Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Small state=rural state?

Adam Liptak's lengthy feature in yesterday's New York Times is headlined "Smaller States Find Outsize Clout Growing in the Senate," but I'm not sure the story is really "news."  It's more of an update on the long-time argument that the structure of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College give small states--a/k/a rural states, too much power.  Here are some relevant quotes:  
Behind the growth of the [small-state] advantage is an increase in population gap between large and small states, with large states adding many more people than small ones in the last half-century. There is a widening demographic split, too, with the larger states becoming more urban and liberal, and the smaller ones remaining rural and conservative, which lends a new significance to the disparity in their political power.
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Beyond influencing government spending, these shifts generally benefit conservative causes and hurt liberal ones. When small states block or shape legislation backed by senators representing a majority of Americans, most of the senators on the winning side tend to be Republicans, because Republicans disproportionately live in small states and Democrats, especially African-Americans and Latinos, are more likely to live in large states like California, New York, Florida and Illinois. Among the nation’s five smallest states, only Vermont tilts liberal, while Alaska, Wyoming and the Dakotas have each voted Republican in every presidential electionsince 1968.
Liptak, in addition to discussing current proposals to curb small-state power, quotes Chief Justice Earl Warren's decision in Reynolds v. Sims (1964):
Legislators represent people, not trees or acres.  Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests.
In that decision, the Court rejected Alabama's argument that state senators, like federal ones, could represent geographic areas with varying population sizes.  

Here is a link to a terrific graphic depicting the small-state advantage. 

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