Margin of Σrror

Margin of Σrror -

Has gerrymandering made politics more partisan? Ted Cruz argues not | Harry J Enten

Redistricting is blamed for polarising Congress. But Ted Cruz shows the cause is red-state voters’ choice of strict conservatives

I have written about gerrymandering before, but the issue is back to the fore because numerous commentators have posited a link between gerrymandering and the shutdown. Gerrymandering is now commonly given as the reason why congressional districts appear to be producing more conservative and/or Tea Party-allied Republican representatives.

I still believe the supposed effects of gerrymandering on political polarization in the House of Representatives are being overstated. And fine work from Nate Cohn and Sean Trende explains the point very well. I just have one more thing to add to the argument: what about Ted Cruz?

Texas Senator Ted Cruz is seen as a figurehead for Tea Party conservatives. It’s even been reported that House Republicans have been taking directions from him in refusing to pass a clean continuing resolution without defunding or delaying Obamacare. So did gerrymandering create Ted Cruz, too?

The answer, of course, is no. Ted Cruz was elected to the United States Senate; he has never served in the House. Senators are voted for in state-wide elections, which means that redistricting and gerrymandering logically can’t apply. Yet, Cruz is as conservative as, if not more conservative than, the House GOP members who, many believe, are keeping the government shut down and flirting with debt default.

Admittedly, Ted Cruz is just one elected official, but he’s played a larger-than-life role in the current crisis. And, more importantly perhaps, he is part of a larger trend in the United States Senate, in three ways.

First, Cruz is from the state of Texas. And Texas is a deep red state, which makes it characteristic of a pattern of states becoming more polarized. As I’ve noted before, there used to be a great many states that were very competitive in national elections. In 1976, almost half the states in the union came within 3pt of the nationwide vote in the presidential election. A more impressive 30-plus states were within 5pt. Today, the numbers aren’t even close to that.

There were only eight states that came within 3pt of the national vote in the 2012 presidential race. That number only rises to ten when we include states where the margin was within 5pt of the nationwide margin – only a third of the number there were in 1976. Even if you expanded the list to include those within 10pt, you’d still only get to 14 states.

It’s fairly clear, then, that people are “self-sorting” on the state level. As Sean Trende shows, this filters down to the congressional district level rather well. The number of districts that most would call “competitive” under even the Democratic-written district lines of the 1990s would have been about the same.

Second, Cruz’s election was one of many where voters decided that they wanted their senatorial vote to reflect their presidential vote. Just 20 years ago, a similar party allocation in the Senate featured many more blue state Republicans and red state Democrats. In 1993, 49% of the Democrats’ Senate caucus came from states that had voted more Republican than the nation as a whole in the prior presidential election. That percentage has been cut in half, to only 25% in 2013.

It’s the same story with the Republican Senate caucus. Republicans from blue states were 28% of the Senate Republicans in 1993. Today, the percentage is only 16%.

So, what we have is increased polarization in the voting patterns of states on the presidential level, which has translated down to the senatorial level. Note, as Nate Silver has shown, this is the same phenomenon that is occurring on the congressional district level – even when controlling for changing districting lines.

The third factor is that the increased polarization of the states seems to be reflected in the senators’ voting records. The Senate (as well as the House) is now more polarized than it’s been in the past 135 years. How do we know?

The people over at Voteview score each roll-call vote: -1 is most liberal, while +1 is most conservative, per Voteview’s “DW nominate” score. They then were kind enough to map the average difference between the Senate’s Democratic and Republican caucus. This shows that there have been increasing differences in the average voting scores of the Republican and Democratic Senate caucuses, respectively, since the 1976 election. The polarization accelerated after the 1992 election.

It’s simply not possible that gerrymandering was the sole cause of this trend. It’s not as though anyone can, all of a sudden, start moving around state lines.

Now, none of this is to say that gerrymandering isn’t responsible for some part of the polarization in Washington. The median Democratic and Republican House district is more polarized than the median Democratic and Republican Senate seat. The House caucuses have more extreme voting records than the Senate’s. Some of that is, again, due to self-sorting on the state level more locally, but not all of it can be accounted for that way.

