms of our society toward progressive, cosmopolitan values for decades. One could argue that the structural bias in governmental representation toward provincial, rural interests is actually a healthy, even invaluable feature that gives the rural minority a means of countering the cultural power of the urban majority in a way that reinforces rather than undermines the legitimacy and long-term stability of the system as a whole. Eventually, the cultural pressures will generally win out and the rural minority will come to accept the urban majority’s preferences as their own through constant exposure and generational turnover, but in the meantime, their inflated representation in government affords them time to do so in a more gradual, organic way.

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  11. Teve says:

    And at risk of angering rustics, rural America is not a cross-section of America, it’s where people live who lack the talent or ambition to get the hell out and move to a city or its suburbs. Colloquially known as ‘losers’, they hold the balance of power over the better-educated, the more successful, the more relevant to the future.

    I grew up poor in rural florida–which I know you have some experience with–and I have to say this is an oversimplification. In many cases it is true, and I can give people tours of our finest trailer parks where meth and synthetic pot can be acquired. I can introduce you to countless rural dipshits who joke about keeping dead batteries in the truck console to throw at black people walking alongside the road. You want TRUMP THAT BITCH bumper stickers? we got ’em.

    But, economic inequality is so systemic that if you’re born poor or minority in this system you have to be damn lucky to get out anymore. America’s not the Land of Opportunity it prides itself as. For evidence I point to recent studies which show that the dumbest and least talented rich kid does statistically better in modern america than the smartest and most talented poor kid. I think Stephen King mentioned decades ago that poor rural towns were black holes, nearly impossible to escape from.

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  12. @R. Dave:

    The media, the academy, corporate branding/marketing and internal culture, etc. have all been shifting the baseline norms of our society toward progressive, cosmopolitan values for decades.

    Even if I stipulate your position, which I don’t totally agree with, none of these entities make laws or set budgets.

  13. Theories of representation suggest that the US House should be 687 seats.

    Steven,

    Here I believe you are referring to the cube root rule. My impression, as a layman, is that it works better when the political boundaries can be redrawn regularly to capture population shifts. That isn’t the case with state boundaries and I would think a significantly larger House would be justified to get a better distribution.

  14. Modulo Myself says:

    There’s a major difference between rural and small town. I grew up in a small town in Pa, and in the small town’s mind, it wasn’t rural. It was a wealthier small town. A college, a bank, a country club, with people who stayed generations at the top. Not everybody stayed. But enough did. That’s not happening now. Nobody would stick around if they could help it. The downtown is half-abandoned and nothing nice exists, and everyone is all in for Trump.

    Here’s another thing. This town was 99.9999% white, and yet nobody when I was there would have called themselves white. My parents were super-liberal and even in talking about race we never talked about being white or what that meant. In a simple kitschy way the town was American and Nixon’s Silent Majority still existed. Now, it seems very hard to believe that white people are unaware of being white. It seems equally hard to believe there’s any silent majority of Americans (e.g. whites) who are prudent, moderate, virtuous, and wise, despite all of their flaws. Which is partly way dull white people are so angry–because they’ve never had to deal with being white before or not being in the de facto moral majority.

  15. Scott F. says:

    Such self-reinforcing cleavages will exacerbate the potential for crisis.

    If there’s a way to avert this crisis, I’m not seeing it.

    While the cultural forces noted by R. Dave are real, the structural advantages noted in the OP preclude that the minority will hold enough power to prevent any legislative efforts for the foreseeable future. The donor class is quite happy with the quasi-oligarchy we have now in the US and without massive campaign finance reform don’t expect any meaningful shift in the representation we have in Congress.

    This means the cleavage will only grow until there is some significant crisis to drive the adjustment.

  16. R. Dave says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    True, but politics is downstream of culture, as they say. When the culture shifts, the laws and budgetary priorities tend to follow, so cultural power and political power are not entirely separate things.

  17. Another thing I’ve been considering regarding some impending crisis of government: at some point, wealthier blue states will get sick of this situation and they’re the ones paying the bills. They will be outnumbered in the Senate and will have no recourse.

    Some simple things that can be done include making the House more representative (larger, proportional, etc.) and giving the House advise and consent power for all lifetime appointments so the people aren’t completely locked out of the power structures in the country.

