Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On Political Ideology and Happiness

I’ve been following a discussion by Steve Greene on his blog about political ideologies and happiness. The discussion started with a post on Arthur Brooks’ op-ed piece that alleged that conservatives are happier than liberals. Furthermore, the extremes in ideology (extremely conservative and extremely liberal) are happier than ideological moderates. Brooks has also posted a five part series on politics and happiness here. The one in which I am most interested is part 4. This chart from the 2004 General Social Survey is especially interesting:

Now, look at this chart from the 2010 General Social Survey:

What strikes me is that the percentage of extremely liberals that are very happy is approximately the same as the percentage of extremely conservatives that are extremely happy. Furthermore, the extremes in ideology are not happier than those who are liberal or conservative. This chart is from Jay Livingston’s blog about Brooks’ op-ed here

So what’s the point? I agree with Steve Greene, who argues that happiness is associated with whether one thinks that life is fair or not. However, it seems to me that if people who share your ideology are in control of government, you’re more likely to be happy or very happy. Thus, since President Obama’s election and the Democrats’ success in passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, things didn’t look so rosy for conservatives, especially those who are extremely conservative. What do you think?

You might also want to check out a wonderful article by Marie Burns here.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

On Symmetry and Political Party Polarization in Texas

Several recent books on United States politics and polarization have noted that the most extreme polarization has occurred in the Republican Party, where members have become more conservative in the policy views and voting behavior than Democrats have become liberal. Notable books include Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s Off Center: The Republican Revolution & the Erosion of American Democracy (2005) and, most recently, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism (2012). Mann and Ornstein make the case that that the extremism attributable to the Republican Party and the “Young Guns”—Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan, but it started with former Speaker of the House and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich in 1995. Has the same type of asymmetry occurred in Texas? Has the Republican Party become even more conservative ideologically while the Democratic Party has remained moderate to slightly liberal in its ideology? The following information from the 81st and 82nd Texas legislatures offers a partial answer to the questions?

Here are the results from the Texas House in the 81st legislature for Republicans and Democrats (the scores are shown as absolute values; the Conservative scores should be positive and the Liberal scores negative):

In 2009, there were 76 Republican House members and 74 Democratic House members. Although there were no overlaps between the two parties’ members in ideology, there were several Democrats whose ideology was centrist (that is, they were on the conservative side of the ideological divide). Ten Democrats were between the center and .1 either side of center in ideology. Furthermore the average score for Democrats was 0.342 to the liberal side of the ideological center. For Republicans, there were no members that close to the center ideologically. Only two Republicans were between .2 and .4 on the Lib-Con score scale. The average for Republican members was .663, much more conservative than the Democrats were liberal. There is no doubt that in the 81st Texas legislature, the Democrats were much more diverse ideologically than the Republicans. The chart illustrates this point perfectly.

Here are the results from the Texas House in the 82nd legislature for Republicans and Democrats (the scores are shown as absolute values; the Conservative scores should be positive and the Liberal scores negative):

The chart depicting the ideology of the two parties’ members in the 82nd Texas legislature tells a completely different story. In the 2010 elections, Republicans won 99 seats, and after the election two Democrats switched parties, bringing the Republican total to 101. The Democrats were reduced to only 49 members. In 2011, the Republicans were bunched near the conservative middle of the scale, exemplified by the Republican average score of .55. The median is also .55, and the mode is .47. Meanwhile, the Democrats who remained in the Texas House were much more tightly grouped at the extremely liberal side of the Lib-Con scale. The average Lib-Con score for the Democrats (.89) placed them at the extreme liberal end of the scale. The median is .91, and the mode is .95. How can we explain this transformation?

First, many of the Democrats who occupied the ideological center or were near the center lost their election bids to Republicans in 2010. Twenty-two Democrats lost their re-election bids in 2010 and two switched parties. Of those 24, 12 scored below the Democratic mean of 0.342, and 12 scored above the Democratic mean. The mean Lib-Con score of the 24 was .28, which is lower than the Democratic members average Lib-Con score. Among the low scoring 12 were moderates such as Joe Heflin, Patrick Rose, Jim McReynolds, Mark Homer, Charles Hopson (a party switcher), David Farabee, and Allan Ritter (the other party switcher). Three Democrats who lost their seats were among those identified by Mark Jones (See my previous post) as out-of-touch with their districts’ ideologies—Abel Herrero, David Leibowitz, and Carol Kent.

Also, a number of Democrats who had been moderates in 2009 became much more liberal in their voting behavior in 2011. For example, Sylvester Turner went from very slightly liberal in 2009 to very liberal in 2011. Others moving to a much more liberal position were Helen Giddings, Joe Deshotel, and Ruth Jones McClendon. Perhaps the Democrats, reduced to such a small number in the House, felt that they had to unify and present a more cohesive liberal front in opposition to an overwhelming majority of Republicans.

