In tennis, the two players change sides of the court after every odd game – to compensate for any advantages a player could have due to the sun. Democracy is not a tennis game, but it is a competition.
And in the US, competition is far from fair.
For a variety of reasons – some longstanding, some deliberate, others recent, or accidental – the political institutions that make up the field of American politics are increasingly stacked in favor of one side: the Republican Party.
Take the Senate. Republicans currently hold half of the seats in this chamber, despite only representing 43 percent of the United States. And it’s not just the Senate – the electoral college, House of Representatives, and state lawmakers are all leaning in favor of the GOP. As a result, Republicans can exercise government leverage without winning multiple votes. In fact, more than possible – it has already happened over and over and over again.
Minority rule has always been possible in the US, as we saw in the Jim Crow era, as whites rigged elections and Congress hindered in order to suppress the rights a black majority in many southern states. The founders deliberately designed many of our federal institutions in such a way that they only indirectly reflect the will of the people – in political science jargon they made them “counter-major”.
And for most of our nation’s history, these minority protections have helped both parties about equally. In other words, to reconsider our tennis analogy, the two players have switched sides of the court on a regular basis, but now they haven’t.
Instead, according to political scientist Rob Mickey and author of Paths Out of Dixie, a book about enduring anti-democratic rule in southern states, our institutions are now “armed and deployed … by a coherent group of actors with a coherent group of interests and preferences “- the modern GOP. The increasing attractiveness of minority rule as a demographic change is increasingly reducing their voting rights strong white coalitionRepublican leaders use their institutional leg to try and take steps – such as restricting elections, but also trying undermine the results of the popular elections – which anchor their advantage even more firmly. And because these institutions interact to shape the game, its rules, and its referees, they reinforce each other in an anti-democratic feedback loop. In this way, it is now institutions that have kept our democracy in balance for a long time it threatens to unravel.
Republicans can rule without gaining a majority. That threatens our democracy.
It may seem dramatic to point out that when the Democrats currently control all three elected parts of the federal government: the Presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, Republicans are overriding democracy to gain power. But to secure them, the Democrats had to go beyond winning a simple majority of the vote, like a tennis player gauging all of her serves on a particularly windy day.
The Democrats’ disadvantage in the electoral college is now well documented. President Joe Biden won the national referendum by 4.5 percentage points, but won Wisconsin – the state that gave him his decisive 270th vote – by just 0.6 points. In other words, Biden had to beat former President Donald Trump by more than 3.8 points nationwide to finally win the White House. (However, Trump would not have won directly if Biden had not won the referendum with less than 3.2 points and thus also lost Pennsylvania. The Republican orientation of the electoral college in 2020 averaged 3.5 points – but one way or another it is the highest electoral college has been out of sync since 1948.)
In many ways, however, this is the Republicans’ slightest advantage, as the prejudices of the electoral college are inconsistent. Although the Republicans were preferred in 2016 and 2020, the Democrats were actually the beneficiaries from 2004 to 2012. Contrary to popular belief, the tendency of the electoral college is not based on privileging small states, but rather on its winning all-rounder nature and which states happen to be battlefields.
That means, of course, it is the Republicans who, in the last six presidential elections, won the presidency twice while losing the referendum. Political scientists say this event carries the risk “decrease significantly[ing] the perceived legitimacy of the winners. “The false election fraud allegations related to the 2020 elections have shown that regaining legitimacy can be difficult, especially when The Republicans continue to push the lie that the election was stolen: Only 27 percent of Republican respondents on a Reuters / Ipsos poll Conducted almost five months after the election, said the 2020 election was “legitimate and accurate”.
Another of our counter-majoring institutions, the US Senate, was designed to strengthen the political voice of less populous states. For decades this had no partisan impact: Democrats and Republicans were equally competitive in large and small states. But over the past half century the two parties have gradually become one dramatic sorting between town and country That has reliably turned most small states into republican bastions and most large states into blue bastions. The Senate’s bias towards small states has now become a republican bias – both more consistent and strict than that of the electoral college.