    The states being hurt by the current arrangements are, as I said, the ones paying the bills. At some point that will get tiresome.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    The states being hurt by the current arrangements are, as I said, the ones paying the bills. At some point that will get tiresome.

    At some point? Dare I say that has already happened…

  19. Kathy says:

    @Robert Prather:

    Another thing I’ve been considering regarding some impending crisis of government: at some point, wealthier blue states will get sick of this situation and they’re the ones paying the bills. They will be outnumbered in the Senate and will have no recourse.

    That’s one way civil wars or revolutions come about. The Plebeians in the early days of the Roman Republic, and the Italians in the last days. The Rounders in the English Civil War. The Third Estate in the French Revolution. The whole European middle class in 1848.

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Actually, we are an agricultural power, also. Just not in the sense of a “nation of yeoman farmers.”

  21. Liberal Capitalist says:

    So… All politics is local.

    Steven’s article points out that there is a problem. And I don’t think that any of us would disagree with the underlying thesis: That we do not have one-person one-vote representation in the USA.

    However, while I do like to read Steven’s writings, to address this problem would require altering the Constitution.

    To alter the Constitution, you need 2/3 of the House AND 2/3rds of the Senate to agree to make that change.

    Consider the red states (or leaning red) like: Oklahoma, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Alaska, Nebraska, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Indiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and New Hampshire.
    (source)

    Now, why would they do this? For some sort of lofty idea of playing fair? That’s 20 states, whose Senators would never want to give up the power that they have.

    Unless there is a dramatic change of mind in those states, this will not occur. And most of those states go well out of their way to ensure that they control the message, voting population and turnout at the polls.

    Consider Georgia, which is not on that list. How much has happened this year to suppress the vote. After November, it will be a red turnout, with Dems wringing their hands saying that the GOP didn’t play fair.

  22. Glenn Quagmire says:

    … self-reinforcing cleavages …

    Giggity !

  23. @Robert Prather:

    Here I believe you are referring to the cube root rule. My impression, as a layman, is that it works better when the political boundaries can be redrawn regularly to capture population shifts. That isn’t the case with state boundaries and I would think a significantly larger House would be justified to get a better distribution.

    I am referring to the cube root law, yes. It would improve representativeness even with the state boundary issue. It would enhance urban influence, for example.

  24. @R. Dave:

    True, but politics is downstream of culture, as they say. When the culture shifts, the laws and budgetary priorities tend to follow, so cultural power and political power are not entirely separate things.

    I do take the point, but cultural shifts still requires political action to implement and so if the government is, in fact, minority-controlled the cultural shifts become far harder to implement.

  25. Mister Bluster says:

    Rustics

    They will be out in droves here next weekend to see their Supreme Leader Kim Jong Trump as he campaigns for United States Congressman Representative Mike Bost.
    Holding a rally at the local airport is a good idea for security as the facility is a few miles out of town and bordered on two sides by a river. The only road into the place will be easy to block.
    Local officials are playing down rumors of violence despite the discovery of a business card from the white supremacist group Patriot Front in the mailbox of The Flyover Social Center.
    Coincidently:
    “Saturday, Oct. 27, is also the day the city had planned its first Halloween festival since raucous parties decades ago had turned destructive. The City Council had earlier voted to allow open containers of alcohol in the festival area downtown.” Southern Illinoisan
    I had already made an out of town commitment when Pud’s travel plans were announced so I will miss the revelry.
    I was here in the spring of 1970 for several months of anti war/anti draft protests and demonstrations that culminated in two weeks of anarchy and riots after four innocent American Citizens were murdered by United States Troops at Kent State University.
    Unless some one gets shot dead, an occurrence I can not dismiss, this will not even come close to the turmoil of 48 years ago.

  26. @Steven L. Taylor: Oh, no doubt. I just think it would work even better with an even larger House.

  27. Kathy says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Actually, we are an agricultural power, also.

    With that much fertile land, close to that much water, with that much technology, adn that much money, you’d better be 🙂

    Just not in the sense of a “nation of yeoman farmers.”

    And that’s another big way in which reality has surpassed the Founders (or rather the Framers, since it’s the Constitution that’s outdated in parts).

