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How those who represent the minority of Americans hold enough power to stop policies


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) Climate action. Climate action.

(Chanting, inaudible).

(Chanting) My body, my choice. My body, my choice.

(Chanting) Pro-life. Pro-life. Pro-life.


We often talk about how divisions run deep in America.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: More than 50% of Americans surveyed believe that in the next several years, there will be a civil war.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Cultural and political polarization seems to be getting worse in this country.

MARTIN: And these divisions seem all but insurmountable, especially when it comes to the biggest issues.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: There is very little common ground left.

MARTIN: Here's the truth, and it may come as a shock. Americans largely agree, at least on some basic ideas, when it comes to some of our most controversial issues.


SHEPARD SMITH: Most Americans want to see tighter gun laws.

KAREN TRAVERS: Americans across parties support paid leave.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: The majority of Americans actually support legalizing medical marijuana.

MARTIN: Yet solutions have been stalled in Congress, sometimes for decades. Why might that be?


MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Right now, the Senate is split evenly in half, but the 50 Democratic senators represent 41.5 million more people than the 50 Republican senators.

MARTIN: Those who represent the minority of Americans hold a lot of power - enough to stop policies, programs and ideas that most Americans support. It's minority rule. Now, that's a phrase you might not have heard before, or maybe you heard it and thought it had nothing to do with the way you were taught American democracy works. But the scholars, journalists and voters we spoke with for this hour say it is a political reality America has to confront where one political party that represents the minority of voters is able to dictate policy and control the political agenda. So how did we get here? This hour, we'll walk you through it. We'll talk about how our founding documents laid the groundwork...

JONATHAN GIENAPP: In a lot of ways, what locks in these features that help exacerbate minority rule can also be traced to the Constitution.

MARTIN: ...And how it plays out in the courts.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: A majority of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court were put there by presidents who lost the popular vote.

MARTIN: And Americans are taking notice. We'll also hear from you.

PAT MALONEY: My name is Pat Maloney, and I live in Lexington, Ky.

ANDREA BIONDI: I am a nurse practitioner in North Carolina.

NOAH RICH: I'm 16 years old, and I live in Dover, N.H. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.