And there’s a good reason why it’s not a thing.
After yesterday’s election, many progressives wailed on Twitter about how they lost Senate seats while winning the “Senate popular vote.”
Senate popular vote:
Democrats: 40,558,262 (55.4%)
Republicans: 31,490,026 votes (43.0%)
Senate seats: Republicans +3
— Mark Copelovitch (@mcopelov) November 7, 2018
Republicans lost the popular vote in Senate races by over 15 percentage points, but still gained two seats. https://t.co/TFVdDGIiat
Our country is not a democracy.
— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) November 7, 2018
She’s right, of course – our country is not a democracy. It’s a constitutional republic – and that’s a good thing. The rage of many on Twitter is yet another symptom of our nation’s impoverished civic knowledge.
It also reveals a disturbing trend – that many politically active Americans are viewing elections as national tribal battles rather than considering each race individually. As Reason‘s Jesse Walker puts it:
The Senate (and the House) are not elected by a single national “popular vote.” Legislative elections are not presidential elections. The U.S. does not hold one big race between a generic Democrat and a generic Republican to determine which party should control each chamber. It holds individual races between individual candidates, each with his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Each race also has its own dynamics—for example, how close it is likely to be—that can increase or decrease turnout for reasons largely unrelated to national patterns. (The Senate figures are further distorted by the fact that in California, both candidates on the ballot this year were Democrats. So even if you voted against the incumbent there, you go into that “votes for Democrats” pile.)
It would be one thing if this were just a silly bit of post-election spin, but it speaks to a deeper rot in the way many people look at our politics. For all the partisan sorting we’ve seen over the past few decades, there still is a fair amount of regional variation in the parties. One way those centrist northeastern Republican governors win is by distancing themselves from the national GOP. You see something similar among red-state Dems like West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin. (West Virginia voters in general sometimes feel like they’re trying to will into existence a populist party that isn’t beholden to either of the big national organizations.) Those relatively independent-minded politicians are joined by an growing number of registered independents in the electorate—and no, those voters aren’t just a bunch of “closet partisans.” To pretend that we were simply watching two national races last night is to erase an immense amount of American variety. In the process, you just feed the false idea that only two political options are possible.