    Tacking closer on topic, if memory serves, the number of House seats is fixed by law. Changing the law requires simple majorities in the House and Senate (and 60 votes to end debate in the latter, which might be a problem). But, as far as I know, there is no push to change it, by either party, even though it would benefit Democrats a great deal.

    Changing how the Senate is made up, would require a Constitutional amendment. There is some agitation to repeal the 17th amendment. But that would merely means whichever party wins the state legislature wins the senate, and that wouldn’t be too different from direct elections. It would also not affect the proportional representation issue.

    Bicameral national legislatures are rather common, though they operate on somewhat different principles. Mexico, for instance, has 4 senators per state (32 states including Mexico City (no longer known as the Federal District, BTW)), elected in a rather complicated way (link if you understand Spanish; I don’t feel like translating today), and 500 representatives in the Chamber of Deputies, elected in part directly (300), and in part by proportional representation (200) (link).

    BTW, since the preview button sin’t working, why not remove it until it gets fixed? Just a thought.

  28. @Liberal Capitalist:

    to address this problem would require altering the Constitution.

    This is why I fear a real crisis: the lack of a viable way to address the problems within the strictures created by the constitution.

  29. @Robert Prather:

    I just think it would work even better with an even larger House.

    You mean larger than 687?

  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Robert Prather: While I see your point, isn’t part of the whole “deficits pay for themselves” nonsense that lowering taxes but still buying everything everyone wants removes the sense of “having skin in the game” from everyone? I’m not particularly rich, but I live simply enough that I can afford to travel to exotic places if I want to and pay cash for $5000 worth of hearing aids in the same year. My tax bill is almost nothing. I live in a blue state. I have no control over what the gubmint does fiscally, but it also doesn’t hit me in the wallet.

    Beyond that, my take on the “future governmental crisis” is that it’s possible that the new standard of wealth in the world after the “big” economic collapse is going to be 4o acres and a bushel of seed potatoes. What blue states–or anyone else for that matter–are angry about will be low on the priority list.

    If I’m right by the way, sweet potatoes and yams are superior from a food value standpoint to white potatoes, so consider that when planning a survival farm.

  31. gVOR08 says:

    A few undeveloped thoughts:

    The Senate has become the seat of all evil. If Dems manage to take the House, the Senate will still prevent reality based government. The Senate inherently favors voters in small population states. The Constitution, as I believe Doug pointed out, specifically prohibits amendment to change the one state, two senators rule. But the Brits have managed to neuter the House of Lords. They redefined what Lords can do, which can be done here by amendment and legislation. And they packed the House of Lords. Maybe we can’t do that on a large scale, but Puerto Rico and DC certainly deserve statehood, and two senators each. Do you know why Dakota Territory became two states? Because in the 1890s it meant four Republican senators instead of two. Maybe we could do East Columbia and West Columbia.

    The House favors rural areas because of partisan redistricting. I keep hearing people say it’s inherent that Dem voters will be concentrated into urban districts, but it isn’t, it just isn’t. Most of this is deliberate partisan redistricting, but much of it is just innumeracy, people who think the maps they’re used to are the only kind of maps there are. Use population cartographs, not area cartographs. In a population cartograph you can’t even see the population concentration. By definition. This is a matter of state legislation and Federal court decisions, not the Constitution.

    The cleavage kind of works out to rural/urban, actually rural+exurban+suburban/urban. The actual rural population is too small to really matter. The cleavage is more traditional culture v the 21st century. Or maybe FOX Bizzaroworld v reality. But face it, the real cleavage is modern, multicultural society v racism. As policy goes, ‘let rich people have all your money’ is a loser, so Rs accepted running on “the Southern Strategy”, i.e. race. They’ve gotten very, very good at it.

  32. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08:

    I keep hearing people say it’s inherent that Dem voters will be concentrated into urban districts, but it isn’t, it just isn’t.

    It’s not inherent that Dems are a party of urban voters; they weren’t for much of their history. But it’s always been true to some degree that the system gives disproportionate power to rural voters.

  33. Gustopher says:

    @Kylopod:

    It’s not inherent that Dems are a party of urban voters; they weren’t for much of their history.

    Of course, for much of their history, the Democrats were the racist party. Not relevant in policy now, but entirely relevant if you are making historical statements about the Democrats geographic base.

