Monday, June 6, 2016

The Senate badly underrepresents Latinos

Using data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, for each of the race groups listed in the study, I figured out how many senators members of that group were represented by.  Because each state gets two senators regardless of population, the uneven distribution of people by race across the United States means that some racial groups get a bigger say in Senate elections than others.  While I expected some disparity, I was shocked at how much disparity there was for Hispanic and White voters.

White voters make up 61.78% of the population, but control 70.39% of the votes cast for senators.
Hispanic voters make up 17.59% of the population, but control only 11.75% of the votes cast for senators.

Here is the breakdown:

Race Group:   % of population   % of Senate vote
White         61.78%            70.39%
Black         12.21%            11.12%
Hispanic      17.59%            11.75%
Asian          5.79%             4.73%
Native Amer.   0.78%             1.16%
Multiple Race  1.87%             2.15%

Even though some states have tiny populations and therefore an outsized voice in senate elections, if the population of the United States were evenly distributed by race across the states, the Senate would not be over (or under) representative of any racial group.  That is not the case, however.  For example, California has the highest population in the nation, with 38.7 million people, and Wyoming has the lowest, with just over half a million people.  That means that each voter in Wyoming has more than 70 times the influence on the Senate composition than each voter in California does.  California (and Texas, the #2 state in population) are 38% Hispanic, while Wyoming is 9% Hispanic.  This means that the Hispanic vote is highly diluted.

Looking at it a different way, a hypothetical nation with an evenly distributed racial composition would mean that each racial group would have one unit of influence on the Senate per voter.  This is far from how it really works:

Race Group:   % of pop   % of Sen vote  Influence per vote
Hypothetical 100.00%      100.00%       1.00
White         61.78%       70.39%       1.14
Black         12.21%       11.12%       0.91
Hispanic      17.59%       11.75%       0.67
Asian          5.79%        4.73%       0.82
Native Amer.   0.78%        1.16%       1.49
Multiple Race  1.87%        2.15%       1.15

Put simply, when averaged across all fifty states, the white vote for Senate has 170% of the amount of influence per voter on the composition of the senate that the Hispanic vote has.

We have long known that the Senate is not a representative body.  Those of us in California are regularly amazed that senators are elected elsewhere with vote totals that are smaller than the populations of our mid-sized cities.  It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the Senate electorate is also substantially unrepresentative when measured by race.