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.

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