The Senate shows, however, that the sharp upswing in polarization we see today is largely the product of natural voting patterns. And these manifest themselves on the state level without any gerrymandering. Texas put Ted Cruz in the Senate not because someone redrew Texas’ state lines, but because Texas voters became, on average, more conservative. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Yes, Americans do blame Republicans most for the government shutdown | Harry J Enten

But it’s very relative: practically everyone thinks Congress, the Democrats and President Obama all stink, too

Many analysts and pundits are trying to figure out who the public is blaming for the shutdown. All the pre-shutdown polling indicated that people were more likely to hold Republicans accountable than Democrats, but it also shows a majority of Americans think both sides are doing a bad job. Put another way: no side is winning, one side is just losing by less.

More Americans disapprove than approve of the job being done by all three actors in the dispute over the federal budget. President Obama comes out “ahead” in the ABC News/Washington Post poll with a -9pt approval rating. Both parties in Congress are much lower. Democrats in Congress manage to maintain a net approval of -22pt, while Republicans in Congress fall to a -37pt approval rating. These are all awful.

CNN/ORC tries to get at the question slightly differently, yet their data yield a similar result. When given the opportunity, Americans don’t like either side. Of Americans who would blame either President Obama, or Republicans in Congress, or both, in the event of a shutdown, 62% blame Republicans. President Obama is on slightly better ground, but still 52% afford him some blame.

This extends to the overall political atmosphere in Washington, DC these days. Just a quarter of Americans believe the country is heading in the right direction per a recent Bloomberg poll – the lowest recorded by Bloomberg’s pollster since the company’s first poll in 2009. With both parties holding sway in at least part of a branch of elected government, it’s no wonder that Americans seem at a loss for which side to chastise. Now, with the shutdown, both parties are spiraling to new lows in the minds of the public.

A new CNN/ORC poll puts the net favorability rating of the Democratic party at -9pt: its lowest since CNN started asking the question in 2006. Republicans, too, are at their lowest level since 2006 as well, with -30pt favorability. A large portion of the difference between the parties’ favorability is that Tea Party supporters are less likely to hold a favorable view of Republicans than Tea Party opponents are of Democrats.

The numbers are much worse for members of Congress. A new Quinnipiac survey has the Democrats in Congress sporting a -28pt approval rating. Republicans are even worse, at a -57pt net approval rating. Again, much of the difference between the two parties’ ratings is that much of the conservative base doesn’t think that congressional Republicans are conservative enough.

Putting together the disapprovals of both sides, it leads to a congressional net approval rating of -77pt in the latest CNN survey. That’s down 19pt since the beginning of the month, and it’s the worst CNN has recorded since 2006.

The executive branch is in a somewhat better position, though only because the White House’s disapprovals don’t stink quite as much. President Obama has a -9pt net approval rating per CNN. That’s tied with his worst levels during the debt ceiling debate in 2011, and marks a continuation of his year-long decline.

So, our hypothetical voters are left with a choice between undesirables. It’s possible that these unwanted choices become even more intolerable over the course of the shutdown, though history suggests otherwise.

Even if the shutdown proves not to move public opinion significantly, the current atmosphere is far from sunny. Now, does this mean that voters will fight back and elect third-party or independent candidates? Almost certainly not. The United States is a two-party system. There have been other instances where Americans weren’t happy with one or both parties, yet the structure held.

The fact is, we have a choice between Democrats and Republicans. Voters don’t like either side, but this distaste will likely continue to manifest itself only in their opinions, and not in their underlying voting habits. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Marco Rubio’s immigration reform push wins GOP establishment loyalty | Harry J Enten

Immigration reform has enabled Senator Rubio, once a Tea Party poster-boy, to reposition himself deftly for a 2016 presidential run

On Monday, Politico reported that “With immigration, Marco Rubio risks DC insider label.” Rubio, of course, has put a lot of chips on the table in trying to push for immigration reform for undocumented immigrants. And I’ve got one piece of advice for Senator Marco Rubio on this issue: run to the establishment. Run to it as much as you can.

I have not been particularly on board the “Marco Rubio for president, 2016″ train. In fact, I wrote a whole article devoted to the five reasons why I wouldn’t bet on him. Two of those reasons, however, look a whole lot less applicable in the wake of Rubio’s leadership on the immigration issue.

Previously, I had worried that Rubio would not appeal to the establishment wing of his party. Rubio had won his Senate seat in 2010 by challenging the establishment candidate, and he has run up an anti-establishment record as a senator. This was perhaps my main worry about a possible run by him for the presidency: see, contrary sometimes to appearances, the grassroots is not where the power is in Republican politics.

