Lewis: Minority rule | VailDaily.com

Lewis: Minority rule

After writing the column on mass shootings I got to thinking about the final question I posed which was: (with overwhelming support for reasonable gun legislation) Why aren’t we taking action? As I thought about it, I realized that there are a number of current issues where the outcomes and actions are not what I would expect given the sentiment of Americans.

My first column on mass shootings cited that 90% supported universal background checks and other measures, yet the bill that did pass didn’t include these checks or many other measures supported by a majority of Americans. I highlighted in another article that 61% of Americans support abortion rights in most/all cases yet look where we are.

One would think that the “will of the people” would be having a greater effect on our policies and laws — the question is why not? In my research, I came across the concept of minoritarianism. Simply defined, it means “minority rule.”  

After thinking about it, I realized that our Republic (we are not a Democracy) is structurally set up, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to enable minoritarianism. With our electoral college, you do not have to win a majority of votes to become president. For example, the last time a Republican won the popular vote was Bush in 2004. One study showed that it is technically possible to win the presidency with just 23% of the popular vote!

Most lawmaking requires 60% approval in the Senate — meaning that a 41% minority has a great level of control. Each state gets two senators, regardless of population. Let’s say there is an issue where you took a poll where 90% of Californians (the largest state by population) are for a new law and 90% of Wyomingites (the smallest populated state) are against it. The poll would show 90% of the total (by population) as being for the measure (because the California population is so large) and 10% against it. Yet, in the Senate, the votes would be equally divided. In terms of the Senate — a Wyoming voter, and their opinion, is 68 times more important!

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So how many people are needed to elect 41 senators (the number needed to block almost all legislation)? I took all of the smallest states (by population) and looked at the ones with Republican Senators. I assumed that at least 51% of the population of the state would be required to get them elected and calculated that number. The result was astonishing. Turns out that just 9.4% of the total population is needed to elect 41 senators! In fact, the 25 smallest states account for only 16% of the total U.S. population. While I understand that the Senate structure was designed to provide more equal state representation, I had no idea of how far it could potentially eschew from popular opinion.

The House of Representatives had to be better — right? House districts are based on population. Unfortunately, the answer was not by much.

The primary issue for House representation is how much gerrymandering could skew results. I took a look at Florida as it was recently called out in the news. In 2021 Florida was, by registrations, 35.9% Republican, 35.6% Democrat, and 28.5% Other. Given those numbers, I assumed that congressional representation would be pretty much evenly mixed, but that is not even close to the case. The current redistricting map is projected to yield 18 Republican and only 8 Democrat seats with only two seats being contested. Even though Gov. Ron DeSantis won his first election by 0.4%, he was able to set up a congressional structure to achieve a 70/30 Republican advantage.

Gerrymandering goes both ways of course. In New York state, Democrats will have 22 of the 26 districts (84%) leaning their way. The party registration in New York is 49.8% Democrat and 22.6% Republican.

I am not going to critique our political structure — it is what it is and is unlikely to change. My interest was in understanding why majority viewpoints often don’t align with outcomes. While I knew that small states have effectively more power in the Senate, it was shocking to discover the magnitude of the bias. Essentially, 10% of total voters in the right states can effectively block legislation. 

The lesson: While opinion polls reflect the majority views of Americans, they are by no means a predictor of results.

Mark Lewis, a Colorado native, had a long career in technology, including serving as the CEO of several tech companies. He retired from technology and is now writing thriller novels. Mark and his wife, Lisa, and their two Australian Shepherds — Kismet and Cowboy, reside in Edwards.

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