The U.S. Senate had a vote on February 6th 2014 to extend Unemployment Benefits, and the vote was 58 in favor, 40 opposed with 2 abstentions. Actually the vote was for Cloture, required to pass before sending a piece of legislation to the floor for a final vote. Cloture is related to the Filibuster, and is used to end debate on a bill and allow the bill to proceed for a final vote. All legislation in the U.S. Senate need to go through Cloture, and Cloture requires a Super Majority of 60 Yea votes before a bill can proceed for a final vote. This means that if 41 Senators are opposed to a piece of legislation they can block it from coming up for a vote by denying Cloture. So while the vote was solidly in favor of extending unemployment benefits 58-40, without the support of 60 Senators it did not achieve Cloture and the Unemployment Benefits were not extended.
For most of history voting to reject Cloture was only used by the minority party for major pieces of legislation. But in the past few decades the use of Cloture to block legislation has increased, and is at an unprecedented level in this current Congress. Virtually every piece of legislation now requires 60 votes in the Senate to make it through Cloture before it can proceed to a simple majority rule vote. By denying Cloture, 41 Senators can effectively block any legislation from being passed into law.
I wanted to do some number-crunching to see how many voters elected the Senators that defeated the Bill to extend Unemployment Benefits. My calculations showed that the 40 Senators, along with the two that abstained that were likely also opposed to the Bill, were elected with the votes from about 34.6 million individuals. This number is about 26% of regular voters, 16% of eligible voters, and finally only 11% of the total population of the United States. So while we think that in the United States we have majority rule, legislation can be blocked by those elected by a small minority of Americans, hardly what I think our founding fathers had in mind.