Whatever the reason, the House Democrats became much more liberal, and the House Republicans became slightly less conservative.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

On the Institutional Consequences of Partisan Polarization

This blog is devoted to the relationship between political ideas and political institutions. Nowhere in Texas government is the relationship more evident than in the Texas House of Representatives. Created as the “people’s branch,” the Texas House is supposed to represent the people who inhabit the legislative district. With the polarization of the parties, the consequences for representation are great. This is especially true when there is a shift in partisan representation in the House (e.g., a Democrat is replaced by a Republican). Notice what happened between 2009 and 2011 in the Texas House when several Democrats were replaced by Republicans.

Lib-Con 2009
Lib-Con 2011
Allan Ritter
Allan Ritter
Charles Hopson
Charles Hopson
David Farabee
Lanham Lyne
Patrick Rose
Jason Issac
Jim McReynolds
James White
Joe Moody
Dee Margo
Diana Maldonado
Larry Gonzales
Kirk England
Rodney Anderson
Mark Homer
Irwin Cain
Stephen Frost
George Lavender
Solomon Ortiz
Raul Torres
Yvonne Gonzalez-Toureilles
Jose Aliseda
Ellen Cohen
Sarah Davis
Kristi Thibaut
Jim Murphy
Paula Pierson
Barbara Nash
Joe Heflin
Jim Landtroop
Allen Vaught
Kenneth Sheets
Robert Miklos
Cindy Burkett
Carol Kent
Stefanie Carter
Volinda Bolton
Paul Workman
Abel Herrero
Connie Scott
Chris Turner
William "Bill" Zedler
Jim Dunnam
Marva Beck
David Leibowitz
John Garza
Italics=Tea Party Endorsed Candidates

Now, let’s consider what happened to the ideology of the representative as the shift from a Democratic House member to a Republican House member occurred. The least change occurred in the two representatives who switched parties (Allan Ritter and Charles Hopson), but their scores were more conservative in 2011 than in 2009. The most dramatic shift occurred in HD- 117, where David Leibowitz was replaced by John Garza. Leibowitz was quite liberal in his voting record, and Garza was quite conservative in his voting record. HD-117, which is located in western Bexar County, is barely Republican in its voting record. One indication of the district’s ideology is the Texas Weekly Index (TWI), which is the difference between the average vote for statewide Republicans and the average for statewide Democrats in each district in contested statewide general elections in 2008 and 2010. The Texas Weekly Index (TWI) for HD-117 was
-4.94 percent. The average HD is more Republican with an index of -17.1 percent.

Another measure is a calculation by Professor Mark Jones that indicates how well matched the ideology of a member of the Texas House is to the voting population in his or her district. According to Jones:

The graph plots the 150 members of the Texas House during the 2009 legislative session on two dimensions. The first dimension (Y-axis) is the representative’s Liberal-Conservative Score based on their voting record in the House, ranging in theoretical value from -1.0 (extreme liberal) to 1.0 (extreme conservative).

The second dimension (X-axis) accounts for the ideological partisanship of the district and is calculated using the average Republican share of the two-party vote in the election for railroad commissioner in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Given the limited information voters possess regarding the railroad commissioner candidates, this vote tends to be based principally on voters’ partisan-ideological preferences. For each district, the percentage of the two-party vote won by the Republican railroad commissioner candidate in the district is subtracted from the percentage of the two-party vote won by this same candidate state-wide. These values are then summed and divided by three to create the District Partisan Voting Index (PVI). The higher the value for the District PVI, the more Republican/Conservative the district is; while the lower the value, the more Democrat/Liberal the district is. Here, the actual values for the District PVI range from -41 to 22.

Finally, in the figure a dashed line (a Lowess curve) represents where we would expect a representative’s Liberal-Conservative Score to be, relative to their district’s partisan voting profile based on a statistical analysis of all 150 representatives. Representatives located above the dashed line have a voting record in the House that is more conservative than we would expect based on the partisan-ideological profile of their district, while representatives located below the line have a voting record that is more liberal than we would expect. Democratic representatives are identified by a blue dot and Republicans a red dot.