Cohen, Karol et al’s The Party Decides tells us that the presidential candidate with the most establishment backing almost always wins the nomination in the modern era. Jerry Ford won over Ronald Reagan in 1976; Reagan over George HW Bush in 1980; Bush over Bob Dole and Jack Kemp in 1988; Dole over all in 1996; and George W Bush over John McCain in 2000. All of these winners had clear support from the party establishment.

Mitt Romney followed that tradition in 2012. He had by far the most endorsements from party leaders in the lead-up to and during the primary season. That’s why I was fairly certain he was going to win the nomination, even as he faced challenges from the “very conservative” wing in his party.

The only Republican candidate who has won the nomination in the past 40 years without clear party support was McCain in 2008. In that year, however, there was no favorite, and McCain clearly tried to make good with the GOP grandees, after his 2000 bid. In the end, it worked. After the first two primaries, McCain became the establishment candidate.

Rubio’s push on immigration reform is going to get him some insider credit. Faith and Freedom Coalition President Ralph Reed looks favorably upon Rubio’s push. Most donors like Rubio’s new role. He’s also bound to win plaudits from the GOP establishment in the Senate, which is pushing for immigration reform. Overall, this is definitely the correct move for a person who might otherwise be seen as too “outsidery”.

Immigration reform has the additional advantage of being seen as a moderating force. It’s backed by most Americans and is generally supported by the party establishment because it’s seen (rightly or wrongly) as an electoral winner.

Rubio’s Senate record paints him as one of the most conservative senators. He was the seventh most conservative senator in the 112th Congress, sandwiched between Jim Inhofe and Ron Johnson. As I wrote before, it’s unlikely the Republican party will nominate a very conservative candidate in 2016. When it liked Barry Goldwater in 1964, and Ronald Reagan in 1980, the party had recently controlled the presidency. But when the party hasn’t been in the White House for eight years or more, it goes for a more centrist pick in order to win.

This isn’t to say that Rubio should become a moderate. Far from it. It’s neither the moderate nor the very conservative vote that dictates who wins Republican primaries for president. Rubio’s key is to win the “somewhat conservative” vote that tends to take into account what the establishment says, as well as wanting to pick the most electable. By the Buckley rule, the “somewhat conservative” bloc chooses the most electable conservative.

That’s the reason that McCain was able to win in 2008 when he lost in 2000. He lost the very conservative vote and won the moderate vote in both years. The switch was among the voters who considered themselves “somewhat conservative”. These are the voters that Rubio must win, if he wants the nomination.

So, I think Rubio is making a smart political play by supporting immigration reform so openly. It’s the type of issue that will garner him plaudits from the party establishment – which generally gets to pick Republican nominees. It’ll help to reassure Republicans that he can win, which will likely be a chief concern for primary voters in 2016, as it was in 2012.

At the same time, Rubio can point to other issues where he is an outsider conservative, such as the debt ceiling. Rubio is proving, perhaps, that he knows how to balance the wings of his party correctly. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Marco Rubio for 2016? Five reasons I wouldn’t bet on it | Harry J Enten

Recent prominence on the national stage leads some to tout Rubio as the Republican party’s possible saviour. I doubt it

Every once in a while, there is a political leader who comes along as a saviour for his or her party. Names like Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan are examples of politicians who marked the beginning of new political eras. Many have pointed to Marco Rubio as one who may follow in these men’s footsteps – and lead his party to victory in the 2016 presidential election.

Rubio is said by some to be the candidate who could reverse the Republicans’ very poor electoral showing with the growing proportion of the electorate that is Latino. He has emerged as the leading GOP figure among the “gang of eight” senators proposing bipartisan reform of the nation’s immigration law – as a Tea Party favorite, he has even made strides in winning round opinion among strongly conservative talk radio audiences on this policy. And finally, he has been anointed to deliver the Republican party’s response to President Obama’s state of the union address on Tuesday night: the gift of a national stage to a rising star.

But at this point, I just don’t see the 2016 saviour scenario happening for the senator from Florida. Why not?

1. Republicans like to choose the next in line

Since 1960, it’s been fairly easy to predict who would be the Republican nominee. Every candidate except for Barry Goldwater has either run for national office previously or been the son of someone who has. Mitt Romney ran in 2008, before winning the nomination in 2012. John McCain took on George W Bush in 2000, before clinching the nomination in 2008. Bob Dole ran as a vice-presidential nominee in 1976 and a presidential candidate in 1980 and 1988, until he finally broke through in 1996. The list goes on and on.

