Margin of Σrror

Margin of Σrror -

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

How the fate of gun control is tied to presidential popularity | Harry J Enten

Polling shows that Obama’s approval rating is closely correlated with opinion on gun control. That suggests trouble ahead

Want to know how people feel about President Obama’s gun control plan?

Simply ask whether they approve or disapprove of how the president and his administration are doing their job. The two questions are nearly perfectly linked, and that could have major consequences for the future of gun control legislation.

The latest ABC/Washington Post polls prove the strong relationship. Many individual gun proposals are highly popular. In fact, seven tested gun measures, including background checks and bans on assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns, have majority support ranging from 51% to 88%.

When you attach Obama’s name by calling it “Barack Obama’s proposals”, the Post discovered that 53% of Americans favor the proposals – nearly identical to Obama’s approval rating of 55% in a separate Post poll last week. Gallup found the same, with 53% in favor of Obama’s gun control plan, compared to his monthly approval rating of 52%.

Drill down to specific demographics and the link between approval of the gun plan and approval of Obama’s administration becomes even clearer. Neither the Post nor Gallup asked about the plan or Obama’s approval in the same poll. The Post did, however, enquire about Joe Biden’s favorability. Biden’s net favorable of +11 percentage points is very close to Obama’s net approval rating of +14pt from the prior poll, meaning that the two are closely correlated.

[Note: we test Biden because we are examining small sub-samples and the sampling error on margins (for example, for favorable minus unfavorable) of less than 350 people is about 10pt or greater, which makes comparing different poll sub-samples difficult. By restricting ourselves to the same sample of people, as we can with Biden's favorables and the gun package, we can compare the answers among the exact same group of respondents.]

Among the 24 subgroups tested, the correlation between a subgroup’s opinion towards Joe Biden and Obama’s gun plan is 0.98 – nearly perfect. Moreoever, 95% of the differences in subgroup net favorables on Obama’s gun plan are predicted by their respective opinions of Biden. You rarely see two variables this closely linked. That’s even higher than the strong explanatory power that evangelical voting had in forecasting the Republican primary.

The median difference between a group’s opinion towards Biden versus Obama’s gun package is 2pt, which matches the 1pt difference between favorability for Biden and Obama’s gun control package overall. That’s ridiculously small. It means that if a respondent liked Biden, who substitutes for the administration, then the person liked the gun plan. Among independent voters, Biden’s net favorable is +5pt, and the net favorable impression of Obama’s plan is +7pt. Republican responders register -51pt net favorables for both. Among region, the median difference is only 3pt. Biden, for example, had a net favorable of +12pt in the south, while Obama’s gun plan had a favorable of +10pt. In the battleground of the midwest, Biden stood at +4pt and Obama’s gun plan was at +5pt net favorable.

So much for the correlation, but what does it mean for the future of gun control legislation?

In short, it means the gun control debate is likely heading in the direction of healthcare. In that political fight, as with this one, individual proposals polled well, but attaching Obama’s name to a proposal polarized opinion.

The key difference this time is that the net approval for Obama and his administration is about 14pt higher than it was when the healthcare bill passed in March 2010. That’s at least part of the reason why Obama’s gun safety proposals are polling much higher than his healthcare reform bill did three years ago.

This is also the main explanation for why President Obama’s gun plan is doing fairly well among independents and southerners. Obama lost both groups in the 2012 election, yet his post-election bounce has temporarily endeared him to them.

The chances are that he can’t maintain this surge in popularity, as most second-term bounces don’t last as long as the first-term ones. Obama will likely maintain a positive net approval overall, but not among certain subgroups. If his subgroup approval eventually matches his election margins, then he’ll start to show negative numbers among independents and southerners.

The question, then, is whether the high correlation between support for Obama’s administration and its gun policy signals that support for gun control is also poised to drop. It makes sense that it would. I’d also anticipate that this drop will be among the same subgroups as for Obama’s overall approval. That’ll mean that the current support for the gun plan among independents and southerners goes up in smoke.

