House: Vote to Limit NSA Phone Surveillance

Below we use Optimal Classification (OC) in R to plot the House’s 303-121 vote to limit the National Security Agency’s controversial phone surveillance program.

As the plot below shows, there is almost no ideological organization to this vote. It would be plausible to expect that this would be a “two-ends-against-the-middle” vote; that is, that the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans would spearhead support for this measure. But, to the extent that there is an ideological pattern on this vote, it supports the opposite conclusion. The mean first dimension coordinates of Democrats voting Yea is -0.46, while the mean scores of Nay Democrats is a slightly more liberal -0.52. The most conservative House Republicans were also more likely to vote Nay, with the mean first dimension score of Yea Republicans at 0.40 and of Nay Republicans at 0.44. Of course, these differences are minor.

The cutting line (dividing predicted Yeas from predicted Nays) runs along the second dimension. But, complicating matters more, those with high second dimension scores (legislators like Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Walter Jones (R-NC)) are predicted to vote Nay, even though they have been among the most vocal critics of the NSA. Many of these legislators voted Nay because the bill did not go far enough to rein in NSA surveillance programs. Because of this, it is difficult to attribute substantive meaning to the second dimension on this vote.

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Senate: Vote to Invoke Cloture on the Shaheen-Portman Energy Bill

Below we use Optimal Classification (OC) in R to plot the Senate’s failed attempt to invoke cloture on an energy efficiency bill sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) in a 55-36 vote. All but three Republicans (Sen. Portman along with Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME)) opposed the measure to end debate because they wanted a vote on an amendment involving the Keystone XL pipeline.

Interestingly, none of the endangered Democratic Senators up for reelection in 2014—in particular, Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA)—voted Nay on cloture. The only Democratic Nay vote was from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), but only because doing so allows him to reintroduce the measure for another vote in the near future.

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House: Vote to Hold Lois Lerner in Contempt

Below we use Optimal Classification (OC) in R to plot the House’s 231-187 vote to hold Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress. The vote was nearly party-line, with six House Democrats crossing over to vote in favor of contempt.

As the plot below shows, the six Democrats (Reps. Ron Barber (D-AZ), John Barrow (D-GA), Mike McIntyre (D-NC), Patrick Murphy (D-FL), Collin Peterson (D-MN), and Nick Rahall (D-WV)) who voted Yea are among the most centrist members of their party’s caucus. All but McIntyre are also facing tough reelection races in November, which helps explain the errors made by the spatial model. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT), for example, is the most moderate House Democrat, but is retiring at the end of this year and voted Nay.

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Southern Realignment through the 2012 Elections

Below we provide updated data on the southern realignment through the 2012 elections. Continuing gains among white voters has led to an increasingly Republican South (which we count as the 11 states of the Confederacy plus Kentucky and Oklahoma). In return, the image of the national Republican Party has become more closely tied to the South. As Nate Cohn notes, 41 percent of Romney voters in 2012 were from the South and a majority of House Republicans represent Southern districts.

As is well known, the Republican Party’s breakup of the Democratic Solid South occurred first at the presidential level. As seen in the first plot (showing the difference in the Republican Party presidential nominee’s vote share between the South and North), the South voted more Republican than the North starting in 1964 (Goldwater vs. Johnson) and supported Nixon more than the North against both Humphrey in 1968 and McGovern in 1972. Jimmy Carter won more support in the South than the North in both of his elections, but since 1984 the South has voted more Republican than the North in 8 consecutive presidential elections. The trend has been mostly stable since 2000: the South has voted about 10 percentage points more Republican than the North over the last four presidential elections.

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Congressional Southern Democrats have traditionally fared better than their party’s presidential nominees, but over time the congressional delegations of Southern states has become increasingly Republican. The plots below show the percentage of Southern and Northern seats in the House and Senate represented by Republicans over time. Two recent elections — 1994 and 2010 — stand out for Republican surges in the South that the Democratic Party was not able to recover in recent elections. The importance of these elections is that they used national party waves to wipe out senior conservative Southern Democrats who could not easily be replaced in later elections. Once those seats flipped Republican, they were unlikely to switch back. After 2012, more than 70% of Southern Representatives and Senators are Republicans, with most of the remaining House Democrats representing majority-minority districts.

