Sunday, January 25, 2009

Kirsten Gillibrand: Generic Democrat

I know this bit of news is about two hundred years old in blog time, but for all the caterwauling about the selection of Kirsten Gillibrand, it's worth pointing out that her voting record was actually slightly to the left of her district. Gillibrand's district is the 242nd most liberal district in the country. But her voting record is the 219th most liberal. This puts her voting behavior, as measured by the distance from her district, almost exactly in line with the party as a whole. Here's a chart showing how all of Congress shakes out. I've taken the 435 Congressmen and ranked them by both their district's Cook Partisan Voting Index and their DW-NOMINATE rankings, where low numbers in each case represent a more liberal Congressmen or district. Then I just took the difference between those two numbers. A negative number (PVI > DW-NOMINATE) means the Representative is probably more liberal than the district; a positive number means their more conservative. If you then throw all the Congressmen into buckets 25-slots wide (all Congressmen with a DW-NOMINATE - pvi between 25 and 50, etc), and plot the results, you get something like this.



The median Democrat is 4 slots to the left of their district, and the average Democrat is just over 16 slots away, so by almost measure she's just a tick to more liberal than she "ought" to be. Since Gillibrand's constituents now include New York City, its suburbs and other, more Democratic-leaning areas of the upstate region, if she continues to vote in a way that represents her constituents views she'll be a fine Senator. Of course, if her voting patterns don't change at all, she will be a total waste of a blue-state politician.

3 comments:

corvus said...

I have grown steadily less bothered by this appointment. It seems like she will be pretty solid on issues of gay and labor and abortion rights, so who cares? If she pulls a lot of shit, New York could easily primary her, and so she should be quite receptive to whipping. BTW, anyone know what Durbin does? I mean, you never hear about him. What, does he just lurk in the shadows, bringing the Chicago Way to back up Harry's more impotent public gestures? The Dems have been pretty united lately...

nimh said...

Great graph, and always good to see some digging into the data. And the point that Gillibrand has actually been somewhat less conservative than her constituencies is well-taken - it's not like she went out of her way to be conservative beyond the call of duty.

Still, the jump to expecting that she'll also be an average representative of her much more liberal new constituency is pretty big, isn't it? I mean, I suppose it all depends on the question which basic dynamic is more decisive. Do representatives adapt their views to that of their constituents, or do constituents elect a representative who reflects their views?

Both are true, obviously - just felt that this post understated the latter a little bit. Is it reasonable to expect a representative to largely ditch her views just because her job changed? I mean, you'd think it was no coincidence that she ended up in her old Congressional district in the first place, and that it will also have been because the district's views suited hers well. You'd hope so, actually...

Anonymous said...

Hey Nick, this is a random question (I'd email it, but I can't find your email address), but I'm wondering if you know where I could find this kind of information, going back to 1976. For my thesis, I need to figure out how Democratic Jimmy Carter was vis a vis the Democratic Congress, and I'm not sure where to start.

- Jamelle