Progressive activist-songwriter Roy Zimmerman took a musical jab at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell amid the debate over whether Senate Republicans should consider President Barack Obama's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The issue is McConnell's position, coming about an hour after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death had been confirmed, that the vacancy should not be filled until the election of a new president.
Zimmerman, best known for singing about obsessive liberals and the hypnotic arguments of Republicans, contends in the song "65 Million" that far more people voted for the Democrats in the Senate than voted for Republicans.
"Republicans control the U.S. Senate with 54 seats, but those 54 senators were elected by only two-thirds the number of voters who elected the Democrats,' he says between verses. 'In the Senate, the majority party represents a minority of the people."
We wondered if Zimmerman's two points were in tune with the facts, specifically whether his numbers were correct and whether Republican senators represent a minority of the people.
When we emailed his website, his wife and co-writer, Melanie Harby, immediately sent along the most recent vote totals for all the senators culled from Wikipedia.
The two-thirds ratio
First, we checked the Wikipedia totals against the elections database Ballotpedia.org. The Wikipedia vote tallies were different in nearly one-third of the races — in one contest the discrepancy was 71,936 votes.
So we turned to a third source, the post-election reports of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Using the federal numbers as the standard, Wikipedia reported different vote totals in 31 of 100 races. Ballotpedia had discrepancies in nine of 100 races.
When we used the official numbers to determine the ratio, it wasn't exactly two-thirds, but it was very close to what Zimmerman said.
Congress' 54 GOP senators were elected with 47,068,532 votes. The rest of the senators collectively received 67,933,645. That means Republicans got just 69 percent of the votes garnered by all of the other senators, or just over the two-thirds that Zimmerman talked about.
However, two of the non-Republicans are independents. Because they caucus with the Democrats, Harby said, it's fair to include them.
That's debatable. Nonetheless, if you exclude them, the Democrats accumulated 67,355,217 votes. Put another way, Republicans earned 70 percent of the votes earned by Democrats. (The percentage only increases slightly because the independents come from states with relatively small populations — Maine and Vermont.)
Why would a majority of the senators be elected by a minority of the United States population? The founding fathers allowed for that when they decided that every state — with populations large and small — would only elect two senators. So there's nothing extraordinary about having a group of senators (in this case, the Democrats) who are in the minority even though they were elected by the most votes because they won seats in large states such as California and New York.
Voters vs. 'the people'
But Zimmerman strikes a sour note in the second half of his statement where he says, "In the Senate, the majority party represents a minority of the people."
There are several reasons this is off-key.
First, the Democratic victors may have garnered 20 million more votes than the Republicans who won, but that doesn't represent 20 million more voters. Remember, every voter gets to pick two senators for their state. In this case, one vote doesn't equal one voter.
Second, the numbers can be skewed by the size of the population in each state. A Democrat who wins 51 percent of the vote in California (population: 39 million) can rack up a disproportionate number of votes compared to a Republican from Wyoming (population: under 600,000) who wins 95 percent of the vote.
Third, the typical winning candidates in the 2012 Senate election probably got a lot more votes than the winning candidates running in 2010 or 2014 because 2012 was a presidential election year, when turnout is significantly higher. Only 58.2 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2012 presidential contest, 41 percent in 2010 and 35.9 percent in 2014. Historically, a higher turnout tends to favor the Democrats.
Finally, it's problematic to suggest, as Zimmerman does, that the person who won the majority of the votes represents the majority of the people.
Some candidates win with less than half the vote, which can happen in races with more that two candidates. Candidates in uncontested races may lose out because many voters don't bother to vote in those races.
Candidates who get more than half the vote may not represent the majority of the people. As we alluded to above, even in the best years, more than one-third of the people eligible to vote don't go to the polls.
The nation hasn't seen a turnout higher than 66.7 percent since the 1900 presidential election. The national turnout for a midterm election hasn't been above 50 percent since 1914, according to the United States Election Project. In the 2014 midterm election, it was just 36 percent.
Zimmerman said, "Republicans control the U.S. Senate with 54 seats, but those 54 senators were elected by only two-thirds the number of voters who elected the Democrats. In the Senate, the majority party represents a minority of the people."
He's very close on the numbers, but he adds a sour note when he tries to equate the vote totals for the current members of the Senate to the general population.
Because the statement is partially accurate but leaves out important context, we rate it Half True.