    I have a dark view of American history that I fall prey to from time to time — there are three movements in America at any time — the two dominant parties, and the racists. Whichever party coopts the racists without offending their base too much sets the agenda.

    If it weren’t for racist support of Democrats in the 1940s, we wouldn’t have social security.

  34. Gustopher says:

    It’s already getting to the point where Republican Senators cannot eat at an ethnic restaurant without getting harassed. Terrible. If things continue along this path, they will be treated like women entering planned parenthood offices.

    It’s only a matter of time before someone goes after one with a gun rather than a loud mouth. When people feel powerless, they grab onto whatever power they can get.

    Don’t blame me, though, I’ve been in favor of gun control for my entire adult life. Sometimes karma shoots you in the face. Just like Dick Cheney.

  35. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Some of this ineptness is because of direct popular vote of senators–which is a demotivating factor for political parties to participate in “actual” local politics. The Republicans only did it because it was the only ground they could occupy as a true minority party. Now they they’ve enjoyed a stronghold in state politics in the heartland and south over the past 30 years–they too have ignored state constituents which allowed Trump the space to craft a message that appeals to these voters over traditional republican politicians.

    I can guarantee you if the pathway to Senate control went through Statehouses–the Democratic party would have never completely abandoned state politics in flyover country. We have to be honest if we’re going to trash the Founders–this isn’t quite the system they designed. Imagine what allowing direct election of SCOTUS judges would do to the system. The effects of the 17th Amendment cannot be overstated.

  36. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Kathy:

    Changing how the Senate is made up, would require a Constitutional amendment.

    Equal representation of states in the Senate is the only thing in the Constitution that even an amendment cannot change.

  37. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Robert Prather: I agree. I suggest a statue setting the maximum number of persons per congressional district at 250,000 or 300,000 (at most). Granted, that might lead to a seating crunch in the House chamber and an office crunch in the House Office Buildings, but we all must make sacrifices.

  38. @Jim Brown 32:

    I can guarantee you if the pathway to Senate control went through Statehouses–the Democratic party would have never completely abandoned state politics in flyover country. We have to be honest if we’re going to trash the Founders–this isn’t quite the system they designed. Imagine what allowing direct election of SCOTUS judges would do to the system. The effects of the 17th Amendment cannot be overstated.

    I do not understand why you think this would be the case.

    First, I think that it isn’t the case that the Dems have abandoned any specific states.

    Second, states that currently are dominated by Reps (or by Dems) typically also control state legislatures. There is no reason to assume that selecting Senators via legislatures would result in different partisan outcomes.

    Third, in fact, it would probably mean that the occasional party swap (e.g., a Rep wins in Massachusetts or a Dem wins in Alabama) would never happen.

    Fourth, part of why there was a switch away from legislature-selected Senators was rampant corruption.

    Indeed, if the legislatures controlled the Senate, the problems I am talking about here would be even worse.

    For example, you want the SCOTUS selected by a body that is beholden to state-level politicians and not the voters?

  39. @Stormy Dragon:

    Equal representation of states in the Senate is the only thing in the Constitution that even an amendment cannot change.

    You could, in theory, amend the part that says you can’t change Senate representation and then change Senate representation.

    If there really was massive support for the change, it could be changed. The real issue is the lack of desire to change.

    It is worth noting that the prior constitution stated that it couldn’t be amended without unanimity, but the Philadelphia conventioneers basically ignored that and went with 9/13.

    These things are insurmountable up and until they aren’t. Right now any changes that require amendment, let alone the Senate issue, are utterly impossible.

  40. @gVOR08:

    But the Brits have managed to neuter the House of Lords. They redefined what Lords can do, which can be done here by amendment and legislation.

    The relationship between the Commons and Lords was always a bit different. Keep in mind, too, the UK does not have a written constitution.

    Any change that requires amendment is currently impossible. But we are still at the stage of identifying the problem. As long as Reps think conversations likes this are just sour grapes over Trump or Kavanaugh, little progress will be made, but the conservation is the start of it nonetheless.

  41. @Steven L. Taylor: Yes, larger than 687, but anything would be an improvement. The cube root rule seems coincidental to me, but any increase is an improvement.

  42. @Stormy Dragon: True, but an amendment could be ratified that stripped the Senate of power. Maybe all but the power of trying impeachments.