Last year, despite Biden winning the national referendum by 4.5 points, Trump won the middle Senate seat by 0.5 points. That Republican bias of 5.0 points makes the Senate the most biased institution in the federal government.
In fact, Republican senators have not represented a majority of the population since 1999 – but Republicans had a majority of the Senate from 2003 to 2007 and again from 2015 to 2021. That means it was Republican senators for 10 years Pass on invoices – and others don’t happen – on behalf of a minority of Americans.
This has implications for both politics and democracy. “You have a Senate that empowers small states,” said Jake Grumbach, a political scientist at the University of Washington. “Plus [with] With the filibuster, you have to compromise to get 60 votes. For example, Grumbach pointed out that fossil fuel producing states like Kentucky, Louisiana and West Virginia don’t have very many people, but their six senators are able to block the legislation address climate change although Most Americans say the federal government is not doing enough on this issue.
In addition to passing laws that affect every American, the Senate also approves the presidential judicial candidates, including the Supreme Court justices. That brings us to the first way in which counter-majoritarian institutions strengthen one another. If the Senate and Electoral College are biased in the same direction as they are now, it gives a minority party broad power over the entire federal judiciary. And the current minority party, Republicans, has so far been incredibly successful in appointing judges in federal courts: From 2017 to 2021, more than 220 judges, including three Supreme Court justices, were appointed by a president who lost the referendum and confirmed by a Senate that a majority of voters did not vote.
These judges are the referees who uphold the rules of our tennis game, but if a system of minority rule brought them to power, these decisions may not be impartial. Rather, their decisions can deepen the minority’s institutional advantages in cases involving redistribution and voting rights. In fact, the Supreme Court, under Justice John Roberts, did just that with judgments like Shelby County v Holder that weakened the voting rights lawand Rucho v. Common Cause, which said federal courts shouldn’t review Partisan Gerrymanders. And because federal judges are lifelong appointments, these judges will shape our democracy not just in the short term, but for decades to come.
The House of Representatives completes the federal trifecta of imbalance: loud Daily Kos electionsBiden won the median home seat (Illinois 14th) by 2.4 percentage points, which means he was still 2.1 points redder than the whole country.
This is not a new phenomenon: the House of Representatives map has had a Republican orientation since at least 1968, based on the results of the presidential election. And in 1996 and 2012The Republicans even won a majority in the House, even though the Democrats won the House referendum.
Unlike the Electoral College and Senate, the founders actually intended the House to represent the majority of the people – and now the Chamber shares the Republican biases of others. One reason for this is again the sorting between town and country. the Bundling democratic voices in urban areas made it It’s harder to draw cards that will benefit the Democrats rather than the Republicans. But another reason is being developed by the Republicans themselves. The GOP has made full use of its many opportunities to draw boundaries that give them an unfair advantage. For example, Republicans moved to the 2010 Red Wave election more than five times as many congressional districts as Democratsand they used it to bring their structural advantage in the house to record levels.
However, the House’s Republican bias in the 2020 elections was not as strong as it was at the beginning of the decade, as some Republican-drawn maps were invalidated by courts and also caused shifts in electoral coalitions Some gerrymanders are backfiring (e.g., suburban seats that were believed to be safe Republican in 2011 have become more Democratic). Even so, Republicans had a strong vote in the 2020 election, allowing them to redraw a variety of Congressional districts at their own discretion, which in turn could replenish the House’s Republican bias.
In this way, a chamber that was supposed to counteract the misalignment of the Senate further exacerbates our structural imbalance.
State legislation is the final piece in institutional jenga. Again, sorting and wandering around town and country has given Republicans an edge: Republicans currently control at least four state legislatures (Michigan Senate, Michigan House, Minnesota Senate and Senate of Pennsylvania), for which the Democrats won a national referendum in the last election. Democrats also won the 2018 referendum in the Michigan House, North Carolina House, and Pennsylvania House however, it failed to take control of these chambers. In fact, Republicans have controlled Michigan House without a break since the 2012 election, despite winning the referendum in just one of the five elections set to take place during that time Daily Kos elections.
