The incoming Senate is comprised mostly of Republicans -- 54 to the Democrats' 44 (plus two independents, who hang out/vote with Democrats). But those Democrats actually received 20 million more cumulative votes than did the Republicans, as Vox pointed out (to much Internet traffic, no doubt) over the weekend. What gives?
As is the way with online writing, we were beaten to a more-thorough analysis by Real Clear Politics' Sean Trende, who outlines very neatly the ways in which the apparent contrast between popular support and Senate power isn't actually a big deal. (Certainly not suggestive, as Vox's Dylan Matthews offered, of the need to abolish the Senate.) But it's still worth another look at the numbers.
Here's one way of looking at them: Democratic senators got 20 million more votes than the Republicans. (Vox conflates those independent senators with the Democrats, which is a bit of a cheat but doesn't really matter since those senators are in the tiny states of Maine and Vermont.)
Here's another: Democrats won 57.2 percent of the vote in their races; Republicans won 56.5 percent. (The independents won a hefty 61.7 percent, but we're skipping them.)
Here's another: Democratic candidates in all of the races won by Republicans or Democrats got about 98.7 million votes. Republican candidates in those same races got 94.1 million.
The 20 million figure, in other words, is cherry-picked to accentuate the gap. Vox's analysis comes from a researcher at FairVote, which advocates for reforms to how members of Congress are elected.
Interestingly, Republicans got as many votes when losing to Democrats (about 47 million) as they did when beating Democrats. Democratic losers, though, got only about 31.3 million votes in losing. In other words: Democrats won their races by 20.3 million votes combined -- Republicans won theirs by 15.7 million.
Trende points out a key reason for this: Most of the Republicans won in lower-turnout elections. It's true that there were smaller states up for grabs this year: If you total the population from every state with an election this year -- including Oklahoma and South Carolina twice -- and divide by the number of races, you get about 48.7 million, compared to 72.7 million on average in 2012. But Republicans won 46 of their 54 seats in 2010 and 2014, compared to the Democrats, who won 23 of their 44 in 2012. In 2010, total turnout was about 90 million. Two years later, thanks to the presidential election, it was 40 million votes higher.
That's reflected in the total votes in races won by Democrats or Republicans. A total of 117.8 million votes were cast in elections won by Democrats. A total of 83.3 million were cast in those won by Republicans.
That's a difference of 34.5 million -- but Democrats earned only 20 million more votes, as Vox pointed out. If you want to, you can say that Republicans over-performed, as a result. But you shouldn't. "You simply can’t compare seats won (or electoral votes won) to national vote shares," Trende ponts out, "unless the numbers are wildly out of synch. This is because the parties aren’t trying to win national elections." Instead, races are targeted and candidates -- good or bad -- allocated resources as needed. Two of the Republicans who won, for example, faced no competition. What does that tell us about the new Congress?
Bear with us for one more number: It tells us zero.