  43. @SC_Birdflyte:

    I agree. I suggest a statue setting the maximum number of persons per congressional district at 250,000 or 300,000 (at most).

    You’ll get no argument from me. It’s a great idea. Having Congress mandate independent commissions for redistricting is a good idea as well.

  44. MarkedMan says:

    Just my humble opinion, but I don’t think the problem is rural vs. urban. I think the core of the problem is states where a majority of the people put excessive value on politicians who validate their anger and resentment towards people they view as getting above their station. The Trump states are not just rural, they are dead last in virtually everything: schools, health care, infant mortality, divorce rate and on and on. Because a voting majority of their residents don’t demand progress on those issues from their politicians but are content with loud and angry support for keeping the Po’s in their place. They don’t even mind that their pockets are being picked by those self same politicians.

    I have no fear that in 2018 with the internet and the 1000 television channels that the “rurals” are too ignorant to govern well. (By the way, Michael, have you seen the claptrap nonsense that the California Crystal Gazers believe in? It may not be speaking-in-toungues Christianity but sure as heck is just as bizarre and nonsensical.). What I see happening though, is that their low standards and immorality of the Trump states has been steadily infecting the entire country since the Reagan years.

  45. @MarkedMan: Urban/rural is not a perfect descriptor, but without a doubt the current institutional parameters that determine key outcomes (the EC, the Senate, even the single seat districts that elect the House) all structurally favor less densely populated areas of the country (this is especially true of the EC and the Senate). The increasing alignment with those areas with a specific party leads to a self-reinforcing cleavage that is made more problematic, from a representation POV, because it empowers the minority over the majority.

  46. @Jim Brown 32: @Steven L. Taylor: One more point on state legislatures selecting Senators that occurred to me later: if state legislatures picked the Senate, then the Senate could be gerrymandered since the districts that select state legislatures can be manipulated. See, e.g., Wisconsin.

  47. r. Dave says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: This is why I fear a real crisis: the lack of a viable way to address the problems within the strictures created by the constitution.

    Apologies if you’ve addressed this elsewhere, but I don’t really see how this is the case. There are several viable ways for people in high population states to address the structural underrepresentation of their values and interests – move to less populated states, broaden their political coalition to include more rural state interests rather than doubling down on their own base, persuade more rural state voters to adopt their point of view, invest more heavily in state-level elections to gain control over the redistricting process and the state-level political consensus, etc. Urban conservatives basically did exactly that over the last few decades, and have reaped the political benefits accordingly. No reason urban progressives (who, let’s be honest, we’re mainly talking about here) can’t do the same now.

  48. @r. Dave: But none of this addresses the fundamental problem that the rules should not produce minority rule. That fact alone should be sufficient to raise concerns.

    And in regards to the whole “people can move” argument: it is ridiculous, in my view, to state that because the system privileges the containers (e.g., states) more than the contents (people) that the contents should re-distribute themselves.

    Yes, the Dems could do a better job of appealing to voters (this is ever such, and I certainly think that parties should reach out). But the problem is this: if it takes a party already in the majority in the country ~7 extra points in the popular vote to win the House of Representatives (note the name of the place) then the problem is not the Democratic party, but it is rules that dictate representation.

    Your suggestions boil down to: sure, Mr. X gets a head start in the footrace, but if Mr. Y just runs faster, he can still win. How is that appropriate?

  49. Kathy says:

    In essence, what Republicans are doing is gaming the system. That’s how you break the spirit of the law while adhering to the letter of the law.

    In things like promotional or loyalty programs, there is usually a way to game them. When this happens, the companies running them can change the rules or devalue the benefits offered. Governments can’t do that easily, or in some cases at all.

    You can’t quite make a system that can’t be gamed, but you can make one that’s not worth gaming. For instance, suppose you amended the constitution so that a Senator’s vote is proportional to the portion of the country’s population their state represents. This would be complicated, but it would also break partisanship. It might not be possible to do, and I offer it only as one possibility. Surely there are others with fewer complications.

    But then, there are people who fail to understand there’s a leap year every four years, except on years ending with 00 unless they are also evenly divisible by 400 (ie 900/400= 4.75, so 1900 is not a leap year; 2000/4=5, therefore 2000 is a leap year).