This is not the only reason why this is important State governments issue the types of guidelines that have the greatest impact for people’s lives, but also because they can strengthen minority rule. in the most of the statesLegislators designate the districts where both state legislatures and U.S. officials are elected. This increases the possibility that the minority rule can maintain itself: a legislature elected by a minority can theoretically set up future legislations and congress delegations that should also be elected with a minority.
In addition, legislators have the power to change the electoral law as elections are conducted at the state and local levels. That is, as we see now in states like Georgia and Georgia Iowathat they can make competition less fair by changing the rules of the game.
State lawmakers have always been able to write partisan laws and draw selfish maps, and to some extent this has always been the case. But if recent legislative moves have felt particularly anti-democratic, this is not your idea. In our highly polarized era of politics, Democrats and Republicans see each other with increasing distrust and hatred, which means they are willing to go to greater lengths to keep the other side out of power. And as a parallel trend of political nationalization made state and national politicians more like-minded, they could work more efficiently coordinate their efforts To exploit minority rule for political gain.
In particular, were Republicans more willing than democrats Violating norms – and even undermining democracy – in order to maintain power. Indeed, current research from Grumbach At the state level, the democratic relapse has determined that the most important predictor of how undemocratic state institutions are is whether the GOP is in power.
“When [Republicans] If they adopt unified governance, in which they control both the legislative chambers and a governor’s office, they have enormous scope to change the electoral administration and the constituencies, ”said Grumbach. “And they have an impact [that] reverberate throughout the political system. “
Republican lawmakers have repeatedly tried to undermine the results of the popular elections, which did not go their way. Most notably, after the 2020 election, Republicans responded to Biden’s victory by introducing bills Allow a state assembly to revoke certification of elections and even to declare the 2020 election null and void in one state and appoint their own voters.
However, these attacks on majority rule began long before 2020. After the elections of the Democratic governors and other state officials in North Carolina (in 2016), Wisconsin and Michigan (in 2018) Republican lawmakers sought to exercise certain powers, such as: B. Political appointments to strip of these posts before the Democrats took office. And Republican-controlled legislatures in Florida, South Dakota and Utah repealed or distorted liberal laws passed by electoral measure since 2016, while at least seven states this year proposed laws that would make it more difficult to pass future electoral measures. Some of them would completely enshrine the minority rule in law – for example, by raising the threshold for passing electoral measures from 50 percent to 60 percent.
Although these attempts have only been successful at times, they show how republican-controlled state lawmakers are increasingly willing to circumvent the will of the people in order to achieve their desired ends.
“You have a party that believes in democracy at a high level, and you have a party with a number of people in power who don’t,” said Hakeem Jefferson, a thirty-five year old fellow and professor of political science at Stanford University. told us. “I think it’s awkward for scientists to speak outwardly because it doesn’t seem to be saying objectively, but it is empirically the truth.”
Jefferson is one of many scholars who believe that because of demographic change, Republicans are taking over minority rule. After making the fateful decision decades ago to target mostly white voters, Republicans are now faced with an existential threat in a country where people of color live become an ever larger part of the population. “They are so afraid of the imaginary harm that power will do to them when a more diverse constituency becomes part of the electoral process,” Jefferson said.
The Americans have taken this up: more than half of black respondents in a 2020 Ipsos poll for FiveThirtyEight said Republicans don’t want “people like me to vote,” while just 6 percent said the same thing about Democrats . A similar pattern was seen among Hispanic and other non-white respondents. In part, this reflects partiality, but it is difficult to bear for a multicultural democracy if the whole demograph feels like – with a justification – that a party rejects its right to vote.