And here is the graph plotting each representative and his or her district’s PVI:

Among the Democratic representatives in the 81st Texas legislature, the outliers are Herrero, Leibowitz, Hochberg, and Kent. Among the Republicans are Aycock, Christian, Harper-Brown, and Kleinschmidt. Professor Jones notes:

In the figure, the eight representatives whose respective Liberal-Conservative Score is most at odds with the partisan-ideological profile of their district are identified by name. The highest degree of ideological disconnect between a representative and their district is found in the case of Linda Harper-Brown (HR-105, Irving), who is substantially more conservative than her district’s level of ideological partisanship would suggest she would be. She is followed in this ranking of representative-district partisan-ideological discontinuity by David Leibowitz (HR-117, San Antonio), Scott Hochberg (HR-137, Houston), Wayne Christian (HR-9, Center), Abel Herrero (HR-34, Corpus Christi), Tim Kleinschmidt (HR-17, Austin), Carol Kent (HR-102, Dallas) and Jimmie Aycock (HR-54, Killeen). All four Republicans and all four Democrats are respectively more conservative and more liberal than their legislative district’s partisan-ideological profile would indicate. It is very important, however, to keep in mind that the replacement of these representatives by either a co-partisan or a rival-party member would not automatically lead to the presence of a representative whose Liberal-Conservative Score would be more in concert with the partisan-ideological profile of the district.
In contrast to the above-mentioned representatives, half a dozen House members possess a Liberal-Conservative Score located right along the dashed line, indicating a near-perfect match between their legislative floor voting behavior and their district’s partisan-ideological preferences. They are Democrats Armando Martinez (HR-39, Weslaco), Marisa Marquez (HR-77, El Paso) and Richard Peña Raymond (HR-42, Laredo), and Republicans Frank Corte Jr. (HR-122, San Antonio), Joe Straus (HR-121, San Antonio) and Rob Eissler (HR-15, The Woodlands).

He concludes that:
A significant disconnect between a representative’s floor voting record and their district’s partisan-ideological orientation does not necessarily indicate a crisis of representation. However, the presence of this type of incongruity does suggest a potential gap between a representative’s behavior on the House floor and the preferences of a majority of his/her constituents that may be worthy of greater scrutiny by these constituents.

So, with the replacements for the Democrats noted in the table above, are the current occupants of the office more in line with the partisan-ideological orientation of their districts? Or, has the polarization of the parties led to a liberal Democrat being replaced by a conservative Republican, resulting in an even greater discrepancy between the elected representative and his or her district?

Let’s just consider HD-117 as an example. According to the TWI, the district is slightly conservative. According to Jones’ partisan-ideological orientation (PVI), it’s slightly liberal (about -.6 by my calculations from the graph). So the question becomes are voters in HD-117 represented more accurately by Jose Garza than by David Leibowitz? I would have to say that they are not if the distance between the district’s voting/ideological preference and the representative’s ideology is an accurate reflection of representation. What do you think?

Monday, June 4, 2012

On Party Identification in Texas

I mentioned in a previous post that I would have more to say about partisan leaners in a future post. Well, this is the post.

First, let’s agree on what party identification is because there are several competing definitions. I am a traditionalist, perceiving party identification (PID) as a psychological attachment to a political party. This definition was originally offered in The American Voter by Professors Campbell, Converse, Miller, and Stokes at the University of Michigan, which was published in 1960. They maintained that this is one of the stronger political attitudes, which means that it is less likely to change than other attitudes. They also maintained that it was usually adopted from one’s family. Because of its strength and relative permanence, they argued that it is a filter through which other political attitudes have to pass. They referred to a “funnel of causality,” tracing a person’s other political attitudes to one’s partisan identification. Voting behavior, for example, is considered to be strongly influenced by one’s partisan identification.

The also developed a method of determining a person’s PID. They asked a basic question: “In politics, do you consider yourself a Democrat, Republican, or Independent?” For those responding either Democrat or Republican, they asked a second question: “Are you a strong or not-so-strong Republican (Democrat)?” For independents, the second question was: “Are you a pure independent, or do you lean toward one of the parties?” The result is a seven-point scale, ranging from strong Democrat on the left to strong Republican on the right. The diagram below illustrates the scale.

      SD              WD               DLI            I             RLI             WR          SR
Where do registered voters in Texas fall on the PID continuum? In other words, what percentage of Texans falls into each of the seven categories? The results of a May 2012 UT/Texas Tribune poll are represented in the chart below:

If you consider partisans as strong and weak identifiers (SD, WD, SR, WR), then 36 percent of Texas registered voters are Republicans, and 33 percent are Democrats. Independents make up 30 percent of Texas registered voters. However, political scientists have argued about where the “leaners”—Democratic and Republican leaning independents—should be placed. Since the publication of Bruce Keith et al.’s The Myth of the Independent Voter in 1992, political scientists have generally agreed that “leaners” are “closet partisans,” who behave like partisans even though they don’t claim an allegiance to one of the political parties. I have always found accepting this view difficult. If party identification is an emotional attachment to a political party and a person claims no such attachment, why should they be considered partisans? The fact that “leaners” are more supportive of a party’s positions on issues than weak partisans and are more likely to vote for the party’s nominees for public office than weak partisans does not make them partisans.