Many House representatives up for re-election in 2014 are likely aware of the relationship between Obama’s gun proposals and his approval. Right now, that’s not an issue, but a fall in Obama’s approval would make this high correlation a problem. I don’t believe that legislators from areas where Obama’s approval is negative would want to be associated with a bill whose popularity is tied directly to presidential ratings. I’m talking about senators from red states who are committed to opposition, or waffling, on gun control – like Max Baucus, Mark Begich, Tim Johnson, Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, and, to a lesser extent, Kay Hagan.

So, we shouldn’t be surprised by a decline in support for Obama’s gun control package, nor by more obfuscation from vulnerable Democrats, who want to tread very carefully on guns. This doesn’t mean any gun package is over before it’s begun. Universal background checks, which are supported by about 90% of the public, seem to be picking up some steam.

But gun control legislation, on the whole, will be difficult to pass – and not just on the face of the proposals, but because red state legislators facing re-election simply won’t want to be associated a bill so closely tied to the popularity of President Obama. © 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

How Senate Democrats, not just House Republicans, will block gun control | Harry J Enten

A filibuster-proof majority in Senate is already a stretch, but red state Democrats up for re-election may make it unreachable

Vice-President Biden’s group will make recommendations to President Obama this week on gun control. Majorities of Americans support numerous new gun restrictions, yet I’m pessimistic that anything will get through Congress. Why?

You might expect me to cite the Republican-controlled House, but the chances that the Democratic-controlled Senate will pass anything are not much better.

The Democrats need 60 votes to achieve “cloture” or avoid a filibuster, and that seems near-impossible. Assuming all 55 Democrats vote for a piece of gun control legislation, another five Republicans must join the coalition. I can only think of four Republicans who are gettable.

Mark Kirk, from blue state Illinois, has a lifetime F-rating from the NRA and has voiced support for an assault weapons ban. Susan Collins, from Obama-voting Maine, and Dan Coats of Indiana have each received a C+ from the NRA, and worse grades from the Gun Owners of America. Finally, John McCain of Arizona only has a B+ from the NRA and a C- from the Gun Owners.

These four Republicans, plus all the Democrats, equal only 59, which, of course, isn’t 60. Every other Republican has at least an A from either the NRA or the Gun Owners. There would have to be a major change of heart from at least one Republican in order to avoid a filibuster or make cloture.

But even if you got that magical one Republican, the openness to discuss gun control from West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, isn’t likely to be shared by six red state Democrats who are set to run for re-election in 2014.

The reason is that regardless of how Americans view gun control right now, research indicates that they are likely to be at least somewhat affected by cues from their party leaders. This is especially the case if the party is out of power, as the Republicans currently are. You saw this during healthcare reform debate of 2009 when most Americans were in favor of Obamacare at first, then turned against it once it became a partisan issue and Republican leaders resisted the reforms. Americans then opposed the new law even as they still supported most of the policies contained within it. A similar outcome is possible this time, as Republicans leaders have not indicated much of any movement on gun control.

Pew Research found that Americans who prioritize gun rights over gun control, as well as gun owners, are more likely to say that the Republican party does a better job of reflecting their views on gun control, by margins of 44 percentage points and 22pt, respectively. Americans against gun control are more likely to be politically active than their pro-control counterparts: they are 17pt more likely to to contribute money, contact a public official, sign a petition, or express an opinion on a social network. I can’t imagine a senator from a red state, especially one in which there are more guns per household than the national average, wanting to go up against a barrage from pro-gun forces.

That’s why Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, and Tim Johnson of South Dakota all have A ratings from the NRA. They all come from states ranked third or fourth in gun ownership – at least 57% of households have a gun in the home. Baucus voted against a renewal of the assault weapons ban in 2004; Begich said he’d vote against it even after Newtown; and Johnson has seen his NRA grade go from a C+ in 2003 to an A, with an NRA endorsement, during his 2008 re-election fight.

The electoral prospects for each man adds to the unlikelihood that any will cast a vote in favor of serious gun control legislation. According to Public Policy Polling (PPP), Baucus has a net approval rating of -3pt and leads a generic Republican candidate by only 3pt. Begich won election 2008 by only 1pt and is rated as “vulnerable” by the Cook Political Report, which also pegs Johnson as the incumbent most likely to lose in 2014.

Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, too, is likely a goner on serious gun control legislation, despite a C from the NRA. She voted against renewing the assault weapons ban in 2004, and pretty much every other gun control measure of the past eight years. She won re-election in 2008 by six points – against a relatively weak opponent and in a state that voted for Romney by 17pt. She is “at risk” per the Cook Political Report. In Louisiana, 44% of households have a gun, 14th most in the nation.

Only Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas could go in favor of gun control. Hagan has an F from NRA, though she voted in favor in loosening regulations across state lines and calls herself a strong supporter of the second amendment. Pryor has a C-. He also voted to renew the assault weapons ban in 2004, and has wavered only occasionally since.

Again, the issue is that the Cook Political Report puts both of them at risk, come election season. Hagan’s net approval rating of -2 per PPP means she can’t afford to lose many voters, even if her state ranks only 23rd in the nation for households with guns, at 41%.

Pryor might be in an even worse spot. In 2012, Obama lost Arkansas by 24pt, and Democrats lost their control of the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Democrats had three of the state’s four representatives in Congress during Pryor’s last election, but don’t have a single one now. He simply doesn’t need enemies in a state where 55% of households have a gun – sixth most in the nation.

So, I don’t think you can count on any red state Senate Democrat who is running in 2014. Taking away these six leaves the pro-control caucus with 53 votes in the Senate, at most – even with the four Republicans. Counting Hagan and Pryor only leaves the pro-control caucus with 55 votes.

Let’s also be real here. Joe Manchin has only said that “everything should be on the table”. He hasn’t actually committed to anything concrete. Neither have Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, nor Jon Tester of Montana – all red state Democratic senators given A-ratings by the NRA – committed to anything specific.

That’s why the smart analysis says that the chances of Congress passing serious gun control legislation decrease by the day. The House is a foregone conclusion. When all these numbers start getting added together, I’m not even sure you can find a simple majority of senators to agree on tougher gun control. A filibuster-proof majority, meanwhile, is likely impossible. © 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

How far can President Obama go with an executive order on gun control? | Harry J Enten

Since any gun safety law would face opposition in a Republican-controlled Congress, the president must weigh public opinion

Vice-President Joe Biden’s gun panel is set to report to President Barack Obama next Tuesday. The common view is that any legislation that is at all controversial would have a difficult time getting passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Now, Biden has raised the possibility of getting gun control measures by executive order.

My advice for the president as someone who reads polls: go for it, if it’s what you want to do. There is much discussion that acting by executive order would be seen as a “totalitarian” action and provoke a backlash. Nonsense, so long as the order is supporting a measure the public favors.

Consider that in June 2012 Obama took executive action on a “mini-Dream Act” that provided a path to avoid deportation for some undocumented immigrants who came to the country before the age of 16, had a high school education (or were attending school) or had served in the military, and had no criminal background. He did so administratively because he couldn’t get a law passed by Congress.

There was heavy public support before the order was signed. Back in late 2010, Gallup found that 54% of Americans would vote for a bill that would allow for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country in their youth to have a pathway to citizenship. A late 2011, a Fox Poll put support for such a law at 63%.

After Obama made the new policy instruction, the public held to its position. Five polls taken between the June announcement and now found that anywhere from 54% to 64% of Americans still believe that young undocumented immigrants should not be sent packing. This includes three questions that specifically mentioned Obama’s name, and that his administration had “announced” the policy change (in other words, the measure specifically didn’t pass through Congress).

You might argue that the gun debate is different because the powerful gun rights lobby would be able to convince the public otherwise. The flaw in that statement is that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is just not that popular these days: only 42% of Americans have a favorable view of the NRA per Public Policy Polling, which is down from 48% just a few weeks ago.

The president is also dealing with a public that’s seen its support for gun control climb higher since the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. I count five pollsters (ABC/Washington Post, CBS News, Gallup, CNN/ORC, and YouGov) that asked a question about whether gun control should be stricter before and after Newtown. Before the massacre, the weaker “stay the same” position on gun control beat the stricter position by an average of 3.8 percentage points. Afterward, stricter led by 11.4pt – a 15.2pt turn-around.

