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Do Populous States Have Liberal Senators?

Earlier today, I posted a graph showing the ideology of a senator (ranked from 1-100, where "1" was the most conservative senator in the Senate) against the size of their state (ranked from 1 to 50, where "1" was the largest state). The point of the graph was that there was no obvious relationship: Conservatives come from big states and small states, as do liberals, as do moderates. When people complain that the Senate gives too much influence to small states, they're not simply disguising a complaint that the Senate gives too much influence to conservatives. After all, Wyoming might be very small, but so too is Vermont.

Matt Yglesias, however, wondered whether this was a function of using population ranking as opposed to actual population. This being the modern world, he not only wondered about this, but he twittered about it, too. In response, reader DelRayser remade the graph along those lines. There's still no relationship:


By Ezra Klein  |  August 10, 2009; 3:01 PM ET
Categories:  Charts and Graphs , Congress  
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You really ought to be doing the average of the two senators rather than plotting both - this graph could have a 2-1 ratio of republicans to democrats at lower populations, and it would still look like no pattern at all as long as those republicans and democrats were about average ideologically for their respective parties.

(From eyeballing it looking for this potential problem I don't think it would actually show up, but it is definitely a flaw in how this graph is presented.)

Posted by: Drew_Miller_Hates_IDs_That_Dont_Allow_Spaces | August 10, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Be careful here Ezra.

This is something you have to look at in detail, not just eyeball, or you can say things that are quite wrong, or misleading.

First, even fairly small amounts of favoring can make a big difference, the difference between being able to filibuster or not, or in California, being able to just have the 1/3 needed to stop tax increases so you can continue the wrentching decline of the state from its once greatness in universities, infrastructure, etc., and overall.

Second, outliers count in Democraticness and votes. Look at those two blue dots way out yonder. And look at averages.

Third, look at specific groups and issues. The rural and farmers clearly get many times the votes of the average citizen in the senate, and we see this in the great subsidies and other government largess that goes to them. That's clearly far from one person one vote.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | August 10, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

You (or your vast staff) should calculate the average populations of the red and blue states, and see if the percentage difference really is not substantial.

You should also do weighted population averages, with weights based on amount of redness and blueness.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | August 10, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

The fact that Senators and Representatives aren't elected on the same schedule is significant. A graph -- almost like a stock trading tend graph -- might provide a different illustration (and perhaps different conclusions).

Virginia is an example of "The Color Purple" in the Senate: Virginia is a notably conservative state but has two Senators from the Democratic Party. Rhetorically, Why??

Posted by: rmgregory | August 10, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

I would be curious if there was a correlation between population *density* versus politics.

It seems to me it's a lot easier to despise people if you've never been in a situation where one helped you change your tire.


Posted by: Jonnan | August 10, 2009 9:58 PM | Report abuse
- - District of Columbia
1 1 New Jersey
2 2 Rhode Island
3 3 Massachusetts
4 4 Connecticut
5 5 Maryland
6 7 Delaware
7 6 New York
8 8 Florida
9 9 Ohio
10 10 Pennsylvania
11 12 California
12 11 Illinois
13 13 Hawaii
14 14 Virginia
15 17 North Carolina
16 15 Michigan
17 16 Indiana
18 18 Georgia
19 19 Tennessee
20 20 New Hampshire
21 21 South Carolina
22 23 Kentucky
23 24 Wisconsin
24 22 Louisiana
25 25 Washington
26 28 Texas
27 26 Alabama
- - U.S. Average
28 27 Missouri
29 29 West Virginia
30 30 Vermont
31 31 Minnesota
32 32 Mississippi
33 36 Arizona
34 34 Arkansas
35 33 Iowa
36 35 Oklahoma
37 37 Colorado
38 38 Maine
39 39 Oregon
40 40 Kansas
41 41 Utah
42 43 Nevada
43 42 Nebraska
44 44 Idaho
45 45 New Mexico
46 46 South Dakota
47 47 North Dakota
48 48 Montana
49 49 Wyoming
50 50 Alaska

Posted by: Jonnan | August 10, 2009 10:11 PM | Report abuse

Agree with Jonnan that population density, not aggregate or rank, is the relevant variable. Could you publish your list of rankings, conservative to liberal, so readers can test it against the other graphs?

Posted by: exgovgirl | August 11, 2009 12:56 AM | Report abuse

Each Democratic senator represents, on average, 6.5 million people

Each Republican senator represents, on average, 5.4 million people

Posted by: kazumatan | August 11, 2009 11:15 PM | Report abuse

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