Two Cheers for the Senate

It is easy to take shots at the Senate.  It violates the one-person, one-vote standard as between the populations of the states.  You often need sixty votes to get anything done.  The rules are arcane.  And so on.  But I want to put in a good word for the Senate.

The principal advantage of the Senate is that the two parties are on a much more equal footing there than they are in the House of Representatives.  Consider that from 1954 to 1994 Democrats controlled the House.  Since 1994, the Republicans have controlled the House for all but four years.  Before 1954, Democrats controlled the House for all but four years from 1932 to 1954.  In other words, the House of Representatives rarely changes hands.  Why is that?  One explanation is that incumbency matters more in low-profile House races.  Another explanation is gerrymandering.

By contrast, the Senate changes hands more frequently (at least since 1980).  The GOP held it from 1980-1986.  Then the Democrats held it from 1986-1994.  Then the the GOP was back from 1994-2001, then Democrats held control in 2001-2002, then the GOP from 2002-2006, then the Dems from 2006-2014, and now the GOP again.  Why is that?  You cannot gerrymander Senate races, for one thing.  Secondly, the states up for reelection in any given year usually favor one party over the other, but rarely the same party.  And third, incumbency probably matters less for Senators.  (Ask Mary Landrieu if her three terms of bringing home the pork helped when her party’s President is unpopular in her state.).  The Senate was obviously not designed to make party competition more lively, but that is the result.  And I submit that this is a healthy thing.

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