Past history suggests that the president can’t wait around until he gets a Congress that is willing to cooperate. After the Columbine shooting in 1999, Americans’ support for stricter gun laws jumped by 5-10pt. After a year or two, the spike had abated and appetite for stricter gun laws continued its slow decline to the minority position it held just before Newtown.

So what policies should the president consider, as long as he thinks courts will uphold his orders?

• He should end the “gun show loophole” to force people who buy guns at a gun show or through private sales and online shopping to have a background check: 92% of Americans favor this position per Gallup, while PPP puts support at 76%.

• Obama should seek to ban high-capacity ammunition clips that contain more than 10 bullets: CNN/ORC, Gallup, Pew, PPP, and YouGov all show at least 53% of Americans in favor of this policy.

• He should seek ways to ensure that people with poor mental health records do not get a gun: CNN/ORC found that 92% Americans did not want Americans with mental health problems to be in possession of a gun; PPP took it one step farther and discovered that 63% of Americans want people to be required to take a health exam before buying a gun.

• Obama should obviously prevent felons convicted of a violent crime from owning a gun: 94% and 92% approve of that measure, per PPP and CNN/ORC respectively.

• He should try to make sure that guns, even if not recently purchased, would be registered with a government or law enforcement agency: CNN/ORC finds 78% agree with that policy.

• Obama should look to ban outright bullets that explode or are designed to break through a bullet-proof vest: Pew found that 56% favor this position.

• Obama should try to make it more difficult to buy ammunition and/or guns over the internet: 69% of Americans wanted to ban these practices, according to PPP.

You’ll note I don’t include an assault weapons ban. The reason is that pollsters are split: Gallup and Pew signal that a majority is opposed to banning assault or semi-automatic weapons, while ABC/Washington Post, CNN/ORC, PPP, and YouGov show the reverse. It seems to me that, politically speaking, an executive order would be the wrong course on an issue that apparently splits the country down the middle.

Further, the president would almost certainly be better-off passing any law through Congress. It not only looks better, but it lessens the chance of any political blowback I may be underestimating. The danger, of course, is that if a bill fails to get through Congress, it would look like awfully sour grapes then to obtain gun control measures through executive orders. It’s quite possible that the public would see that as executive over-reach.

Also, I am by no means a constitutional scholar: while there are plenty of people arguing in favor of executive action, others argue that some of these proposals, if put into action by executive order, would be unconstitutional and would be ruled so.

That said, if the president is sensitive to public opinion and reading the polls, there are a number of gun control policies he can obtain by executive order without fear of a backlash. But the lesson of Columbine is that he has a narrow window of opportunity, in the wake of Newtown, in which to act. © 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

Americans on the fiscal cliff deal: meh | Harry J Enten

The polls say most expected a compromise – though not so many like what they got. But the deal-makers fare slightly better

The fiscal cliff was averted last week as both the House and Senate agreed on an imperfect package. What do Americans think of this legislation and those who passed it?

Many in Washington did not think a deal would be reached, but Americans expected Congress would hammer out an agreement on time.

In every single Gallup poll taken during the month of December, the majority of respondents guessed that Congress would reach a solution that avoided the cliff. That majority shrank to 50%, but still held as late as 22 December, despite pessimistic reports. The ability of the public to predict better than most pundits fits with research that shows Americans also do a very good job of forecasting the results of presidential elections.

But while most Americans expected a deal, they didn’t much like it. By a slim 45% to 43% plurality, Gallup found more Americans disapproved than approved of the fiscal cliff deal. This broadly concurs with Pew Research’s finding that 38% approved and 41% disapproved of the deal. The percentage of Americans who registered agreement is far less than the 68% of Americans who’d said they wanted “compromise” from their Washington leaders back in December.

Independents and Republicans, in particular, looked for agreement – just not this one. Only 27% of Republicans and 39% of independents approved of the passed fiscal cliff legislation per Gallup. That compares with the approximately 60% of each group who had wished Congress to pass “compromise” legislation in December. Meanwhile, the 67% of Democrats who approved of the fiscal cliff deal largely matches the approximately 70% of Democrats who wanted a bipartisan piece of legislation.

