Why blue states are the real "tea party"

For complicated reasons — some of which have to do with rural poverty, some of which have to do with the basic physics of supporting infrastructure in low-density regions — a disproportionate amount of per capita federal spending and benefits now flow down to the low-density states. According to a study by the Tax Foundation conducted several years ago, for every dollar New Jersey pays in federal taxes, it receives 61 cents in benefits and other federal spending. For the same dollar of taxes Wyoming spends, it gets $1.11 back.

Put those two trends together and you have a grievance worthy of the original Tea Party: more taxation with less representation. The urban states are subsidizing the rural states, and yet somehow in return, the rural states get more power at the voting booth.

You can represent the injustice of this arrangement mathematically. Think of it as two different kinds of return on investment: how much does each state receive for every dollar it pays in taxes, and how much Electoral College influence does each state get for each vote cast. Take the average of those two data points and you have a measure of which states are getting shortchanged by the system. Call it the disenfranchisement index.

The states that rank at the top of this list are the ones that are paying the highest proportion of the country’s bills while ranking lowest in terms of voting power in the Electoral College.