To some people, the distinction may not seem important, but it has consequences for campaigns and how campaigns target potential voters. If leaners are really partisans, then only about 10 percent of the Texas electorate is independent. If leaners are independents, then about 30 percent of the Texas electorate is independent. If it’s only 10 percent, then they aren’t as consequential to election outcomes, and campaigns should concentrate on mobilizing partisans with partisan appeals. If however, it’s 30 percent, then the campaigns must appeal to independents with messages that are different from their partisan appeals. In other words, it matters!

So, what’s the basis for each side’s view? For those who consider leaners as “closet partisans”—Keith et al., John Petrocik, Alan Abramowitz, and others—the principal reason is that leaners vote for the party’s candidate at a higher rate than weak partisans. Thus, leaners’ behavior (voting) is more like partisans than like independents. However, as Samuel Abrams and Morris Fiorina (2011) assert, the causal relationship could be the other direction: voting causes independents to declare themselves as leaners as they recall their most recent voting decision. In other words, I voted for Obama in the 2008 presidential election; so I must lean toward the Democratic Party. Or, I voted for McCain in the 2008 presidential election; so I must lean toward the Republican Party. Philip Shively made this point in 1980, and this is what I have always believed. Keith et al. and Petrocik also maintain that leaners’ voting decisions demonstrate temporal consistency so that leaners do not vote for one party’s candidates in one election and then switch to another party’s candidates in a subsequent election. Leaners are also no more likely than weak partisans to split their voting decisions during a particular election, voting for some Republicans and some Democrats in the same election.

For those who question the lumping of leaners into one of the partisan camps—Abrams, Fiorina, Todd Eberly, and others—the leaners are not partisans, challenging the now-accepted view that they are partisans. Most recently (March 2012), Third Way released a report by St. Mary's College of Maryland Professor Todd Eberly, using data from a panel study of three successive elections, that made two points about the leaners: (1) leaners were significantly more likely to change their party identification than were Democrats or Republicans, whether strong or weak partisans. (2) leaners switched their vote choice over elections, and Republican leaners were more loyal than Democratic leaners. In response to this study, Abramowitz countered that the study used by Eberly had a small sample size and that there was a larger panel study, conducted during the 2008-2009 period, which showed different results. This survey indicated that very high percentages of Democrats (82 percent) and Republicans (73 percent) retained their position as party leaners from January 2008 until a date more than a year and one-half later. Also, during this period, only five percent of leaners switched to the opposing party. He also points out that the leaners voted for the party toward which they leaned and attributed it to their sharing the dominant ideological orientation of the party toward which they leaned. In response to Abramowitz, Eberly noted that the 2009-2009 panel does allow one to observe partisanship over several elections, unlike the 2000-2004 panel. He added results from a 1992-1997 panel survey. The results of his investigation led Eberly to conclude that partisan loyalty declines over time and is weakest among weak partisans. But he also observed that most defections were by leaners. He concludes that about 20 percent of the electorate are not loyal partisans, and that, “in an era of closely matched political parties and relatively narrow two-party vote shares, winning and maintaining the support of that 20 percent is crucial.”

So, what do you think? Should leaners be considered partisans or are they susceptible to appeals from either political party? Should campaigns concentrate their efforts not only on turning out faithful partisans but also on winning the independents, whether leaners or pure independents?

Friday, June 1, 2012

On the Anemic Voter Turnout in the May Primaries

Voter turnout in the United States is a problem, assuming, of course, that high voter turnout is a good thing. If you don’t believe that, then this post is not for you. The voter turnout in the May 29th primaries was not good, especially in the Democratic Party’s primary. Here are the stats.

First, only 2,030,927 Texans voted in both parties’ primaries. That’s an anemic 15.54 percent of the 13,065,425 registered voters in Texas. Turnout was particularly low in the Democratic Party’s primary, where only 587,146 voted. If 33 percent of Texas’ registered voters are Democrats (strong and not-so-strong Democrats), then there are approximately 4,311,590 Democrats who were registered to vote in Texas. That means that voter turnout in the Democratic primary was 13.62 percent. In the Republican Party’s primary, 1,443,781 voters participated. If 36 percent of Texas’ registered voters are Republicans (strong and not-so-strong Republicans), then there are approximately 4,703,553 Republicans who were registered to vote in Texas. That means that voter turnout in the Republican primary was 30.70 percent. That is much higher than in the Democratic Primary, but it is no cause for celebration.