The reason for this before-and-after discrepancy, as Pew Research discovered, is that 57% of Americans think President Obama got more of what he wanted, while only 20% feel the same way about Republican leaders. That affirms the fiscal cliff legislative rollcall, in which, by a near 2:1 margin, House Republicans opposed the law, while House Democrats approved it by more than a 9:1 margin.

That’s not to say Republican leaders made a mistake compromising, in the eye of the public. The percentage of Americans who approved of generic congressional Republicans’ handling of the fiscal cliff negotiations had been stuck in the 20s throughout the process. This percentage reached a low of 25% per Gallup and 19% per Pew, after the deal was passed.

Yet, Republican House speaker John Boehner who, despite much protestation from his own caucus, managed to get the deal through the House, actually received a boost in his approvals: 31% of Americans approved of Boehner’s handling of the fiscal cliff deal in Gallup polling – higher than any other congressional leader.

For Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who played a leading role, with Vice-President Joe Biden, in crafting the final form of the fiscal cliff bill, approval of 28% was also higher than the generic Republican congressional approval. In both cases of these named Republican leaders, the net approval (approval minus disapproval) of about -20pt is about 20pt higher than the net approval of generic congressional Republicans, at -40pt per Gallup.

Some might say that named Republican leaders only have higher approval because it’s easier to hate a no-faced person, but I’m not sure I agree. Only 27% approved of Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s performance in Gallup’s polling, which is slightly lower than the percentage of Americans who approved of named Republican leaders. It’s also lower than the 34% who approved of the generic Democratic leaders in Congress. It does seem that Americans are willing to reward both the Democratic party they saw as more compromising and the Republican leaders who showed a willingness to compromise.

The ability to compromise is also probably part of the reason that President Obama has consistently received the highest ratings on the fiscal cliff negotiations from Americans: 46% of Americans approved of Obama’s handling of the fiscal cliff negotiations, while 48% disapproved. That approval is slightly down from earlier, though the -2pt net split is about 20pt better than those of our named congressional leaders. Given that Pew Research has the split at 48-40 for the president, I’m guessing that this is mostly statistical noise. Obama, of course, had been hounded from some on his own side for being too compromising on the fiscal cliff deal. Vice-President Biden, who took the lead with McConnell on final negotiations, also had a -2pt approval/disapproval split, with approval at 40% and disapproval at 42% per Gallup.

Indeed, Americans may be split on the overall bill and may not love those who compromised – but they like the compromisers more than those who stuck to their guns. In other words, voters expect their leaders to be adults and make deals. Further, American “optimism” in avoiding the fiscal cliff was rewarded. We will have to wait to see whether Americans will be as positive when it comes to predicting the outcome of the political battle over the debt ceiling in the next few months. © 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

How polarisation in Washington affects a growing feeling of partisanship | Harry J Enten

Legislators may no longer feel they have reason to play to the middle making Washington seem more divided than ever

“Can a divided House stand?” is a question that Nate Silver posed in a blogpost Thursday.

The basic premise of Silver’s article is that House districts have been more polarized of late. That is to say, there are fewer swing districts. In addition, fewer districts are voting for one party for House and another for president.

The conclusion one might draw is that many legislators have little reason to play to the middle, and that’s why Washington seems more partisan than it used to be.

A further analysis of statewide results reflects a similar trend.

Back in 1976, there were near 25 states that came within three points of the nationwide margin and well over 30 that were within five points of the nationwide vote. In , it was eight states within three points of the nationwide margin and 10 within five points.

Both of these totals are lower than 2008 and indeed the lowest in the past 50 years. Heck, there were only 14 states out of 50 where the statewide margin came within 10 points of the nationwide margin! Any way you slice it, there are fewer swing states than there used to be.

This increased polarization has translated to the Senate makeup. After the 1992 elections, when Republicans won 43 seats, 49% of the Democratic caucus came from states that voted more Republican than the country as a whole, while about 28% of the Republican caucus came from states where Bill Clinton won by a greater margin than he did nationwide. After the 2012 elections, in which Republicans won a slightly higher 45 seats than 1992, only 25% of the Democratic caucus comes from states where Obama underperformed his national margin, and only 16% of the Republican caucus comes from states Obama won by a greater margin than he did nationally.

