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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

To add a little bit of rigor to the point I made this morning, take a look at the following:

This is a diagram of the partisan composition of the 109th and 111th Congresses. The 435 Congressional Districts are arranged from left (most Democratic) to right (most Republican) based on their PVI — that is, partisan voting patterns in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential Elections.

We see that most of the damage to the Republican Party has come in moderate districts. Not a big surprise really, but — the numbers are fairly jarring. There are 81 districts with a PVI of between D+3 and R+3: these are your prototypical swing districts. After the 2004 elections, Republicans controlled 54 of these 81 seats and Democrats 27. Following November’s elections, however, the ratio had almost exactly reversed itself: 55 Democrats and 26 Republicans.

Framed differently: in the 109th Congress, about 3 out of every 10 Republican Congressmen came from swing or Democratic-leaning districts. Now, only about 1 in 6 does. The Republican conference is very very close, by the way, to being majority Southern. To the extent there are moderate voices in the conference, they are going to get drowned out. There is no possibility of revolt from the moderates; they don’t have the ground forces.

I don’t mean to suggest, by the way, that most individual Republican lawmakers were wrong in their decision to oppose the stimulus. On the contrary, from a tactical perspective, they had few incentives to compromise. And for cripes’ sake: the stimulus does represent roughly half a trillion dollars in new government spending. If conservatives weren’t going to oppose this, then what are they supposed to oppose?

But what purpose Boehner and Cantor thought they were serving by whipping votes, instead of letting their members come to a decision on their own, I don’t really understand. Nor do I understand what the House Republicans thought they were accomplishing by coming out en masse against something like the digital TV bill, which is about as harmless as it gets — precisely the sort of thing on which you offer an olive branch to build credibility for more important battles.

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