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Finally, the last vestige of Democratic power in the South has been in the state legislatures, but steady Republican gains here have ended unified Democratic control of all Southern state legislatures (including in the last remaining state — Arkansas — in 2012). In both the upper and lower chambers, Republicans now hold more than 60% of seats in southern state legislatures.

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Voters’ Ideological Perceptions of 2014 Senate Candidates

In this post we use Bayesian Aldrich-McKelvey scaling to analyze voters’ perceptions of the ideological positions of Senators and Senate candidates who will be running in close races in 2014 (we also describe the Bayesian Aldrich-McKelvey scaling method in our book Analyzing Spatial Models of Choice and Judgment with R. To do so we use data from the 2012 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES). The 2012 CCES asked respondents to place national figures like President Obama and Mitt Romney (as well as the Democratic/Republican Parties, the Tea Party, and the Supreme Court), their Senators and Representatives on a seven-point ideological scale ranging from extremely liberal to extremely conservative.

Bayesian Aldrich-McKelvey (BAM) scaling corrects for bias in respondents’ placements (for example, when a liberal respondent overstates the conservatism of political figures or vice versa) to create measures of citizens’ ideological perceptions of political figures that are comparable across states and districts. We have previously used BAM to show that raw liberal-conservative self-placement data understates the true level of polarization in the electorate.

Below we plot the BAM estimates of the liberal-conservative positions of incumbents and challengers (if they were included in the 2012 CCES) in selected 2014 Senate races. One of the advantages of using 2012 data is that we can also estimate the positions of Senatorial candidates who were unsuccessful that year; in particular, former Rep. Todd Akin (Missouri) and Richard Mourdock (Indiana). Both lost very winnable races after making controversial statements about abortion and rape. One of the big questions heading into 2014 is whether the Republican Party will again let races slip through their fingers by nominating candidates perceived to be too conservative and out of the mainstream.

According to the BAM estimates, the likely Republican nominees in close races like Arkansas and Louisiana, safer races like Montana and West Virginia, and greater long-shots like Colorado and New Hampshire are all perceived to be more ideologically moderate than the Tea Party in general or Akin and Mourdock specifically. In fact, perceptions of all of these candidates are virtually indistinguishable from those of Mitt Romney, with the exception of former Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), who is located much closer to the center.

All of the Democrats are perceived to be closer to the center than President Obama, with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) as the most liberal of the group and Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) as the most moderate. Interestingly, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is perceived to be slightly more liberal than Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) and considerably more liberal than Pryor by Louisiana voters. This does not bode well for her in her race for a fourth term. There is also the question of how much these races will be a referendum on the Senators personally rather than on national conditions like the economy, presidential approval, and the Affordable Care Act.

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Note: the correlations between the BAM scores and DW-NOMINATE Common Space scores are moderate-high, although the samples size is very small: r = 0.96 overall, r = 0.49 for Democrats, and r = 0.75 for Republicans.

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An Update on the Presidential Square Wave through 2013

Below we plot the first dimension DW-NOMINATE Common Space scores of the presidents in the post-war period, which we refer to as the “presidential square wave” due to its shape. An ideological score is estimated for each president throughout the entirety of their tenure in office by scaling their “votes” on a subset of roll call on which they announce a position (measured using CQ Presidential Support Scores). Negative scores indicate greater liberalism and positive scores indicate greater conservatism. The presidential scores are directly comparable across time and with members of Congress.

Very little has changed from the last presidential square wave. President Obama fits the spatial model estimated by DW-NOMINATE extremely well, with over 95% of his “votes” correctly classified. Obama has moved very slightly leftward (-0.363) and is now just to the left of LBJ (-0.346) and right of Truman (-0.368), though this trio is virtually ideologically indistinguishable. President Eisenhower is the most moderate president (0.302) of the post-war era.

Among members of the 113th Congress, President Obama is very ideologically close to Representatives John Garamendi (D-CA) [-0.362], Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) [-0.365], and Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) [-0.354] in the House, and Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) [-0.367] and Mark Udall (D-CO) [-0.369] in the Senate.