Second, why was voter turnout so low and how does this compare with previous primary elections in presidential years? Let’s answer the second part of the question first. In 2008, 33.23 percent of registered voters voted in both parties’ presidential primaries. In 2004, 12.45 percent voted in both parties’ presidential primaries, and in 2000, 16.48 percent voted. For the three most recent presidential primaries, the average turnout was 20.72 percent. So, 2012 was below the average for the last three presidential primaries, but it was higher than in 2004 and only slightly lower than in 2000.
On the first part of the question, there are several answers: (1) the presidential nomination for both parties had already been decided by the time that Texas voters voted in their primaries. In 2008, John McCain did not clinch the nomination until March 4th, the date of the Texas primary, and the Democratic Party’s nominee was not decided, and the contest between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was very close. As a result, turnout was high in both parties’ primaries, and more Texans voted in the Democratic primary than in the Republican primary. (2) the timing of the election was different, having been moved to May 29th because of lawsuits over redistricting in Texas. Furthermore, holding the primary elections after the four-day Memorial Day weekend did not help turnout. (3) there were few close contests in the Democratic primary elections, reducing interest in the election. There was much more excitement in the Republican primary, especially in the contest to select a U.S. Senate candidate to replace retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

One could consider the early voting turnout a bright spot; however, early voting has not increased voter turnout. Nearly half (49 percent) of Texans voted early in the political parties’ primaries this year. Fifty-one percent of Democrats voted early, and 48 percent of Republicans voted early.

Monday, May 28, 2012

On Memorial Day

Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. -Senator Barry Goldwater

I would not normally quote Barry Goldwater (although when I was a 2nd Lieutenant in pilot training, I did run into him in the men’s room at Andrews AFB in 1964, but that’s another story for another time). Today, Memorial Day, however, I’m proud to quote him. Not so much for the first sentence—but for the second. It seems to me that the pursuit of justice (in the broadest sense) is what is missing in contemporary politics. When I think of my friends from the Air Force who died while on active duty—John Banks, Tom Fiedler, Jim Goodman, I know that they would want both the defense of liberty and the pursuit of justice. Their lives lost were in vain if we don’t work tirelessly to achieve both. May God bless all veterans today.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Contemporary Politics: Not That I Like It!

With the decision by 43 Catholic organizations to challenge the Obama Administration's rule that contraception must be covered (see here), I think that an earlier piece that I wrote originally as a letter to the editor of the Austin American-Statesman (but never sent) may be appropriate here. So here it is:

The controversy over the Obama administration’s ruling that access to contraceptives must be provided in healthcare plans offered by religiously-affiliated colleges and universities, hospitals, and charities provides an interesting insight into the conduct of contemporary politics in the United States.
The rule was established based on state law in California and New York. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in February 2012, 28 states “currently require insurers that cover prescription drugs to provide coverage of the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices.” Two of the states exclude emergency contraception and one state excludes minor dependents from coverage. In New York, the mandate was adjudicated in the state courts, and the New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) ruled in 2006: “When a religious organization chooses to hire non-believers, it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees’ legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit.” When the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the court refused to hear the case just as they had refused to hear a similar California case in 2004. Currently, two cases have been filed by religiously-affiliated institutions in Colorado—Colorado Christian University—and North Carolina—Belmont Abbey College, alleging that the current mandate violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and the Freedom of Religion Restoration Act of 1993. These cases were filed in November and December, 2011. Several cases have been filed by states attorney generals. And more cases can be expected.
