The Senate's failure to end a filibuster of stronger gun legislation yesterday prompted the president to lash out against the "continued distortion of Senate rules" that allows 41 senators to block the will of their 59 counterparts. The problem is even more stark when you consider the population those senators could represent: Just over ten percent of Americans can block any federal legislation from moving forward. That's fewer people than live in the state of California alone.
A Senate filibuster, as it is commonly practiced, allows any senator to speak indefinitely on any bill. If 60 of his or her colleagues vote to end the filibuster (known as "cloture"), the legislation can move forward. If not, it's essentially defunct. We compiled data comparing state population, yesterday's Senate vote, and the 2012 election to put together a portrait of how senators representing only a fraction of the country could ensure that no bill advances.
States, by population
First, we looked at each state's population, using July 2012 population estimates from Wikipedia. The darker the blue, the higher the population.
The twenty-one smallest states
Then we isolated the 21 smallest states. If every senator from each of these states were to oppose cloture on any given bill, they could maintain the filibuster indefinitely.