  50. @r. Dave:

    invest more heavily in state-level elections to gain control over the redistricting process

    BTW: note that what you are actually saying here, whether you see it or not, is that Dems should seek to tweak the rules to favor themselves as the Reps have done. Or, more specifically, you are admitting a key flaw in our electoral rules: that single seat districts can be manipulated (and, indeed, truly fair ones are not really possible since any set of lines helps someone and hurts someone).

    The containers should not be more important than the people they contain.

  51. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:

    (By the way, Michael, have you seen the claptrap nonsense that the California Crystal Gazers believe in? It may not be speaking-in-tougues Christianity but sure as heck is just as bizarre and nonsensical.)

    I live in the Bay Area, Marin County, and Fairfax – our supposedly pot-throwing, crystal-stroking neighbor – is just five minutes away. But honestly that’s a cliché that has dated noticeably just in the six years I’ve been up here. We have far more lawyers, bankers, techies and creatives than we do spiritual healers. And those people never had any political muscle, unlike evangelical Christians who are the heart of the GOP fear/hate machine.

    It’s hard to survive on bullshit in a place where the media home price is 1.2 million. Most of those people are in places like North Carolina and New Mexico now. Which goes to my point about urban/suburban vs. rural: only the smart and the competent survive where the cost of living is ten times higher than in Bugtussle.

  52. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You could, in theory, amend the part that says you can’t change Senate representation and then change Senate representation.

    I don’t think that would be allowed. Under your interpretation, any majority large enough to amend senate representation would necessarily be large enough to amend the clause protecting it, which would render the whole clause pointless. So from a statutory construction standpoint (specifically the “Rule against surplusage” canon), you’d have to assume that clause also prevents itself from being removed.

  53. @Stormy Dragon:

    I don’t think that would be allowed.

    If you had the votes, it would be allowed.

    Under your interpretation, any majority large enough to amend senate representation would necessarily be large enough to amend the clause protecting it, which would render the whole clause pointless.

    Well, sure.

    Look: there are two ways for these things to change: amassing enough support or some kind of rupture.

    My reference to 1787 is on point: crisis brought a breaking of the old rules, although not with too much drama.

    We are not at that point, but if the current trend continues, I don’t see how we don’t hit a major crisis that will require some of these issues being dealt with.

  54. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Yes, obviously if there is sufficiently political will to begin ignoring the constitution wholesale, then anything can be changed. But my point is clearly discussing within the bounds of existing constitutional law, so your counterpoint is kind of a straw man. It’s like arguing the first amendment permits banning Islam because the Republic of Gilead would never enforce the free exercise clause.

  55. @Stormy Dragon: No, it is not a straw man, and yes I understand the improbabilities involved.

    I am pointing out that if a crisis emerges we will either have to negotiate compromises to alter the existing system or there will be a rupture. There is a scenario in which that compromise is via amending the supposedly unamenable.

    And the issue isn’t the restraints of constitutional law. The constraint is wholly about political will.

    So, yes, in Gilead the free exercise clause wouldn’t matter much. In some ways, that is the point (not that I would have put it that way).

  56. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @SC_Birdflyte: At a the Googled current US population of 325.7 million, that makes a Congress of ~1000-1100 depending on your cut point. Cramped for space doesn’t do reality justice.

  57. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The claims of corruption as the reason for the 17th amendment, I find, are overstates. The whole baby went out with the bath water.

    The fact the Democrats have no message palatable for rural consumption proves they’ve abandoned those areas. Political parties craft messaging for demographics they care about. If they have no messaging…its because they don’t care about those demographics.

    Im not claiming you’d get better partisan outcomes in terms of numbers with a return to the 17th Amendment–Im claiming you’d get better governance. There is a difference.

    Voters are stupid–they prove time and time again that they are stupid. My assertion is the 17th Amendment gave the voter OVER-REPRESENTATION in the Federalist system. The system the Founders set up confers personhood on State Governments and grants those “Persons” representation in the Federal Government to create consensus and collaboration between the States and the Federal government during what is the inevitable sausage-making that is governance. That link has been gone for 100+ years. The Voters also have direct representation in the Federal Government as a check on the “Persons” of the State legislatures represented in the Senate.

