Republicans Can’t Win the Popular Vote. Apparently, It’s Not a Problem.
In last month’s election, Joe Biden carried over eighty-one million votes, the most votes for any winning candidate in the history of the United States. That’s a huge victory for Democrats across the country.
Down the ballot, though, it’s a completely different story. Although Democrats have carried healthy margins nationally, there’s a sizable gap between their national support and level of political power. They’ve lost a number of seats in the House and are likely to remain the minority in the Senate.
And it’s not exactly their fault. Since the last presidential election, Republicans haven’t carried the national vote at all, yet they still hold the Senate and are set to take back the House in another two years. Even more indicative is the number of state legislative chambers held by Republicans: holding thirty state legislatures, they will take control of redistricting in a large percentage of states.
That’s concerning for Democrats.
Why the System is Rigged Against Democrats
I want to preface this section with a simple fact: Democrats shouldn’t blame systemic issues for their political failure. While they’ve certainly generated a lot more support, they’re still a big contributor to the divisiveness in this country. It’s for that reason that they haven’t yet reliably brought out a lot of key independent voters important for their success. That’s the only way Democrats can keep power in this system, and it’s what they need to focus on over these next couple years.
Regardless, there are some in-built challenges for Democrats. One of them obviously rests with the simple fact that the Senate is apportioned per state, regardless of population. In a chamber where Wyoming, a state of just under 600,000 people, have the same representation as California, a state with over thirty-nine million, is obviously going to be skewed towards the party with more rural support, which tends to be the Republicans.
It’s for that reason that Democrats must continue to win elections in traditionally Republican states like West Virginia and Montana if they want to be competitive in any sense in taking the Senate.
Similarly, Democrats hate the electoral college: despite pulling out huge margins popularly, candidates are more and more likely to win the electoral college without popular support. It’s saved Republicans from a number of losses and let them continue on their more conservative agenda in an increasingly liberal country.
In the last century, it wasn’t as common for elections to end without a decisive win for either candidate. Nowadays, that isn’t the case. Because of the growth of the urban-rural divide and the polarization between the two parties, elections are becoming increasingly close, increasing the probability of a split between the popular vote and the electoral vote.
Obviously, that pattern favors the Republicans.
Republicans Can’t Win Nationally
Republicans suffer from the fact that their base is slowly shrinking to a minority in this country; as it becomes more and more diverse, Republicans will slowly have to begin adapting their policies once again.
And they’ve tried to do just that.
After the 2012 election and Democrats retained the White House, Republicans began seeing the problem that was inevitable: their party was too white. That’s why they tried to cooperate with Democrats on a bipartisan immigration reform bill, which would provide undocumented immigrants with a path to legal status.
However, it simply didn’t go over well with their base, who viewed the bill as amnesty for immigrants who had broken the law. It exacerbated the mistrust and frustration that a lot of Republicans had with their own party’s establishment, which would ultimately push Donald Trump to the presidency only three years later.
And that highlights the problem for Republicans: they can’t change party policy without alienating their base of rural, white voters. An already divided Republican party has to find that narrow line between diversification and traditional values, and in a progressively polarized country, it’s becoming more and more necessary.
But so far, as Republicans can’t win outright, they’ve had to defend the system that’s kept them in power. I think it relates exactly to a unique idea: when a party can’t win in a true democracy, they have to change the system itself.
It explains perfectly why Republicans gerrymander far more than Democrats. Moreover, the fact that a majority of Republicans have lost faith in the electoral process simply because the party’s leader says so brings to light the fragility of our democracy itself.
In other words, when the system that’s kept a minority party in power fails to accomplish that goal, the minority party must criticize that process. And while the founding fathers certainly didn’t want the masses to choose their representatives, it’s worth pointing out the fact that they didn’t want the legitimacy of their democracy to come into question either.
The system that’s held up Republicans for so long, thus, could be coming to an end. As their support slowly diminishes, excepting complete failure by the Democrats, it might not be feasible to continue heading closer and closer to the right.
And it relates to the election this year. A matter of a couple hundred thousand votes could’ve changed the election, despite the huge margin for Joe Biden nationally. That small shift not only shows the divide in our country but how the system that once sustained Republicans could be turning against them. Both parties have concerns with our electoral process and reasons to adapt their policies to retain or regain power. And while this election would definitely still be historic either way, I feel that the saying still rings true: there are no moral victories in politics.