The irony, of course, is that it is difficult for voters to fight back against anti-democratic action because Republicans have built-in advantages in so many pieces of legislation. Minority rule “helps them keep their power even when majorities oppose their political position,” Jefferson said. But even if lawmakers weren’t protected from backlash, University of Virginia political scientist Anne Meng told us that there isn’t much evidence that politicians who engage in anti-democratic rhetoric or action are penalized in elections. Status and have local elections lower participation as Presidential election, Voters know less over Voting candidates and after a Study by political scientist Steven RogersThe state legislature does not suffer from election consequences if it votes against the interests of its constituents.
“In a strongly polarized environment Partiality stands in the way of democratic ideals“Meng said.” If your person is very anti-democratic but you realize that politics is just hyperpolarized, you will want to keep your husband in power over the health of democracy. “Even a partisan takeover can be a Gaining a fake veneer of democratic legitimacy, Meng said, if leaders use democratic procedures to get them passed. “Voters might say,” Well, they passed this through the legislature … That seems fine “- especially if the party that passed it is “your type”. In other words, Republican voters may support democracy in the abstract, but their loyalty and trust in their team can override that.
Despite suggestions that Republicans may have given up their commitment to democracy, a January 28 – February 8 poll of Bright Line Watch, a group of scholars studying democratic relapse, found that 81 percent of Republicans still said democracy was a good form of government. According to one of the political scientists behind Bright Line Watch, Gretchen Helmke from the University of Rochester, the two parties may still largely agree that democratic principles are important (94 percent of Democrats also said democracy is a good form of government). They often have very different views as to whether and how these principles have been violated.
An example is the proportion of Republicans who say they are not confident that presidential election votes will be counted accurately if their candidate loses American Election Performance Survey Tracks of any choice. And while that number was particularly low after the 2020 elections, it was also after 2012, suggesting that these anti-democratic attitudes are a long-term problem for the GOP.
However, in part, this helps explain why voters who claim to support democracy are actually supporting actions that would undermine them: they do not believe what happened is democratic. For example, Bright Line Watch found that Republicans were 11 percentage points less likely to vote for a GOP congressional candidate who voted to confirm Biden’s victory. Other research has shown that when the polarization is high and the stakes feel as existential as they do now, voters are ready give up democratic principles promote their partisan interests and keep the other side out of power. According to Cyrus Samii, professor of political science at New York University who studies ethnic conflict, “the kind of extreme bias you see in response to legislative agendas appears to be due to this fundamental conflict,” who “the people” in “we the people” should be.
Simply put, America’s counter-majoring institutions have never been piled so high against a party. Because of this cumulative tendency, Democrats have to win larger and larger majorities to rule – and Republicans increasingly need not win majorities at all. In recent years, they have controlled the White House, Senate, House, and several state legislatures, though most voters prefer the other party. And in the words of Daniel Ziblatt, political scientist at Harvard University and author of How Democracies Die, a “political system with no majority rule – it’s not really very democratic.”
Rule over minorities is not just a fact for the GOP – it is a strategy promoted by Republican politicians who fear handing over power to an increasingly diverse majority. And because political institutions interact to shape the rules of our democracy, they have created a vicious circle in which minority rule can continue.
“Essentially, this means that the Republican Party can get off the rails without incurring any real immediate election costs,” Ziblatt said. “You can win the presidency without winning the referendum. You can control the Senate without representing a majority of the electorate. And so the self-correcting mechanism of American democracy – elections – does not work because they are not getting the signal that what they are doing is not a successful strategy – because it is is a winning strategy. “
In other words, if American democracy were a tennis game, the Republican player would be perfectly positioned. His opponent would throw every ball to the wind and every call from the referee chair would go his way.
But democracy is of course not a tennis game – it is much more important.
Art direction by Emily Scherer. Copy processing by Maya Sweedler. Story editing by Sarah Frostenson. Video by Laura Bronner, Anna Rothschild and Michael Tabb.