    You are assuming the “wisdom of the voter” argument which is a complete load of mularkey. Voters are dumb. The 17 Amendment removed the check on the voter and created an imbalance which has manifested itself in Congress as an unmoored ship aimlessly adrift–appealing to the “all-wise” voter.

    Tell me Dr Taylor–would you take your chances on governance and policy with the aggregate smarts of voters or the aggregate smarts of a state legislature, which, on average has better cognitive skills that the pool of voters? Don’t get me wrong…any system over 50 years old needs updating to be responsive to the cultural evolution of its people. Perhaps a good middle ground would be only one Senator from a State is direct elected and the other appointed by a State Legislator. What I reject is that more “democracy” is a good thing. Often, its not.

  58. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Gerrymandering to produce a partisan outcome is occurring now…that’s not an argument for the superiority of the status quo

  59. @Jim Brown 32:

    You are assuming the “wisdom of the voter” argument which is a complete load of mularkey. Voters are dumb. The 17 Amendment removed the check on the voter and created an imbalance which has manifested itself in Congress as an unmoored ship aimlessly adrift–appealing to the “all-wise” voter.

    I am not making a “wisdom of the voter” argument.

    You are here arguing that the state legislatures, chosen by voters (and with less knowledge and participation levels than are used when voters elect Senators) is going to be a check on the deficiencies of voters?

    That makes no sense.

    To make you argument you need to demonstrate that state legislatures are somehow have some special virtues or abilities over the voters. I see no evidence for this.

  60. @Jim Brown 32:

    Tell me Dr Taylor–would you take your chances on governance and policy with the aggregate smarts of voters or the aggregate smarts of a state legislature, which, on average has better cognitive skills that the pool of voters?

    For selecting Senators? Aggregate voters without a doubt.

    And again: where do you think the state legislators come from?

  61. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: It does make sense from the standpoint that legislators and voters have different interests. Sports Fans and Coaches have different interests even though they desire the same outcome–coaches have more time invested in the business, tradecraft, and overall more knowledge than fans who (for the most part) pay no attention to the team until a few days before game time. Familiarity of all the sportscasters talking points about the team and this week’s game—is 180 degrees from the skill of actually being there running the team and preparing it to be competitive and win.

    What legislators know needs to be done and the fickleness (along with general ignorance of policy) of voters makes these slightly different interest groups–even though one is selected by the other. Surely you can understand that the caliber of person that seeks election, on average, is higher than the average voter. The caliber of person that seeks a professorship is also higher than that of the voter pool…meaning, we can expect better ideas and decision-making of one group over the other.

    If you agree that voter pool is constrained to a lowest common denominator of cognitive abilities (and you should based on the vector of arguments and appeals made to voters)–then its a fallacy to believe that more involvement from this group would yield better outcomes.

  62. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: You can use the typical metrics we use to vet job applicants. I can guarantee that the average education, income, SAT score, professional achievement/recognition is HIGHER, on average, for a state legislature pool than it is for the average voter pool. Given 100 problems–one of these groups will devise better solutions more often than the other group.

  63. @Jim Brown 32:

    You can use the typical metrics we use to vet job applicants. I can guarantee that the average education, income, SAT score, professional achievement/recognition is HIGHER, on average, for a state legislature pool than it is for the average voter pool.

    Well, sure.

    But by that logic, why not let the faculty of the top research university in each state pick the Senators?

  64. @Jim Brown 32: Do you really think that at state legislature-selected Senator wouldn’t just be one of the major local politicos from whichever party controls the leg?

  65. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: If you’ve looked a CSPAN coverage of the House, you’ll notice that, a large part of the time, the chamber is almost empty. Crowding would be an exceptional problem, not the rule. Moreover, technology could work out a solution so that all members could participate in debates and votes, not only those on the floor of the House.

  66. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Sometimes it could be other– times it would not be. At any rate, the fact that it would be a major local politico would be less important than better synchronization between the federal and state legislature. How much smoother vice antagonistic would ObamaCare implementation have been if buy-in came packaged into the legislation when it was passed. We can even go back to school busing…. its extremely difficult to institute new policy when the Federal and State government are antagonists.

  67. @Jim Brown 32:

    its extremely difficult to institute new policy when the Federal and State government are antagonists.

    The antagonism was partisan-based. An elected Republican or a selected Republican is still a Republican.