So, what does this controversy indicate about the contemporary political scene. First, the issue is framed differently by the contending parties in the controversy. On one side, those favoring the mandate regard the issue as a matter of gender discrimination and women’s health. The issue involves the right of women to contraceptive devices as a part of an employer-provided health insurance plan. On the other side, those opposing the mandate, regard the issue a matter of religious freedom. The issue involves the right of religious institutions to avoid policies that infringe upon their First Amendment constitutional liberty to the free exercise of religion and legislative protection against religious discrimination. The framing of the issue is important because how people view the issue can influence their opinion on the issue itself. Initially, the contest becomes one over which side can win the framing debate: Is the issue a matter of a woman’s right to healthcare or a religious institution’s right to the free exercise of religion. As the issue is viewed so differently, compromise is difficult, if not impossible. In this case, President Obama tried to compromise, but the result was not what he had hoped it would be. The compromise addressed the Catholic Church’s objection to paying for conceptive measures that violated its religious doctrine by requiring the insurance provider to cover the cost of contraceptives. Did this assuage the concerns of the opponents? Not really, because the issue is more about partisan politics than religious freedom, which brings us to our second and third points
Second, which side one takes in the controversy is more a matter of one’s partisan affiliation than one’s religious affiliation. In a Public Religion Institute tracking poll survey conducted in February 2012, 58 percent of Catholics agree that all employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception or birth control at no cost to the employee. Fifty percent of white mainline Protestants agree; 61 percent of those who are not religiously affiliated agree; 55 percent of all Americans agree. In contrast, only 38 percent of white evangelicals agree. In the same survey, 73 percent of Democrats, 51 percent of independents, and only 36 percent of Republicans agree that birth control should be covered. Since partisanship and ideology are strongly correlated in contemporary politics, one could assume that similar ideological differences exist regarding the issue although the results of the survey did not include an item to determine a respondent’s political ideology.
Third, the issue is used as a wedge issue to affect political campaigns. A wedge issue is a controversial issue, usually social, that is used to drive a wedge between a political party and a member of its party coalition. In this example, Republicans will promote this issue by framing it as an attack on religion—particularly Catholicism—in hopes of driving a wedge between Catholic voters and their support for the Democratic Party—particularly President Obama. The Catholic bishops have strongly made this case, and their efforts have affected the media, both liberal and conservative, with E.J. Dionne, Chris Matthews, Melinda Henneberger, Mark Shields, David Brooks, and USA Today repeating the bishops’ claim that the rule is an assault on religious liberty. Democrats, who frame the issue as a matter of women’s health, will portray Republicans as hostile to policies that protect women’s health, using the issue as a wedge to drive Republican women away from the Republican Party. In 2008, there was a marriage gap, produced by the fact the unmarried women favored Democrat Barack Obama whereas married women favored Republican John McCain for president. If married women are less apt to support Republican candidates, the Democrats will increase their chances of winning.
Thus is the condition of contemporary American politics: Two sides contending to achieve political advantage in a polarized political environment. Each side fights to frame the issue in terms that are political advantageous, pushes its position as a moral imperative resulting from a constitutional or legislative right, and is unlikely to seek common ground because of the political and electoral effects of such a compromise. The only compromise acceptable to each side involves the other side adopting its position, which is not a compromise.
Exacerbating the condition is the fact that the institutions and processes of our political system were developed to promote and operate effectively only if politicians are willing and able to compromise. For example, the institutional arrangement known as a separation of powers combined with a system of checks and balances makes one of the branches dominate in one area of policymaking (legislating, implementing, interpreting) but allows the remaining branches to check that dominant branch. The system is best described as separate institutions sharing powers. An example of a process requiring compromise is the filibuster rule in the Senate, which allows 41 senators to prevent a vote. By the way, those 41 senators could represent only 11.3 percent of the United States’ population. Given our political system’s institutions and processes, the likely effect of partisan polarization is gridlock and inactivity. How can compromise occur when every issue involves a moral principle and divides the parties into opposing camps, both of which are seeking electoral advantage?   

