The result of gerrymandering is a set of voting districts that are not representative of the overall ideology of a larger region. Gerrymandering refers specifically to obtaining that result by redrawing district boundaries, but do we have a word to describe this result, whether achieved through redistricting or not?

For example, the United States Senate has two votes from every state, regardless of population. Since Republicans tend to dominate in rural and suburban areas, and the number of states dominated by rural and suburban areas is more than the number of states dominated by urban centers, and states with urban centers tend to have higher populations, the Senate is functionally gerrymandered, but not by virtue of redrawing state boundaries.

The ideological makeup of the Senate leans more to the right than the overall US population does. But it wouldn't be appropriate to call it gerrymandering, since state boundaries are essentially fixed.

Is there any terminology that is already in the literature or in public discourse for the result I'm describing or the means of achieving this result without redistricting?

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    Eh? This is what any entity which is subdivided into units containing voters ends up with. And that's because the US is not made up of people (alone) but states. Looking around the arguments for proportional representation may help you find discussions around this.
    – user19831
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 18:02
  • I'm being confused by the conflict between population size and housing styles. Is part of this question a statement that small population states are less urbanised? It might be better to state that explicitly if it's important to the framing of the question.
    – Jontia
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 8:06
  • "Popular national representation" vs "member state representation"? Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 21:03
  • Gerrymandering also implies a change. This issue existed when the constitution was first written! Think about the differences between the North and the South among the first 13 states.
    – jpaugh
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 19:43
  • "The ideological makeup of the Senate leans more to the right than the overall US population does" That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever read. The country self-identifies as roughly 40% conservative and 10-20% liberal. However, the Republican party is vastly more liberal than those 40%. That means a republican-controlled senate is still more liberal than about 75% of the country.
    – Savage47
    Commented Nov 6, 2019 at 7:55

4 Answers 4


"Disproportionate representation" describes the result without making any reference to the cause. For example,

States have disproportionate representation in the Senate

is a perfectly reasonable description. If you want to be more specific as to what kind of proportionality you're talking about, you could specify with

States have disproportionate representation in the Senate relative to population.

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    @Jasper No, it would be correct to say that states have no representation in the House.
    – Joe
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 23:11
  • 4
    @Joe -- Yours is also a valid point of view. The difference between the two views was clearer before the passage of the seventeenth amendment.
    – Jasper
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 23:51
  • 1
    @Joe to be fair, states are still relevant since every state is constitutionally guaranteed at least one seat, and the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apportionment_paradox. Some numbers from 2012 (thegreenpapers.com/Census10/FedRep.phtml) show a 90% difference in people / seat in the worst case (MO vs RI).
    – Cireo
    Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 2:30
  • States (as whole entities) have equal representation in the Senate. It's population that has disproportionate representation in the Senate.
    – jpaugh
    Commented Nov 1, 2019 at 19:44

The shortest term I can come up with for this result is "sovereign states are entitled to their own opinions and interests."

The error in your judgement is the assumption that US States are arbitrary lines drawn on a map, and that the apparent disconnect between the ideological makeup of the Senate is just as arbitrary as the makeup of gerrymandered congressional districts within a state. This is not correct.

The United States is supposed to be a union of states who have joined together to pursue certain, defined common interests that are not inclusive of absolutely everything (like, foreign relations and national defense and interstate commerce). Although the House of Representatives represents the people living in the United States, the Senate's purpose is to represent the interests of the states. That's why it is organized differently than the House, and that's why it has almost all of the anti-majoritarian features of Congress, because it's explicitly not majoritarian the way that the House is.

To treat Connecticut and Texas as places we can or should redraw in order to represent whatever the "average" American is in the Senate is just as wrong as suggesting that France and Poland should redraw themselves arbitrarily so that the European Council or the United Nations become more representative of the views of European and/or World citizens. It misses the point that France and Poland are real places whose borders exist for real reasons with their own interests that are entitled to representation independently of whatever geopolitical aggregate their people might also be a part of.

EDIT: Several people have claimed that this isn't an answer to the question, largely by saying that states actually are arbitrary lines on a map.

Those people are missing the point, which is that a state is not the same kind of entity as a congressional district, because a state has a government, and that government is in one way or another (depending on which country or international organization you choose as an example) has its own form of legitimate sovereignty that isn't supposed to be violated. In the United States, that sovereignty is shared in very specific ways with the federal government, as outlined in the Constitution. The purpose of the Senate is to represent the interests of those governments, not people who happen to live in them.