The best example is Ronald Reagan. He was someone who supposedly took on the Republican old guard, who thought he was too conservative and distrusted his “voodoo economics”. The fact is that Reagan had actually first run in 1968 as a conservative outsider and lost. He was more successful in his challenge to Gerald Ford in 1976, but still came up short. It wasn’t until he was well-established and entered 1980 as a front-runner that he took the nomination.

Marco Rubio has never run for president, nor appeared on a national ticket. That’s not to say this rule is ironclad, by any means, but Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and most importantly, Paul Ryan are all in better position per this criterion.

2. Republicans choose the candidate backed by the establishment

One could argue that rule 1 is a manifestation of rule 2, but the fact is that Democrats and Republicans tend to pick the candidate with establishment support. That’s the thesis of the book The Party Decides. The idea is that the candidate who has the most party backing almost always wins.

Thus George W Bush in 2000, who had never run for national office before, won lots of endorsements from the party bigwigs. And we saw how elected officials carried Romney to victory by coming out and bashing Newt Gingrich in 2012, at the moment when he threatened Romney’s lead in the primaries.

Marco Rubio is, at this point, almost the antithesis of the Republican establishment. He won his Senate seat in 2010 by challenging the party pick Charlie Crist. Once in Washington, Rubio has continued his anti-establishment ways. His second-dimension “DW-Nominate” score, which has been a pretty good measurer of establishment activity, is negative. From the debt ceiling to the fiscal cliff, Rubio has consistently voted against legislation that the leadership voted for.

3. Rubio is likely too conservative

People may be being fooled, currently, into thinking that Rubio is a middle-of-the-road politician. After all, he’s from the swing state of Florida and is sponsoring immigration reform. Rubio was, in fact, the seventh most conservative senator in the 112th Congress. His voting record puts him sandwiched between arch-conservatives Jim Inhofe and Ron Johnson.

Very conservative nominees can win a party’s nomination, as did Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. The issue for Rubio, though, is that these folks became nominees when the party had just recently been in the White House. When the party has been out for two terms or more, the nominees tend to be a lot more moderate – because the party wants to win and wants a centrist pick. The most conservative nominee after the party had been out of office for more than two terms was George W Bush, the “compassionate conservative” who, at the time, was not seen nearly as rightwing as he later was.

Rubio running from the right doesn’t make too much sense, especially considering that, these days, somewhat conservative and moderate voters hold a 2:1 advantage over very conservative voters in Republican presidential primaries.

4. Rubio is largely an unknown

How much do we really know about Marco Rubio, and how he’d perform on the big stage? I mean, besides making a Time Magazine cover story, Rubio is quite untested. With relatively little media scrutiny, he had to fight through a credit card expenses scandal (an Ethics Commission ultimately threw out the case); he has also been exposed as having embellished his family history about his parents’ flight from Fidel Castro’s Cuba.

The fact is that we are almost always surprised by what candidates look like once they are under the spotlight. We found out that Rick Perry couldn’t debate to save his life. Newt Gingrich’s outsider status was severely compromised by his lobbying activity when he was out of office. Gary Hart had, in fact, been involved in a sexual affair.

If past experience holds, there are bound to be more awkward questions for Rubio than he has hitherto faced.

5. A Rubio run would face a competitive GOP field

This one is, perhaps, the most obvious: there are potentially a lot of very plausible Republican nominees. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Paul Ryan are all not so far-fetched names for a run in 2016. Half of these candidates are more impressive than the Republicans that ran in 2012. Even if Rubio leads a very, very early field, the other candidates combined total 80%. The probability of one of these other hypothetical candidates winning is far greater than Rubio’s chance of taking the pie.


If Rubio takes the plunge for 2016, I would bet against him. Given the hurdles a Rubio candidacy would face, I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he never runs at all. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Establishment v insurgent: the Capitol’s new political dynamic | Harry J Enten

The old left-right ideological model for how Congress votes has lost explanatory power. Something different is afoot in US politics

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written a lot about ideology and polarization. Most of that has focused on the left-right differences. But there’s another shaping theme in politics that is also present: establishment v insurgent.

Presidential campaigns, for example, usually come down to those who are backed by the establishment and those who are not. The candidates backed by the establishment usually win, and the outsiders almost always lose. It’s the main thesis of the great book The Party Decides.

That’s why many political scientists thought that Mitt Romney winning the bulk of congressional endorsements for the Republican nomination in 2012 meant that he would almost certainly capture the nomination. His establishment support came from both left and right of the party, and was actually slightly more conservative than either Gingrich’s or Santorum’s, despite Romney donor profiles indicating that his public was moderate.