Friday, May 18, 2012

On Polarization and The Republican Primary

I know that some of you have already voted in the primary election through early voting, which started on May 14th and continues through May 25th. This coming weekend is the only weekend available to vote; so if you haven’t voted in the Republican or Democratic Party’s primary (you have to choose one), then go to the polls this weekend or next week. In this post, I want to continue with a consideration of polarization of the public, and especially the active citizens, in Texas. I’m going to present two articles (I’ve edited them) to illustrate what’s happening in the Republican Party and then comment on the articles.

First, a blog post on The Texas Tribune Web site ( by Jim Henson, a lecturer at UT-Austin. In the blog post, he projects the ideological composition of the likely voters in the Republican primary, based on the responses received in the February 2012 UT-Austin/Texas Tribune public opinion poll.

The Very Conservative Core in Texas
Jim Henson, UT-Austin
We can take a rough measure of the most conservative faction of conservatives in the Texas GOP by looking at those who identify with the most conservative self-rating on the 7-point “LIBCON” political ideology scale in which 1 is “extremely liberal” and 7 is “extremely conservative.”
On the ideology scale, 14 percent of the overall sample identified as “extremely conservative” (7 on the scale); 92 percent of the “extremely conservative” identified as Republicans. Conversely, in the conventional 7-point party identification measure, ranging from “strong Democrat” on the left to “strong Republican” on the right, 25 percent of Republicans identified as a 7 on the LIBCON scale. (As has been discussed elsewhere, those who identify themselves as independent leaners on the 7-point party identification scale tend to be more ideological than weak identifiers, and so are routinely counted as reliable voters for the party they lean toward. This means a distribution in the February poll of 42 percent Democrats, 8 percent “true” independents, and 49 percent Republicans.)
A rough estimate of the size of the block of the most conservative of conservative voters based on the February [2012] survey would fall between a floor of 14 percent (the extreme conservatives) and a ceiling made up of respondents to the two farthest right positions of the ideology scale, about 32 percent of registered voters and about 67 percent of the Republican Party identifiers (emphasis added).
This leads to a rough estimate of 25 percent to 30 percent of registered voters, as a plausible range of the size of the intense conservative core that is exerting a powerful gravitational pull on Texas politics. This allows for some of those in the “6” category to edge more toward the center than the right. About 25 percent of Republicans self-identify as extremely conservative, and as many as 67 percent perch on the ideologically conservative end of the party. 
Given this range, even a low-end estimate suggests that the ideological extreme exerts a strong presence in the party primaries, a consideration of increasing interest given the lateness of this year’s primary and the very strong possibility of a low-turnout election—especially in runoffs—likely dominated by just this faction of the party (emphasis added). Of the self-identified extreme conservatives, 80 percent describe themselves as “extremely interested” — the highest percentage in any of the ideological categories (64 percent of the extreme liberals say the same); 82 percent of extreme conservatives say they vote in every, or almost every, election.
The Conservative Core and the GOP Primary
. . . .The outs are getting a look from a very conservative core of Texans now exerting a powerfully contradictory influence in Texas politics today.  These voters have to be acknowledged as a regular feature of the political system, but their actual impact remains anything but predictable. They have provided bedrock support for the decade-long Republican hegemony over state government, but show a growing skepticism of the incumbents they helped become entrenched in office in the name of limited government.  The odds-on bet at this point is that their loyalties remain sufficiently divided between establishment and insurgent candidates to avoid major upsets. 
Odds notwithstanding, a very conservative fire burns inside the Republican Party. Perry rode its drafts to statewide victory in the 2010 primary, though it has already consumed the candidacies of a handful of Republican legislators and has set many if not most other GOP legislators running to stay ahead of it or at least get out of its path. The smart money may well be on the established candidates of the Republican establishment to persevere in 2012 and 2014.
The second piece is an article by Professor Mark Jones, Political Science chair at Rice University and an expert on the ideology of members of the Texas House and Senate. This article also appeared in The Texas Tribune.
The Extent of Ideological Differences in Six Texas GOP Primaries
The 2012 primary season features a host of highly contested legislative races involving competing ideological and interest groups within the Texas Republican Party. I examined six—four in the House and two in the Senate—which each involve two current or former state legislators. Based on roll call vote data, the House races display substantial ideological contrasts between the candidates, but the Senate contests involve only modest to nonexistent ideological differences. If the House races are true battles for the ideological soul of the Texas GOP, then the Senate contests are mere skirmishes between competing conservative elites featuring candidates with relatively similar ideological profiles.
Methodology and Data
In the midst of dueling endorsements by leading Texas Republicans, claims and counter-claims by candidates, and distorted or selective information publicized by third-party groups, it is useful to have a common metric with which to compare the rival candidates. DW-NOMINATE ( is a sophisticated statistical program originally developed to study the U.S. Congress. It allows for the accurate comparison of the location along the liberal-conservative ideological continuum of legislators who served at different points in time. Here it provides an objective empirical measure with which to locate the candidates in these six primary races on the liberal-conservative dimension along which most voting takes place in the Texas House.
The figure provides each representative's most recent Liberal-Conservative Score (the higher the score, the more conservative the legislator) along with the 95% confidence interval (CI) surrounding the score. Only when the CIs of two representatives do not overlap can we conclude that their respective Lib-Con Scores are significantly different from each other. The first year of the legislative period from which the Lib-Con Score presented here is drawn is in parentheses following the legislator's name. Also provided is more general information (see the vertical dashed lines) on the Lib-Con Scores of the representatives located (from left to right) at the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles of the aggregate Republican delegation during the 2001-11 period. That is, one quarter of the GOP representatives during these six legislative periods were located to the left of the 25th percentile line and one quarter to the right of the 75th percentile line, while the 50th percentile represents the GOP delegation's midpoint.
It is absolutely critical to keep in mind that a representative’s location on the left/moderate end of the Republican distribution does not signify he is not a conservative, it simply indicates that based on his observed roll call vote behavior he is less conservative than a large majority of his Republican colleagues. All of the current and former representatives examined here are most accurately classified as conservatives, not as liberals. For instance, the Lib-Con Scores of the Republicans examined here were all to the right of even the most conservative Democrat (Tom Ramsay, Mt. Vernon) who served between 2001 and 2011. By the same token, a representative's location on the right/conservative end of the Republican distribution does not mean she is a right-wing zealot, only that she is more conservative than a large majority of her fellow Republicans.

