Monday, July 16, 2018

What We Get When Demography Collides with Democracy

Here’s the short take from 538’s Significant Digits email.

8 states
By 2040, eight states will be home to nearly half (49.5 percent) of the country’s entire population. An implication of that bit of trivia: 30 percent of the American population will control 68 percent of the American Senate. “The House and the Senate will be weighted to two largely different Americas,” the Post writes. [The Washington Post]

The Post’s Phillip Bump says more - In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states.

In response to Post opinion writer Paul Waldman’s essay about the current power of the minority in American politics, the American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein offered a stunning bit of data on Twitter.

Norman Ornstein
@NormOrnstein
I want to repeat a statistic I use in every talk: by 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30% will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent. Unsettling to say the least.

Paul Waldman
@paulwaldman1
In the age of minority rule, a Supreme Court justice appointed by a president who got fewer votes is confirmed by a party in the Senate that got fewer votes, to validate policies opposed by most Americans: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/07/10/were-living-in-an-age-of-minority-rule

In broad strokes, Ornstein is correct.

The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service of the University of Virginia analyzed Census Bureau population projections to estimate each state’s likely population in 2040, including the expected breakdown of the population by age and gender. Although that data was released in 2016, before the bureau revised its estimates for the coming decades, we see that, in fact, the population will be heavily centered in a few states.

Eight states will have just under half of the total population of the country, 49.5 percent, according to the Weldon Cooper Center’s estimate. The next eight most populous states will account for an additional fifth of the population, up to 69.2 percent — meaning that the 16 most populous states will be home to about 70 percent of Americans.

Bump presents the graphical evidence for disturbing demographical trends.

Ornstein’s (and Waldman’s) point is clear: 30 percent of the population of the country will control 68 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate. Or, more starkly, half the population of the country will control 84 percent of those seats.

… the possible anti-democratic effects of the lopsided Senate are [clear] … states that make up more than two-thirds of the land area of the United States — will … control enough of the Senate to overcome any filibuster.

But none of this will happen overnight. To underscore Waldman’s point, already a president who lost the popular vote will nominate a Supreme Court justice who will be confirmed by a minority party that has a bare majority in the US senate in order to enact policies that the majority of the electorate oppose. The data reviewed here are just extensions of what is in place right now. If the demographic projections hold, it will only get worse as a minority tightens its tyrannical rule.

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