Political Point Spread -- None Dare Call It Democracy

There's a Super Bowl about to be played in the U.S. Senate and the point spread favors the Republicans.
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There's a Super Bowl about to be played in the U.S. Senate and the point spread favors the Republicans.

Americans are intimately familiar with point-spread mathematics -- for sports, but not politics. We all know that a football team that wins 20-0 has scored 19 unnecessary points to win the game, but not enough points to cover the spread if they were favored by 21. In politics the spread works a little differently. Any candidate getting more votes than his or her opponent wins -- period. A single vote more than the losing candidate is all it takes for victory.

The closest Senate election ever was decided by two votes in New Hampshire in 1974 when Republican Louis Wyman beat the Democrat, John Durkin. The U.S. Senate ruled that a re-vote was necessary and Durkin won the new election -- by only 10 votes. In 1964, Democrat Howard Cannon won the Senate seat from Nevada by just 48 votes. And, in 2008 Democrat Al Franken won in Minnesota by 312 votes. As far back as 1948, Lyndon B. Johnson was victorious in his Senate primary battle by just 88 votes. Despite the closeness of their elections each winner was equal to all other members of the US Senate. In politics its just one more vote than the other guy, that's all that matters.

Recently, in New York City, Bill de Blasio was elected Mayor routing his opponent with 752,604 votes. The loser in that race received only 249,121 votes. In political math, all de Blasio needed to win was 249,122. The extra half-million votes were nice but unnecessary. In New York democracy was on exhibit. The candidate who got the most votes won. It doesn't always work like that.

Also recently, in 2012 we had a national Congressional election contested across 435 House Districts from Hawaii to Maine and Alaska to Florida. The candidates of the Democratic Party won that election handily over the candidates of the Republican Party, by a combined margin of 1,417,278 votes.(1) Logic would have it that the Democrats won a majority of the 435 House seats, or at a minimum level of representative democracy, that the Democrats and Republicans split the House seats as close to even as possible. This logic did not hold. Instead, the Republicans won a clear majority of 234 seats, and they did this with nearly a million and a-half fewer votes. The election winner, the Democratic Party, turned out to be the election loser. The lower chamber of the American Congress is controlled by a political party that was not the choice of a majority of American voters.

Now we face an even greater crisis in the 2014 Senate elections. Because only one-third of the Senate is ever up for election at one time, the number of seats-at-risk by party affiliation is rarely if ever equal. In this coming election the majority Democrats have more seats to defend than do the Republicans. With a current split of 55-45, plus the Vice-President's availability to the Democrats to break any tie votes, the GOP must win 6 Senate seats now held by a Democrat. This could happen and the most shocking aspect of this possibility is how damaging to the concept of American democracy -- already more myth than reality -- such a Republican takeover of the Senate might be.

The population of the United States is 317,297,938. (2) The US Senate could switch party control, giving the Republican Party complete control of Congress, with the votes of just .0027 percent of the American people, a figure that makes the infamous 1 percent appear to be the size of an army. Here's how it could, and might, happen.

The Democratic Senators from Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire and South Dakota could go down in defeat along with the now open Democratic seat in Montana. If those Democrats lose, based on their own 2008 victorious election results, the 2014 Republicans could need as few as 857,812 votes -- combined for all 5 states. The GOP would still need one more victory to secure full Senate control. If that win came in Rhode Island, Republicans could gain their Senate majority with as few as 973,987 votes -- that's less than 1 million votes for all 6 states and 6 senate seats combined. The political math says that the Republicans could win 6 Senate seats with an astoundingly low average of only 162,331 votes per election. Of more than 317 million Americans, this infinitesimal number of voters could catapult the Republican Party to total control of the entire US Congress.

Compare this 6 state Republican possibility to the actual votes for 6 Democratic Senators who won their elections in 2012: Sen. Feinstein from California who got more than 6.5 million votes; Sen. Gillibrand from New York with more than 4.2 million votes; Sen. Stabenow of Michigan with more than 2.7 million votes; Sen. Klobachar of Minnesota with more than 1.8 million votes; Sen. Cantwell of Washington with more than 1.7 million votes; Sen. McCaskill from Missouri with more than 1.4 million votes. These 6 Democratic Senators received more than 18.3 million votes, or an average of 3,050,000 votes each.

The political point spread, the math that determines winners and losers in politics, has it that less than a million Republican voters spread over 6 states could be equal in power, influence and authority to more than 18 million Democratic Party voters, also spread over 6 states. These numbers -- and their exceptional meaning -- speak for themselves. This could happen, and if it does, none dare call it democracy.

(1)2012 Congressional totals: Democrats 59,645,531 - Republicans 58,228,253
(2)US Census January 1, 2014

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