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Senate: Vote to Invoke Cloture on the Nomination of Debo Adegbile

Below we use Optimal Classification (OC) in R to plot the Senate’s 47-52 vote to reject cloture on the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Adebbile is a controversial pick because of his ties to an appeal of Mumia Abu-Jamal’s sentence for the 1981 murder of a police officer in Philadelphia.

All 44 Senate Republicans who were present voted Nay and were joined by eight Democrats: Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mark Pryor (D-AR), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Joe Donnolly (D-IN), and John Walsh (D-MT). Senator Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) also switched his vote to Nay so that he can bring the nomination back up in the near future. As seen below, the spatial model does a near-perfect job of classifying vote choices on the cloture motion, with only two errors: Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Chris Coons (D-DE). Of course, Senator Casey represents the state where the murder of Daniel Faulkner took place.

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Note: The plot shows only 51 Nay votes instead of the actual number of 52 because newly-appointed Sen. John Walsh (D-MT) voted Nay but has not yet cast enough votes to be included in the scaling.

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House: Vote to Raise Debt Ceiling (updated with Senate Vote on Cloture)

Below we use Optimal Classification (OC) in R to plot the House’s 221-201 vote to pass a clean increase of the debt ceiling. The bill passed with the support of only 28 Republicans and all but two Democrats (Reps. John Barrow [D-GA] and Jim Matheson [D-UT]). As seen in the plot below, this vote clearly split Republicans along ideological lines. The mean first-dimension (representing liberal-conservative position) scores of Republicans who voted Yea is 0.51 compared to 0.61 for Nay Republicans (p < 0.01), meaning that Republicans who opposed the measure were more conservative the 28 who supported it.

The pattern seen in this vote is reminiscent of a proposal discussed during last October's government shutdown to pass a clean continuing resolution in the House with a coalition of Democrats and around 20 moderate Republicans.

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Note: The plot shows only 200 Nay votes instead of the actual number of 201 because Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL) voted Nay but has not yet cast enough votes to be included in the scaling.

Updated 14 February 2014

We also plot the Senate’s 67-31 vote to invoke cloture on the debt limit increase. The vote was a dramatic one as Republicans scrambled to find the 60th vote to block Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) attempted filibuster. 12 Republicans eventually joined all 55 Democrats to support cloture. As seen below, the push to assemble enough Republican votes to stop the filibuster created only a weakly ideological vote in the sense of spatial voting. But certainly, Sen. Cruz’s actions were ideologically motivated and clearly divided Senate Republicans.

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Note: The plot shows only 66 Yea votes instead of the actual number of 67 because newly-appointed Sen. John Walsh (D-MT) voted Yea but has not yet cast enough votes to be included in the scaling.

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DW-NOMINATE Video, 1789-2013

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An Update on Polarization through the First Year of the 113th Congress (Part II)

Note: Raw data and additional graphs tracking congressional polarization can be found at:

In our earlier post, we showed that polarization between the parties in Congress continued to rise through 2013: setting new records in both chambers. One natural question — one we tackle in this post — is whether this increase is mainly attributable to the exit of moderate legislators or the entrance of ideologically extreme legislators.

The plots below track the proportion of moderates (those with DW-NOMINATE scores between -0.25 and 0.25) and non-centrists (those with DW-NOMINATE scores less than -0.5 or greater than 0.5) in the House and Senate over time.

By this specification, moderates comprised over 40% of the membership of both chambers as recently as the early 1980s. This number dipped below 20% after the 1994 midterm elections and has declined to less than 10% in 2013. But most of the disappearance of moderates, especially in the House, had already occurred by the 1990s.

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In contrast, this is when the ranks of non-centrists in Congress (those with DW-NOMINATE scores less/greater than -0.5/0.5) really started to take off. This is clearly an example of asymmetric polarization: in 2013, less than 20% of House or Senate Democrats had scores less than -0.5; while nearly 90% of House Republicans and 60% of Senate Republicans had scores in excess of 0.5. This appears to be fueling most of the increase in polarization over the last few Congresses.

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