A timely reminder

Left-wing blogger Chris Bowers thinks that, given the possibility that the Republicans will change the rules for breaking filibusters and that the Democrats will respond by effectively shutting down the Senate, “it is important. . .for the country to be reminded which party really has a mandate in the Senate.” That party, says Bowers, is the Democrats. To be sure, they occupy many fewer Senate seats than the Republicans. But Bowers calculates that, in the 100 elections that determined the current make-up of the Senate, the Democratic candidates received 47.98% of the vote compared to 47.33% for the Republican candidates.
It is pleasant to contemplate hearing the Democrats remind the country, as they bring the Senate’s business to a halt rather than grant an up-or-down vote to the judicial nominees of a president who received more than 50% of the vote, that they, the Democrats, gained 48 percent of the vote during the past three senatorial election cycles.
UPDATE: The omniscient Michael Barone writes:

Just a note about the post where left-winger Chris Bowers claims the Democrats have a mandate because their popular vote for the Senate in the last three cycles was 48% and the Republicans’ popular vote only 47%.
I think popular vote for the Senate is a misleading gauge of public opinion. Non-seriously contested Senate races in big states like California can produce huge popular vote pluralities for Democrats. But a key victory for Republicans in a small state–like South Dakota in 2004–produces only for Republicans only an infinitesimal plurality when measured against the national vote.
Both sides know in every cycle which races are seriously contested and concentrate all their resources there. If Chris Bowers’s standard were controlling, Republicans would have put money into increasing Bill Jones’s vote in 2004 and Tom Campbell’s vote in 2000 in California. They didn’t, nor did the Democrats put money into Kay Bailey Hutchison’s opponent in Texas in 2000.
As it happens, Democrats had more unseriously contested Senate races in big states in the last three cycles than did Republicans. A better measure of national partisan feeling is popular vote for the House. The popular vote for the House converged with the popular vote for president in the 1990s. See my Introductions to the Almanac of American Politics on this subject.
True, most House races are not seriously contested, and in some House races incumbents have no major party opposition. But on a partisan basis Democratic and Republican districts tend to balance each other out.
The fact is that Republicans won more popular votes in House races than Democrats in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2004. In 1994, 2002 and 2004 Republicans won more than 50% of the popular votes for the House. Case closed.


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