Tuesday, November 17, 2009

House Freshmen Report Card

Of the 50 or so new Democratic seats in the House, which members are voting more liberally than their district might suggest? And which are unnecessarily conservative? We can use the Cook Partisan Voting index to estimate the shape of each district's electorate, and then measure members' performance using DW-NOMINATE ratings. This isn't imperfect, but likely accurate to a first approximation. The chart below the distance between each members rank in the DW-NOMINATE score and subtracts their district's rank in the PVI score. A positive score (DW-NOMINATE > PVI) means the member is to the right of their district. A negative score means they're to the left. Then I counted the number of Dems who are at more than 175 slots more liberal than their district; those 151 to 175 slots more liberal; 126 to 150 slots more liberal; and so on. The result looks something like this:



As you can see, most Democrats who took over GOP-held seats in the past two elections are pulling their district to the left. That's because most seats are swing seats being replaced by not-super-conservative Democrats, or lean-Republican seats where any Democrat is more liberal than the district. Among '06 freshmen, the two best Democrats are John Hall in suburban NYC, and Bruce Braley in Eastern Iowa. The worst are Joe Courtney in Connecticut, who's become something of a China hawk; Ron Klein, whose deal I don't know; and Joe Donnelly, who's 100% anti-choice. These numbers are somewhat different if you use the 110th Congress and the PVI based on the 2004 and 2000 elections; for example between 2006 and 2008, Carol Shea-Porter shifted to the right as the result of a tough reelection fight, while her district went way to the left with Obama on the ticket.

Among '08 freshmen, the Democrat who is furthest to the left of his district is ... wait for it ... Bobby Bright. That's right, the second most conservative Democrat (behind Walt Minnick, who's basically useless) is also the freshman who is farthest to the left of his district, simply because his district is so conservative. Now, Chet Edwards manages to hold a more conservative district with a significantly less conservative voting record, but he's an entrenched incumbent. After Bright comes Frank Kratovil, who's more or less in the same boat; then Eric Massa, Betsy Markey, Alan Grayson (shocker!), and Harry Teague. The worst of the bunch are Jim Himes, Dan Dreihaus, Dina Titus, Dan Maffei, and Gary Peters.

What about incumbents--who are the crappiest Democrats? It's a bit harder to see any patterns. Here are the 13 Democrats at least 75 slots more conservative than their districts:

Member
District
PVI
Rank
DW-NOMINATE
Rank
Distance
MEEK
FLORIDA17
184
14
170
DAVIS
ALABAMA7
227
59
168
PELOSI
CALIFOR8
153
10
143
MEEKS
NEW YOR6
148
9
139
RICHARDSON
CALIFOR37
161
30
131
BRADY
PENNSYL1
127
13
114
LIPINSKI
ILLINOI3
205
104
101
MALONEY
NEW YOR14
130
33
97
DEGETTE
COLORAD1
142
49
93
SIRES
NEW JER13
141
51
90
RANGEL
NEW YOR15
85
1
84
TOWNS
NEW YOR10
86
4
82
HARMAN
CALIFOR36
167
92
75

Kendrick Meek and Artur Davis are running for the Senate as black men in the South while holding safe seats. They don't really count; if we were to use their score from the 110th Congress, they would show up as more conservative than their district, but not this conservative. Pelosi is in the leadership so that doesn't really count either since she rarely votes. Of the remaining ten members, I count four members of the Congressional Black Caucus—Gregory Meeks, Laura Richardson, Charlie Rangel, and Edolphus Towns. Rangel is in the leadership, and both he and Edolphus Towns are at least fairly liberal. That leaves Meeks and Richardson as the real standouts from the CBC. Some of the other members on this list have been the targets of primaries before—Dan Lipinski, Jane Harman—so the others on this list may attract challengers in the future.

One last chart, this is a chart of white Southern Democrats. We're going to use the CQ South, defined as the old Confederacy plus Kentucky and Oklahoma:


 

Simply by virtue of holding more conservative districts, most white Southern Democrats are pulling their district to the left. It's not immediately clear what we should expect from these members. They're not all going to be Chet Edwards, an entrenched incumbent who represents deep-Red territory, yet seems to be more liberal that one quarter of the caucus.

Only seven of these 41 members are to their district's right (17%), better than to 17 out of 51 members of the '06 and '08 classes (33%). Six of those seven represent safe seats. These are reps who are dealmakers like Jim Cooper, (who's slightly to the right of his Nashville-based district), or have such liberal districts it's simply hard to get to their left (Lloyd Doggett in Austin). The exception is John Barrow (D-GA12; photo from Wik). Barrow represents a seat that was redrawn by state Republicans in 2005. He won his 2006 reelection in a nail-biter, but cruised to victory in 2008, winning 66-34. His district appears to have shifted to the left, though his large margin may in part be due to Obama's presence on the ticket and his district's large African-American population. He must think that the 2010 electorate will look like the 2006 electorate, because despite the fact his seat appears fairly safe, he's still behaving like an extremely conservative Democrat.

If people are casting about for members who deserve a primary challenge, Dan Lipinski is an obvious target, as is Jane Harman. Donna Edwards may provide a template for running challenges to entrenched CBC incumbents. And while it's tempting to go after members who have tried to stymie health care in a high-profile way coughMikeRosscough, don't forget about members who are doing their district a disservice. John Barrow is a "more Democrat" when his district deserves a "better Democrat". That may not be in the cards in 2010, but with Obama on the ticket in 2012 it's definitely something worth considering.

If people find this stuff useful, I may post more charts. What do you want to see? Blue Dogs? Stupak Dems?

I'll upload the spreadsheet soon, but at the moment Google Docs is misbehaving.
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