  • 34
    I'd argue that you're missing the point of the question. MrMcPlad is asking for the term for when natural borders result in certain people having increased power in a country. That the Senate does this in reality is pretty objectively true, I'd argue, and he's not asking if that's good or bad – just for the terminology of that. In my understanding, this was one of the deliberate goals of the Senate – to equalize the power of large and small states, despite the population differences.
    – divibisan
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 18:01
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    Joe, you're inferring my intent. I just want a word to describe the concept so we can begin to talk about its merits, good or bad, and have a way to understand the ramifications of the systems we set up for ourselves. I haven't taken a side, but you apparently have.
    – MrMcPlad
    Commented Oct 10, 2019 at 19:36
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    This doesn't answer the question at all. It seems to just be an objection to the particular example the OP picked. The European Council and UN General Assembly would in fact be further examples of this phenomenon.
    – BenM
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 7:36
  • 9
    I'm not sure if I understand the premise of this answer- you imply that States are not just arbitrary lines drawn on a map, but if I were to be particularly literal I think it's not much of a stretch to say that States are very much just arbitrary lines drawn on a map. The lines were drawn a fairly long time ago, yes, but they were drawn pretty arbitrarily, really. There is no physical constant enforcing the existence of those particular lines. If you moved one a few feet, I sincerely doubt anyone would even notice.
    – Onyz
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 16:22
  • 5
    @Joe OK, what's it called if I do live there?... You seem like you're being deliberately obtuse here, tbh, surely something can have a description or a name even if it doesn't apply to me personally. P. S. California and Texas did draw their own borders, but most of the rest of the midwest was drawn by Congress using some pretty arbitrary decisions. Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 4:43

Despite the potential ambiguity, "territorial representation" seems to be a generic term used for this (see quotes toward the end of my post).

In the US, the equal territorial (=state) representation in the Senate is known as the Connecticut Compromise

The Connecticut Compromise (also known as the Great Compromise of 1787 or Sherman Compromise) was an agreement that large and small states reached during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that in part defined the legislative structure and representation that each state would have under the United States Constitution. It retained the bicameral legislature as proposed by Roger Sherman, along with proportional representation of the states in the lower house, but required the upper house to be weighted equally among the states. Each state would have two representatives in the upper house.

Also, this form of compromise is rather common in other federations with bicameral legislature:

A federal upper house may be based on a special scheme of apportionment, as is the case in the senates of the United States and Australia, where each state is represented by an equal number of senators irrespective of the size of its population.

Alternatively, or in addition to this practice, the members of an upper house may be indirectly elected by the government or legislature of the component states, as occurred in the United States prior to 1913, or be actual members or delegates of the state governments, as, for example, is the case in the German Bundesrat and in the Council of the European Union.

In Canadian terminology, the concept is known as "intrastate federalism"

Provision for the designated representation of distinct regional views within the federal policy-making institution, usually provided by the particular form of the federal second chamber.

In that context, it is contrasted with interstate federalism, which refers to the relationship between the federal government and those of the states.

• Intrastate Federalism: The representation of the units of the federation within the national government (e.g. US Senate – 2 Senators from each State) – Constitution ensures Provincial Representation in Senate and House of Commons – Convention of regional balance in Cabinet [...]

• Interstate Federalism: Interactions between Federal and Provincial gov’ts – Joint programs – Bureaucratic linkages and consultations – Integration of Tax system – First Ministers’ Conferences

• Interstate federalism functions more smoothly, or there is simply less need for it, if intrastate mechanisms are legitimate and effective.

And if you are curious about equal vs non-equal representation of states in the upper house, again from a Canadian source, but which does pan out to a worldwide survey....

While equality of provincial representation in the Senate has not been suggested in every past constitutional proposal, it has certainly been the option of choice for latter-day reformers. (See Appendix 14, Senate Composition Schemes). Opinion-leaders like the Canada West Foundation (1981), the Alberta Legislature (1985) and Premier Clyde Wells (1989) all proposed equal provincial representation in a reformed Senate of Canada. The fact that the most consensus-oriented constitutional agreement of the last century, the Charlottetown Accord, featured equality of provincial representation in the reformed Senate as a basic principle, was telling.

The reasons for this are not hard to imagine. Populist reformers in Canada were heavily influenced by American representation theory. The founding of the American federation was greatly aided by the “Connecticut Compromise,” which joined representation by population (in the House) to equality of regional representation (in the Senate). This institutionalized system of countervailing power has seemed fair to Canadian reformers, especially those who reside in less populated provinces. Another reason is that the imbalance of (population-based) representation in the Commons is so glaring that there is little apparent incentive for governing parties based largely on representatives from Ontario and Quebec to pay much attention to the needs of the western and eastern provinces. Yet another is that the idea is simplicity itself, and Federal Representation of the People and Government of Newfoundland and Labrador simple solutions are appealing in a political system that seems to thrive on preserving arcane and complicated political forms.

As for other countries, there are differences of opinion. Ron Watts noted that equality of representation of the component units is the exception rather than the rule in federations, at least in the 10 federations he studied (See Appendix 15). However, our review shows that, if more recent data are considered and a larger number of federations (21) is considered, equality of regional representation is more the norm than is inequality (See Appendix 16). This is in spite of the fact that there are significant variations in the populations of most of the states or provinces in countries with federal systems. In Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, USA, and Yugoslavia, for example, there is equality in the representation for the elected part of the Upper House but there are vast inequalities in state populations.

