Senators for 22 Percent of American Voters May Filibuster and Block 78 Percent

Right now, in the current Senate, Republican Senators are exercising their power to veto nearly all legislation using the filibuster. Under the filibuster, Senators need not do anything but indicate their desire not to bring legislation to the floor. If 41 Senators do not want the Senate to take a vote, a vote does not happen. There is virtually no time, effort, or price to be paid for 41 to block and obstruct the rest.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is not interested in considering legislation that comes from the Democratic Party even though Democrats hold the majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and hold the White House:

“One-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” McConnell said, adding, “We’re confronted with severe challenges from a new administration, and a narrow majority of Democrats in the House and a 50-50 Senate to turn America into a socialist country, and that’s 100 percent of my focus.”

The last time a Democratic government came into power more than a decade ago, Mitch McConnell and Republicans in the Senate did the same thing:

Senate Republicans intend to block action on virtually all Democratic-backed legislation unrelated to tax cuts and government spending in the current postelection session of Congress, according to a letter recently delivered to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pledging to carry out that strategy, which was signed by all 42 Republican Senators.

Despite Mitch McConnell’s pattern of pledges of obstruction against Democratic majorities, at least one Democratic Senator wants to continue to believe that bipartisanship with Republicans is possible: West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin insists the Senate maintain the filibuster.


Chart One: What percentage of Senators who voted stopped the January 6 commission?

Senate Filibuster Chart 1

The filibuster was used recently to block a formal bipartisan commission investigation of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol Building by a vote of 54-35 with the 54 side losing. It is stunning that 54 representatives could lose to 35 in a system described as representative democracy. 54 votes of 89 voting is about sixty percent of votes cast. Sixty percent supported a commission. They lost. Forty percent opposed a commission. They won. [1a] Here is what the disparity looks like on Chart 1.

The 54 voting for the commission consisted of 48 Democrats and six Republicans. The 35 voting against the commission were all Republicans. [1b] Some level of bipartisanship was achieved. Six Republicans crossed over, but not enough to break the filibuster. Ten crossovers were needed.

Chart Two: What percentage of American voters were represented by Senators who stopped commission?

Senate Filibuster Chart 2

Senators represent voters in their respective states skewing national representation in favor of the minority party. To convert to actual American voters represented, use the number of voters electing each Senator rather than just counting each as one vote. On average, the 35 Senators who voted against a commission received fewer votes from Americans than those supporting it. It turns out that 66 percent of voters were represented by the Senators who wanted a commission, while 34 percent were represented by those who opposed it, as shown in Chart Two [2].


Chart Three: What percentage of American voters can be blocked by a Republican filibuster?

Senate Filibuster Chart 3

The filibuster currently permits 41 Senators to block votes on most legislation. (Some exceptions apply like reconciliation.) To maintain his one hundred percent “focus” on blocking the Democratic agenda, Mitch McConnell needs only 41 Republican Senators to agree to filibuster. The 41 Republican Senators with the lowest vote totals may block change despite representing only 22 percent of the population, as shown in Chart Three [3]. This is the line Joe Manchin says must be crossed before any bipartisan legislation has a chance to become law — It must be supported by representatives of more 78 percent of American voters.

It is theoretically possible in a most representative partisan case scenario that a different set of 41 Republicans representing more than 22 percent of the population could block progress. Such a configuration would always constitute a significant minority of representation of American voters and could not exceed 41.9 percent. [3b]

Chart Four: What percentage of American voters can be blocked by any filibuster?

Senate Filibuster Chart 4

It is also theoretically possible in a least representative nonpartisan case scenario that the 41 Senators representing fewest American voters could block legislation. In this case, Senators representing as few as 11.2 percent of American voters could stop the action, as shown in Chart Four [4]. Fortunately this will not happen in the current Senate but trends could worsen skewed representation.

[1a] Chart One calculations: 54+35=89; then 54/89=60.7%; 35/89=39.3%.
[1b] Chart colors are based upon partisan makeup of Senators voting that way, for example, in Chart One, 48 of the 54 are Democrats and 6 are Republicans so color ratios match–216 blue, 39 red.
[2] Chart Two calculations: yes 86764036 + no 45351429 = total 132115465; then: yes/total = 65.7% and no/total = 34.3%.
[3] Chart Three calculations: 41 Republicans 32028530, the other 59 Senators 115430955, total 147459485; Reps/total = 21.7%, other/total = 78.2%.
[3b] Most representative partisan case scenario, not shown: 41 Republicans 61810475, the other 59 Senators 85649010, total 147459485; Reps/total = 41.9%, other/total = 58.1%.
[4] Chart Four calculations: Lowest 41 Senators 16611036, the other 59 Senators 130848449, total 147459485; lowest/total = 11.3%, other/total = 88.7%. Colors are shades of grey here since this chart is nonpartisan.