The Potential Tyranny of the Minority
Within the United States Senate, it takes the efforts of at least 40 members for a filibuster to occur. Though the prior section of this report, A Filibuster Majority, indicates that the Senators currently contemplating the use of filibusters actually represent many more voters than do their Republican counterparts, this has not always been the case, sometimes leading to undemocratic consequences. As a result, we study the potential hazards of the filibuster here, by highlighting exactly how the minimum 40 Senators needed to filibuster could represent a small fraction of the American public.

Note that the prior section of this report compared the number of votes the majority party's sitting Senators received with the number of votes the minority party's sitting Senators received - but this section of the report, Tyranny of the Filibuster Minority, instead compares the number of votes each party's sitting Senators received with the total number of votes cast for all candidates in Senate races, whether they won or not. In doing so we are able to determine not just which party's Senators represent merely more voters who cast ballots for winning candidates, but we are able to show what percentage of the total voting population in Senate elections these groups of Senators represent. This allows us to show just how small a percentage of America a group of filibustering Senators can represent.

The following analyzes, within the 103rd and 109th Congressional sessions, the actual representativeness of the lowest 40 vote-getting Senators needed to sustain a filibuster. We first analyzed how many voters were represented by the 40 lowest vote-getting Democrats, then the 40 lowest vote-getting Republicans, and lastly the 40 lowest vote-getting Senators regardless of party. We then analyzed what percentage of the total votes cast these various groupings of Senators represented (showing their representativeness with respect to the American voting public), as well as what percentage of the winning Senators' they represented (showing their representativeness with respect to their colleagues).  A disconnect is certainly visible between filibusters and democratic processes when the lowest 40 vote-getting Senators, which represent nowhere close to a "majority" of voters and nowhere close to as many votes as their colleagues garnered, are halting legislation

To give you a basis for comparison for these numbers, note that the 40 highest-vote-getting Senators in the current Senate (ie: the 40 Senators who received the most votes) tallied a combined 89,522,175 votes from their supporters. In contrast, the 40 lowest-vote-getting Senators received a fraction of the support, only tallying a combined 13,127,761 votes. Nevertheless, under the current Senate rules, both groups of Senators would have an equal ability to mount a filibuster - regardless of which Senators represent a majority of Americans.

Quick Facts:
  • All Democratic and Republican candidates for the 100 seats that make up the 109th Congress' Senators received a combined 196,157,265 votes (aka the "Total Vote").
  • The Democratic and Republican Senators who were eventually elected to the 109th Congress received a combined 119,656,691 votes from people who actually saw their candidate win (aka the "Total Winning Vote").
  • The top 40 vote-getting Senators received 89,522,175 votes.
  • The bottom 40 vote-getting Senators received 13,127,761, so they would be able to mount a filibuster, in spite of representing only a fraction of the 196,157,265 total votes from the 109th Congress' Senate races.

103rd Congress

Democrat Senators
Republican Senators
Bipartisan (ALL) Senators
Bottom 40 Senators' Votes
    22,972,311      23,540,782       10,735,427 
Percentage of Winning Votes (1988,1990,1992)
         24.21%           11.04%
Percentage of Total Votes (1988, 1990, 1992)       13.27%         13.60%            6.20%

109th Congress

 Democrat Senators
Republican Senators
Bipartisan (ALL) Senators
Bottom 40 Senators' Votes
 40,378,388   23,637,089         13,127,761
Percentage of Winning Votes (2000,2002,2004)
     33.75%       19.75%            10.97%
Percentage of Total Votes (2000,2002,2004)
     20.58%       12.05%              6.69%