The question that arises is how this increased polarization impacts on the seemingly growing partisanship of Washington. One would expect that it would, given that elected officials care most about getting re-elected and without fear of losing re-election in the general they play to the base to avoid a primary challenge.

One way we can test this hypothesis is to look at roll call votes. The DW nominate score method puts legislators on a scale from -1 for most liberal to 1 for most conservative. The folks who maintain the system at Voteview have plotted both the House and the Senate over the past 130 years.

You would think that House Democrats may have become more liberal over the past 20 years, given that they are increasingly safe districts. In 1992, only 51% of the Democratic caucus came from seats that were five points or more Democratic than the nationwide presidential vote. In 2012, 88% of Democrats came from districts won by Obama by five points or more – a 37-point increase.

Interestingly, the scores don’t indicate that House Democrats have really become any more liberal.

The average Democrat was a little north of -0.4 after the 1992 elections and right at -0.4 in the last congress. This percentage has been fairly constant for the past 20 years even when the Democrats won more swing and red districts when they won back the majority from 2007 to 2011.

There has, however, been an increase in partisanship in the house, and it truly is “asymmetrical”. The Republican House caucus has been becoming more conservative every year since 1977, whether or not House Republicans are winning or losing elections. Republicans have climbed from 0.4 on the DW nominate scales after the 1992 elections to near 0.7 in the last congress. That type of charge towards polarization is historically unusual over data that stretches back 130 years.

The fact that it is House Republicans who have become more partisan is somewhat surprising given that the party caucus is representing only slightly more Republican territory than it did 20 years ago. The percentage of Republicans representing seats that went for the Republican presidential candidate by five or more points than nationwide only increased from 74% to 90% – a 16-point increase. That is far less than the 37-point increase that House Democrats, who aren’t much more partisan than used to be, experienced during the same timeframe.

The Senate picture matches that of the House.

Senate Democrats, like their House counterparts, are hovering around that -0.4 score – as they were 20 years ago. This levelness comes despite the Democratic caucus going from being 50/50 in the percentage of Democratic senators from Democratic-leaning states versus Republican-leaning states to 75/25.

Republicans, on the other hand, have slowly and become more conservative in their roll call votes by moving from about 0.3 to 0.5 on the scale. You might expect this trend given Republicans are representing more Republican leaning states, but the magnitude is quite noticeable given that the average Democratic ideology during the same period didn’t move under polarization.

Yet, in the Senate, these roll call votes don’t tell the whole story. Much of the perception that the Senate is home to partisan gridlock is that many bills can’t get an up-or-down vote. We can measure this inability by looking at cloture votes to end debate. One must get 60 votes for cloture. When cloture attempts go up, it means that increasingly 60, not 51, votes are needed to pass a bill. Cloture doesn’t equal filibuster, but the two are correlated.

The number of cloture motions since the Democrats took over the Senate in 2007 is 391, an average of 130 per Senate. It would take the last six Senates combined before 2007, that is to say those from 1995 through 2007) to match this total. In the final Senate before the Republicans took over in 1995, there were 80 cloture motions.

It’s not just that Republicans aren’t allowing bills to be voted upon in an up-or-down vote, it’s that they are blocking bills in far greater numbers than they did 20 years ago.

When Democrats were in the minority for of the 1995 to 2007 time period, the most cloture motions that were filed in a Senate was 82. Since 2007, the fewest number of clotures in a Senate has been 115. The average number per Senate when Democrats were in the minority was 70 – some 50 less than when Republicans were in the minority the past six years.

Yes, Democrats block bills, but Republicans block many more. This is gridlock at its finest (or worst).

When you put all these statistics together, the portrait painted becomes rather clear. Polarization is definitely up on the congressional district and state level. Yet, the feeling that Democrats and Republicans are further apart than they used to be is upon inspection of the evidence more because of Republicans than Democrats. © 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