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! 


  1. There is, of course, one caveat. What if a more conservative candidate is involved in a scandal? Under those circumstances, ideology may become less important in the voting decision. And, wouldn't you know that the Hamilton campaign has released allegations that students and parents filed complaints about James White when he was a teacher in the Livingston ISD in 2006-2007. He allegedly made "inappropriate and sexual references." Paul Burka notes that this allegation "changes the dynamics" of the White/Hamilton contest in HD 19.

  2. Here's a good explanation of the story and rebuttal by the White campaign: