The English language lacks superlatives strong enough to describe how bad last night was for Democrats. Republicans captured a majority in the Senate. They reelected several controversial governors. And they achieved their second “wave” election in just three election cycles. And yet, when the new, GOP-controlled Senate opens its first session next January, it will be strikingly unrepresentative of the voters who elected its members. A ThinkProgress review of the electoral results from 2010, 2012 and 2014 Senate races reveals that millions more Americans actually cast a vote for a Democratic Senate candidate than voted for a Republican candidate during the three election cycles that built the incoming Senate.
For 2010 and 2012, we relied on official tallies of the total votes cast in all Senate races released by the Federal Elections Commission. Those results show that Republican Senate candidates outperformed Democrats by 2,733,121 votes in 2010, while Democrats outperformed Republicans by a much larger 10,867,709 votes in 2012.
As no final tallies are available for 2014, we calculated the total number of votes cast in the most recent election cycle by adding together the total number of votes cast for Republican Senate candidates and the total number cast for Democrats using numbers reported by Politico. This required us to make a few judgment calls. In Alabama, where Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) ran unopposed, we tallied no votes for either party. In Kansas, where incumbent Republican Pat Roberts faced two independent challengers, we tallied all of Roberts’ votes for the GOP and zero votes for the Democrats. In Oklahoma and South Carolina, where both Senate seats were up for election (one in a general election and one in a special election), we counted the results of both elections towards both parties’ totals. The result, as of 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, was a total of 22,524,388 votes cast for Republicans and 19,594,164. Thus, based on our preliminary figures, just under 3 million more Americans voted for a Republican Senate candidate in the 2014 cycle than voted for a Democrat.
When the results from all three elections are combined, a total of 5,204,364 more votes were cast for Democrats than Republicans. To put that number in perspective, that’s nearly a quarter of a million more votes than the gap between the number of voters who supported President Obama in 2012 and the number that backed Republican Mitt Romney.
One caveat is in order, because votes are still being counted in the 2014 cycle, it is likely that the final margins between Democrats and Republicans will shift once the final vote tallies are released. Nevertheless, because the gap between Democratic votes cast and Republican votes cast during the three elections is very large — more than 5 million — it is extraordinarily unlikely that the 2014 numbers will shift enough to give Republicans a lead. In 2012, for example, ThinkProgress conducted a similar preliminary review of the total votes cast for U.S. House members, and determined that Democrats received slightly over half-a-million votes than Republicans in our preliminary tally. When all the ballots were cast, the actual gap between Democratic and Republican House candidates was closer to 1.4 million. Given that the shift from our preliminary tally in 2012 to the final tallies was less than one million votes, the chance that Republicans will make up a 5 million vote gap once all the ballots are counted is very small.
There are several possible explanations for how Republicans could enjoy a majority in the Senate when their candidates significantly underperformed their Democratic counterparts. One is the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of the Senate itself. Under the Constitution, each state receives two senators, regardless of population, which means that Wyoming residents effectively have 66 times as much representation in the Senate as Californians. In 2012, for example, 7,864,624 Americans voted to return Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to the Senate. At the exact same time, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) received just 185,250 to return him to the Senate. Yet Feinstein and Barrasso both get to cast exactly one vote in the Senate despite the fact that Feinstein represents far more people than Barrasso.
Another explanation is the fact that voter turnout in presidential elections is simply much higher than it is during midterm elections. Additionally, the 2014 electorate was older, whiter and richer than the voters who turned out in 2012 when President Obama was reelected. Many of the groups that are most likely to vote for Democrats simply did not turn out in 2010 and 2014, but the total pool of voters in these cycles was much smaller.