Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ideology of the Members of the 83rd Texas Legislature

Professor Mark Jones of Rice University published the Lib-Con IDEAL scores of Texas House members on October 15th. The rating is based on more than 800 votes during regular and special sessions of the Texas legislature in 2013. The polarization of the parties in the legislature persists: the difference between the average scores of Democrats and Republicans is 1.14, which is lower than in 2011 but still very pronounced. What is interesting is that the difference is not because Republicans became more conservative, it’s because the Democrats became more liberal. The chart illustrates what I mean:

When I first averaged the score of Republican House members, I found the results difficult to believe. How could a legislature that passed so many very conservative measures during the regular and special sessions be less conservative than the previous legislature? So I decided to check the Young Conservatives of Texas Web site for their evaluation of the 83rd Legislature. They evaluated members on 60 votes and indeed verified that the Republican members became less conservative than they were in the previous legislature. Their report is here:
A scatterplot of the Republican members is informative:

Compare the scatterplot of Democrats:

Twenty-four Republicans are on the liberal side of the Lib-Con score center, and one Republican is on the line separating liberals from conservatives. That is truly remarkable, considering the legislation adopted during the 83rd Legislature. So what’s the explanation?
Let’s consider two of the outliers in the Republican Party—Sarah Davis (R-134) and J.D. Sheffield (R-59). Davis was first elected in 2010, defeating Democrat Ellen Cohen. In 2011, Davis’s Lib-Con IDEAL score was 0.48, which was close to the average for Republicans in that year. Her score in 2013 was -0.36, which made her the most liberal Republican in the Texas House. Sheffield was first elected in 2012, replacing retiring House member Sid Miller, whose Lib-Con IDEAL in 2011 was 0.75, more conservative than the average Republican in that year. According to the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT), Sheffield took a conservative position on 37 percent of the votes evaluated by the group. Davis, who was more liberal than Sheffield according to the Lib-Con IDEAL score, took a conservative position on 44 percent of the votes evaluated by the group.
The districts that Davis and Sheffield represent are quite different and don’t help explain their rankings. Davis represents an urban, affluent district in Houston that includes Bellaire and West University. Sheffield represents a district southeast of Abilene that is largely rural and whose population’s per capita income that is $5,000 less than the state average. The issues on which both members cast “liberal” votes, according to the YCT, were on social issues. Perhaps the more liberal Lib-Con IDEAL scores of Republicans is a result of more libertarians (conservative on economic issues but liberal on social issues) among Republicans in the Texas legislature. At least, that’s my interpretation. What do you think?

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