Ideological Contrasts: The House Races
In the four Texas House primaries, the data reveals clear separation between the two current/former representatives competing for the Republican nomination. In these safe Republican seats, a primary win guarantees victory in November; only Republicans filed for this year's elections.
The largest ideological gaps exist in the HD-88 race between Rep. Jim Landtroop of Plainview and former Rep. Gary Walker of Plains, and in the HD-83 race between Rep. Charles Perry and former Rep. Delwin Jones, both of Lubbock. In both districts the incumbent's ideological location is on the far right edge of the Republican ideological spectrum, with Landtroop and Perry's respective 95% CIs ending to the right of even the 75th percentile of Republican representatives. In sharp contrast, both Walker and Jones possess Lib-Con Scores at the opposite end of the spectrum, with their respective CIs stopping to the left of the 25th percentile of Republican representatives. Alone among these six primaries, HD-88 features two viable candidates who are not current or former representatives: Ken King of Canadian and Mac Smith of Pampa.
A substantial ideological divide also separates two Longview contestants, Rep. David Simpson and former Rep. Tommy Merritt, in HD-7. Like Walker and Jones, Merritt occupies a position on the liberal-conservative dimension which is significantly less conservative than a majority of Republicans who held office during this period. While Simpson is firmly within the very conservative wing of the Republican Party, he is somewhat less conservative than Landtroop and Perry.
The primary in HD-19 features two incumbents, Mike "Tuffy"Hamilton of Lumberton and James White of Hillister. Similar to Landtroop and Perry, White's score makes him one of the most conservative GOP representatives to serve during the 2001-11 period. Unlike Walker, Jones and Merritt (whose respective CIs did not even cross the 25th percentile line), Hamilton's Lib-Con Score locates him closer to the center of the GOP delegation.
Ideological Similarities: The Senate Races
The two Senate races lack the stark ideological differences found among the House candidates. As was the case in the House races, the two Senate contests are in safe Republican districts.
In SD-9 current Reps. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Todd Smith of Euless face off. Hancock and Smith are both Republican centrists in comparison with their fellow legislators, with Lib-Con Scores located between the 50th and 75th and 25th and 50th percentiles respectively, and CIs which both cross over the location of the median House Republican. While Hancock's Lib-Con Score is slightly more conservative than Smith's, the overlap of their respective CIs indicates we cannot conclude that Hancock is significantly more conservative than Smith. This conclusion is reinforced by other roll call vote-based analysis focusing exclusively on the 2011 session in which Hancock and Smith's ideological positions were even closer than presented here.
In SD-25, the Lib-Con Scores of San Antonio's Sen. Jeff Wentworth and Elizabeth Ames Jones, a former legislator and railroad commissioner, are for all intents and purposes indistinguishable. Both have scores near the 25th percentile, with CIs which cross substantially over the 50th percentile. Based on their House voting records, Jones and Wentworth possess nearly identical ideological profiles which place them in the center (with a modest leftward tilt) of the Texas House Republicans. One caveat to this analysis is that Wentworth's tenure in the House ended almost 20 years ago. Certainly, his ideological position could have changed since then, although his Senate voting record in 2011 suggests Wentworth has not become less conservative over time.
Each one of the four Texas House primaries provides Republican primary voters with very clear and distinct ideological options from competing ends of the conservative ideological spectrum. The results of these four litmus tests will provide important signals as to the current balance of ideological forces within the Texas Republican Party. The ideological contrast is much less sharp in both of the Senate matchups, with limited to no real ideological differences observed between the rival candidates.
Mark P. Jones is the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy's Fellow in Political Science and the chairman of the Department of Political Science at Rice University.
Let’s summarize what these articles tell us: (1) most of the likely Republican Party primary voters are extremely or somewhat conservative ideologically; (2) in the House contests, the choice is between a very conservative incumbent and a less conservative former member, and in the Senate contests, the distinction is minimal to non-existent. In Senate district 25, however, there is a third candidate, Donna Campbell, who is very conservative (see her campaign Web site here).
So, who’s more likely to win? Given the ideology of Republican primary voters, I don’t think that it’s difficult to predict the winners in the House contests. Simpson, White, Perry, and Landtroop should win easily in their respective districts. However, the Senate contests could prove more difficult to predict. The Hancock/Smith contest will be decided on factors other than ideology, given the similar ideological positions of the candidates. However, the Wentworth/Ames Jones/Campbell contest may prove more interesting ideologically. If Wentworth and Ames Jones split the slightly conservative and somewhat conservative vote, Campbell has a chance to capture nearly all of the extremely conservative and many of the somewhat conservative Republicans and end up in a run-off with either Wentworth (more likely) or Ames Jones. This contest could tell us even more than the other contests about the contemporary Republican Party in Texas

UPDATE: How did my predictions do? Simpson won HD-7 with 62%, White won HD-19 with 55%, Perry won HD-83 with 71% (wow!), Landtroop got 34% but is in a run-off with King (30%) and not Walker (17%), Hancock won with 64%, and Wentworth received 36% and is in a run-off with Campbell, who received 34%. If I were Wentworth, I would be worried. Only the most ardent and committed Republicans will show up for the run-off on July 31st!
What do these results tell us about the Republican primary voters in Texas? Basically, it's what we already knew. They are an extremely conservative bunch!