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Does the U.S. Senate Represent the Racial Diversity of America?

The U.S. Senate consists of 100 legislators: two senators for each state. In the House, each state gets a number of representatives in proportion to its population. The Senate, however, was specifically designed to give each state — not each resident — equal representation.

Even in the early days of our nation, smaller states worried that they would be outvoted by larger states. They wanted to be sure that their concerns would get the same attention as larger states.

Over time, however, the distinction between big states and small states has been overshadowed by some other distinctions.

Large states are now more diverse than small states. Yet the voters in small states have a disproportionate amount of power. The Atlantic provides an example: “in California, 38 percent of citizens are white. In Texas, that figure is 43 percent. Compare the two smallest states: Vermont is 94 percent white, and Wyoming is 86 percent white.”

Voters in Wyoming have three times the voting power of voters in California. The inference is clear: the Senate favors white voters.

However, this does not even need to be inferred. The New York Times calculated Senate representation by race, and determined that white voters have almost twice the voting power of Hispanic voters.

And Pew Research tells us that just nine senators are members of ethnic minorities. 61% of Americans are non-Hispanic whites, but 91% of senators fall into that category.

FiveThirtyEight has analyzed demographic trends in the context of the Republican Senate. Until the 1960s, they point out, smaller states and larger states were about equally likely to be red or blue states. Now, the smaller states are mostly Republican.

58% of the senators from smaller states are Republican, while only 37% of those from larger states are. The result is that the Republican Senate heavily represents rural voters from small states, a minority of US citizens.

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