The Senate’s decision to acquit Trump is even less democratic than you think

On the surface, President Donald Trump can claim popular vindication after Wednesday’s impeachment vote. Senators voted 52-48 to acquit him on charges that he abused power, and 53-47 to acquit him on obstruction of Congress charges.

The reality, though, is that the only reason a majority of the Senate voted to keep Trump in office is that the body is configured in a way that systemically advantages Republicans. The blue state of California has 68 times as many people as the red state of Wyoming, for example, but both states still receive two senators.

Democrats actually control a majority of the Senate seats (26-24) representing the most populous half of the states. Republicans owe their majority in the Senate as a whole to their 29-21 lead in the least populous half of the states. This means that overall, the current Republican Senate “majority” represents about 15 million fewer people than the Democratic “minority.”

On the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney joined every member of the Democratic caucus to vote to remove President Trump from office. That means that the senators voting to convict represent about 170 million individuals — 18 million more people than the bloc of senators who voted to acquit.

I derived these numbers using a fairly simple method. Using 2016 US Census data for each state’s population, I created a two-column spreadsheet, with columns labeled “acquit” and “convict.” In each state where both senators voted to acquit, I allocated the full population of the state to the “acquit” column. I also allocated the full population of the state to the “convict” column in states where both senators voted to convict.

In states where the two senators split their vote, I allocated half the state’s population to one column and half to the other. All told, the senators voting to acquit represent about 152 million individuals, while senators voting to convict represent about 170 million individuals.

You can check my work here.

As a practical matter, Trump likely would remain in office even if the Senate were not malapportioned. The Constitution provides that, in an impeachment trial, “no person shall be convicted without the concurrence of two thirds of the members present.” In a Senate fairly apportioned by population, Democrats would have a majority, but they almost certainly would not have a large enough majority to remove a president.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that senators representing about 53 percent of the nation voted to remove Trump from office. That’s a far different narrative than the raw vote in the Senate suggests.