The State of Wyoming is something of an odd case. In terms of geographic size, it’s a middling state, but in terms of population it is the smallest. This frequently makes it a case-and-point in a number of discussions. Why shouldn’t DC be a state when it has more people than Wyoming? The senate is unfair, look at Wyoming! The electoral college is unfair, look at Wyoming! The House is unfair, look at Wyoming!
In that last case, some people have suggested that the entire US House be reconstructed due to Wyoming’s overrepresentation. Since Wyoming is the universal stand-in for “small population state (SPS),” people often assume that the House, like the Senate, favors small states. Except it actually doesn’t (and Wyoming isn’t even the most overrepresented state in the House, that honor belongs to the rednecks in Rhode Island). The most underrepresented House state is… Montana. Too big for a single House seat, but too small for a second. Followed by Delaware, South Dakota, and Idaho.
The case for Wyoming’s benefit in the case of the electoral college is on firmer ground. A vote in Wyoming counts more than a vote in California. And unlike the House, EV representation (because it includes evenly-distributed Senate seats) does favor smaller states*. But because Wyoming is a universal stand-in for SPS, people assume that the Republican advantage in the Electoral College comes from states like Wyoming. This, however, depends on what you count as a small state. In terms of EC representation, Wyoming is followed by DC, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, and Rhode Island. A relatively even distribution. Go beyond that and you’ve got Delaware, Hawaii, Montana, Maine, and New Hampshire. The Republican advantage in the EC isn’t due to those hick states because they are matched at least somewhat by those hamlet states, but rather because the GOP owns the middle-sized states while the Democrats own most of the larger population states (Texas and Florida, of course, being counter-examples).
Why is this distinction important? Because I believe it goes towards understanding that complaints about Wyoming are, to some extent, complaints about rural America. Wyoming doesn’t have a single city with over 75k and only three with over 30k. It is among the nations most reddest states, to boot. Wyoming’s representation in the Electoral College outsizes its representation from .17% of the nation’s population to a little over half a percent. Even if Wyoming were a swing state, it would never be a focal point of politics. Montana actually has the potential to be a swing state, but sees comparatively little action because its outsized proportion of the EC vote brings it to… a little over half a percent.
But despite these things, Wyoming keeps coming up. Vermont almost never does. Because an additional 60k makes all the difference? Or because Wyoming is a convenient target? Because Wyoming represents something greater, and something for which much greater disdain is felt, than a merely sparsely populated state in the Mountain West. I think it has as much to do with the sense that Wyomingans (and their ilk) are getting away with something. And that the sorts of people that live in red-beneficiary states like Wyoming are the not the people that should get away with something.
Now, living in a comparatively rural state in the Mountain West, the last thing I personally feel is a sense of outsized importance. Yes, we get a greater portion of the Electoral College than our population would have it. Yes, we even get two Senate seats. But you know what we lack? Media markets. We lack for national attention. But for the representation we have, our problems and issues would go completely ignored. I’ve lived in larger states. And the thought of my state – at the time – being completely ignored never entered my mind.
I do recognize that the combination of a Senate and the filibuster does help out the SPS significantly. These are grounds for real grievance. However, the fact that states like Wyoming are targeted for having .4% more of the nation’s vote than they should have, that they are scapegoated as ungrateful beneficiary states, suggests to me that this is as much about “us versus them” (in part because they – we – vote the wrong way) than about fundamental fairness. Not that people are getting away with something, but that the wrong people are.
* – I do recognize that the bigger argument against the Electoral College is the swing/safe state distinction. I agree with that argument and it’s because of that argument that I actually do moderately support a switch away from the Electoral College.