Voices & Choices

Electing the 114th Senate: Votes and Seats

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. 

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