So if we were to extract some generic terminology from this, it could be "equality of regional representation", although I guess this phrase could also mean other things in other contexts.

Or more generally (i.e. not necessarily equal representation) "(second) chambers based on territorial representation". This concept can in turn be further subdivided in regional representation or direct government representation [of the regional governments], as well as mixed systems of these two flavors.

For the regional principle to prevail, seats do not have to be allocated equally across regions. What matters is the principle that is articulated in the constitution and the extent of disproportionality between seats and population. Where the constitutional principle is explicitly territorial this meets the criterion even if regions happen to be represented in rough proportion to their population. A rule of thumb for territorial representation is where the disproportion of seats per voter exceeds 5.0 between the most and least represented regions.

The German Bundesrat establishes regions as the unit of representation even though the number of seats per Land ranges from three to six. Each Land has at least three votes, and most have more in line with a constitutionally mandated population rule that gives four seats to Länder with more than two million inhabitants, five seats to Länder with more than six million, and six seats to Länder with more than seven million. The disproportion of seats to population across Länder reaches a whopping 1:13. This compares with less than 1:3 for the Italian senate. Between 1997 and 2006 each Thai changwat received between one and four seats in the senate which yields a disproportion of 1:3.5 between the most and least represented region. This is a gray case, [...] given that the Thai constitution does not articulate the territorial principle [...]

[As for a mixed example:] Since 1995, the Belgian senate comprises three kinds of community representatives: forty directly elected senators, twenty-one indirectly elected community senators, plus ten senators selected by these groups. The community senators are selected on the principle of regional representation (the Flemish and Francophone communities each have ten seats with one seat for the tiny German-speaking community) and they serve as delegates of the communities.

Also, this source notes a trend:

Most upper chambers came to serve as bulwarks against the principle of one citizen, one vote. They were conservative, sometimes reactionary, bodies representing the aristocracy, the church, corporatist groups, or territorial communities with premodern roots. Upper houses are in decline. Thirty-six of the eighty-one countries we observe had a bicameral parliament in 2010, whereas forty-three countries had one at the time they enter the dataset. Nineteen of these upper chambers represent territorial communities in 2010. [...]

The "territorial representation" terminology seems reasonably widespread with this meaning, e.g.

A key feature of federal systems is the representation of subnational units by “territorial representatives” in policymaking at the federal level. [...] To be clear, by territorial representation, I refer to the representation of subnational units or states in political decision making at the federal level by regionally, (in)directly elected “territorial representatives.” Territorial representation is typically a core element of the definition of federalism (e.g., Wibbels 2005, 26) and is prominently associated with state representatives in an upper chamber of the national legislature.

Unfortunately, for other authors, the term "territorial representation" seems to mean simple districting, which may easily change:

Both ethnofederalism and territorial political representation are institutional solutions to minority representation that depend on the creation of intra-state boundaries. Ethnofederal systems accommodate minority interests by creating substate jurisdictions (regions, provinces, etc.) dominated by a particular ethnic group and by dividing political sovereignty between a central state and regional jurisdictions (Smith, 1995). Ethnofederalism carries the danger, however, that such institutional divisions will reinforce ethnically defined political conflict, leading to conflict, secession, civil war, and perhaps ethnic cleansing (Bunce, 1999; Hale, 2004).

Territorial representation is a less drastic approach because it does not necessarily mean the creation of (relatively) fixed and permanent boundaries, or a division of sovereignty. The United States and the UK, for example, periodically adjust the boundaries of election districts, and (in the United States) do so to further minority representation. In contrast, South Africa dealt with the problem of minority representation during its transition from apartheid by established (relatively) fixed provincial boundaries used for national elections, but without a strong federal system. Finally, the post-invasion administration in Iraq rejected the use of sub-national electoral boundaries in an attempt to emphasize the territorial integrity of the state and to facilitate a favorable level of minority representation.

This latter paper seems to have a gap in its classification, in that it doesn't seem to consider federal systems that aren't strongly set up on ethnic lines, yet nonetheless have internal boundaries (e.g. US state borders) that are not easy to change.


the Senate is functionally gerrymandered, but not by virtue of redrawing state boundaries.

Just because gerrymandering works against PR (proportional representation) in may cases does not mean that gerrymandering is that at all; in fact if the natural boundaries of an area favour the minority of voters, you can gerrymander to get PR over the area as a whole - and this would be illegal when 'vanillia' gerrymandering is. What you are looking at is a system where groupings (states in this case) send representative. As such from the states-as-units point of view every one is represented proportionally. Of course at a population level this is a non-PR system; researching the arguments for and against PR should give you the pros, cons criticisms and justifications for such system

  • 1
    In the US Gerrymandering is legal at the federal level. As per the supreme court ruling. It may be illegal at state levels in particular states.
    – Jontia
    Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 17:44
  • 1
    @Jontia that's something I didn't know (or rather didn't think about) I'll certainly update my answer to take that into account.
    – user19831
    Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 18:52

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