Twelve years prior, George W Bush triumphed over the moderate John McCain on the back of establishment support. Likewise, Hillary Clinton saw her 2008 hopes fade because of her inability to lock up support from establishment congressional leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

No one can doubt that this establishment v insurgent dynamic has been present in Congress for a while, but “DW-nominate” scores indicate that this dichotomy is becoming increasingly important. These scores seek to rank congressional members’ ideology in two dimensions, based on their rollcall voting record. In my previous analyses of polarization, I’ve used the first dimension, which usually does a good job at placing members on the liberal-to-conservative spectrum. The second dimension has rarely been used in recent years because it hasn’t seemed to stand for anything.

In the past Congress, however, the second dimension has begun to have more explanatory power – among Republicans, especially. That is, something beyond just being conservative or liberal is beginning to predict voting patterns of congressmen and women. The vote-view folks and I think that this dimension is along an establishment v anti-establishment axis, though one might also argue that it is geographically based – since many insurgent Tea Party members are from the American south.

Consider the debt ceiling debate of 2011. People on both the liberal and conservative side of the aisle supported the bill. Oddly, House Democrats and Senate Republicans were the two groups most likely to oppose the bill.

If the voting had been strictly along partisan lines, we’d expect the best fit line to be straight up and down. That is, the vote could easily be determined as being to the left or to the right. Instead, we have more of a diagonal line that goes from upper left to lower right in the House and upper right to lower left in the Senate. What that means is that there are liberal and conservative elements behind the voting, but there is also something else happening. You might call it a rather strange vote in which the Tea Party caucus, progressive caucus, and black caucus voted all together – though, arguably, it could be explained as establishment House Democrats and establishment House Republicans voting together. In other words, how many times can we expect John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Steny Hoyer, Kevin McCarthy, Nancy Pelosi, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz all to vote the same way on a relatively divided debate?

The coalition was slightly different with the recent fiscal cliff vote, yet it displayed a similar pattern. Again, there was a left-to-right element, with more Democrats voting in favor this time. But there was also a “second dimension” element.

The lines are, again, diagonal. The differences among Democrats largely disappeared, but they were as present as ever among Republicans. The “establishment” Republicans largely voted in lockstep with one another, while the anti-establishment folks also banded together, voting the other way. The fit is certainly not perfect, with establishment figures like Cantor and McCarthy voting no – thought that actually matches well with the press coverage afterward declaring that Cantor’s vote indicated a break with the establishment leadership, rather than the fact that he’d newly discovered a conservative soul.

This divide between establishment v anti-establishment was present throughout the 112th Congress. Whether it was the 2012 omnibus bill, or the highway and student loan funding bill of 2012, outsiders such as blue-staters Michele Bachmann and Marco Rubio voted alongside southerner Rand Paul and westerner Mike Lee. Others with similar left-to-right rankings, but who were closer to the establishment, such as Senator John Barasso, Representative Cantor, Representative Billy Long of Missouri, and, yes, even very conservative Mitt Romney-backed Representative Steve King of Iowa often voted the opposite way.

It’s necessary to note that while the insurgents seem to be rising, it was the establishment that won in all the situations. My guess is that they will continue to win, even if they need to adjust. That’s why I’m skeptical about whether we’re really likely to see a “Republican civil war” in the coming years, or even the 2016 presidential nomination season.

In practise, the establishment tends to line up behind the eventual winner of the nomination before a war breaks out. That’s why even the hard-fought 2008 Democratic and 2012 Republican nomination winners became quite clear by the end of February in the nomination seasons. Further, if Republicans do well in 2014, which they should given the midterm landscape, then this should placate those currently calling for heads.

The ability of the party establishment to hold onto power might explain why Paul Ryan voted for the fiscal cliff package. Ryan is pretty far to the right in the left-to-right ideological rankings. He’s even been seen as fairly anti-establishment over the long term. Yet, he voted for each and every one of the “establishment” positions on the four key financial bills discussed here. Ryan may be looking to capitalize on the establishment credentials he built up during his run as vice-presidential nominee. We’ll have to see if his future voting record also supports the idea that he’s shifted toward the establishment.

In the meantime, it looks likely that this establishment v insurgent divide will continue through to the next Congress. The votes for and against John Boehner for house speaker did not split according to the liberal-to-conservative spectrum for Republicans, but rather among the second dimension: between establishment v anti-establishment forces. In short, this should looks set to be yet another unproductive and unwieldy Congress. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds