Senators Per State Since 1959

Inspired by this chart from the Economist, I decided to make a map according to the number of individual senators each state in the U.S. has had since 1959 (the year of the 49th and 50th states' entry into the Union). I guess since it's a presidential election year in America, politics is on people's minds, and for me one thing that always sticks in my craw is the lengthy terms many senators and representatives have maintained in states around the country. I was particularly wondering whether my home state of Alaska would stand out in this respect. After all, Ted Stevens was our senator for forty years, and Don Young is currently running for his 21st term as our representative in the House.

However, in the course of my Wikipedia-based statistics-gathering and cartographic pixel-manipulation, I discovered that Alaska isn't very unique in having long-serving legislators. In fact, there are seven states that have had fewer senators than Alaska over the past 53 years: Hawai'i, West Virginia, and Mississippi each have had only 5 individual senators, and Utah, Arizona, South Carolina and Vermont have had 6.

See for yourself with my map:

You may have noticed that there aren't many regional patterns to be found here, nor many that could be associated with other factors such as demographics, political leanings or other statistics. Population seems to be a little bit correlated, with the "worst" performers (those with the fewest senators) having small populations, and states with large populations having relatively higher numbers of senators (Illinois, New York, California). There are many exceptions to this, however, especially since Minnesota and New Hampshire have had the largest number of senators. One comparison I particularly like is that there have been over twice as many different senators from New Hampshire since 1959 as there have been senators from Vermont. How often do you see those two states shown so differently on a map?

The one conclusion I would make regarding this map is that for the most part, high numbers come from a lot of electoral disruption - senators dying or resigning, particularly to campaign or serve in different political positions. Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey resigned to become Vice President, for example - as did Walter Mondale after him. Humphrey later died while he was senator again, and his wife was appointed in his place and served as senator for about a year. I thought about discarding such short-term vacancy-fillers in my calculations, but often those appointed to fill an empty seat go on to win elections, so I thought they should be counted. The only senators I didn't include were those who were replaced on January 3rd, 1959.

While most states have term limits for their governors and the country has a two-term limit on our president, term limits for legislators in Congress are forbidden, according the the Supreme Court ruling in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton (1995), which ended term limit provisions in 23 states. Someone should doubtless look at which 23 states those were, as they are likely colored lighter on this map, depending on how long the term limits were in place. As I looked through fifty different Wikipedia pages today, it seemed that in states with long histories, senators in the past tended to have much shorter tenures than those in the past half century. Clearly, something has changed in American political patterns: Have Americans become more comfortable with their senators staying in office for decades? Are seniority or longevity so valued in legislative elections - especially in smaller states? This map shows just one aspect of this, and it's really just a small exploration into the subject. What do you think about it?


  1. I wonder how much modern media and advertizing money have influenced the re-election of incumbents. The name recognition from constant repetition in the media might also influence who to pick on the ballot. The issue of perceived power to get things done for the state goes toward those who have been there longer also. Have those states with the fewest representatives had a person in power in the Congress for a longer period of time?

    1. The states with the lowest number of senators would almost necessarily have had senators that spent a lot more time in office, but if I actually calculated the average senator's time in office for each state, those numbers would look slightly different - because of senators whose terms started before 1959 and because of varying times for each state when their senate seats may have been empty. Of course, it would be harder to do the averages, rather than just counting. :)


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