Congressional Loyalty Scorecards, Part Three: Building A Real Majority
by Chris Bowers, Tue Apr 26, 2005 at 10:29:46 AM EDT
Read Part Two: Is the DLC The Problem?
Part three of this series looks at how many seats Democrats would need to capture in the House in order for the current Democratic Party majority position on key pieces of legislation to become the majority over the current Republican Party majority position. The answer is not as simple as it may seem. While capturing fifteen net seats from Republicans would technically give Democrats control of the chamber, the previously discussed finding that Democrats defect from their party's majority position more frequently than Republicans defect from the majority position of their party complicates the issue. Surely many of us must remember the early years of the Clinton administration, when the long awaited Democratic President still had difficulty passing much of his agenda despite fairly solid Democratic control of both chambers of Congress. This is because even though Democrats may have controlled the chamber in terms of number of elected representatives, Democratic voting patterns left the majority Democratic position either with extremely narrow control, or actually in the minority.
There are 435 members of the House of Representatives, and my study looked at eight pieces of legislation. Thus, there were 3,480 (435 * 8) potential votes on these pieces of legislation. In order for the Democratic majority position to be the majority position within the chamber, it would require 1,741 or more votes to agree with it across these eight pieces of legislation. Currently, the Democratic majority position has 1,380 votes, leaving it 361 votes short of a majority and at only 39.66% of the votes in the chamber. Ouch.
Since the average Democrat supported the Democratic position 6.53 times of out a possible 8.00 (81.4%), and the average Republican supported the Democratic majority position 0.24 times out of a possible 8.00 (3.0%), by this measure the average Democratic Representative can be counted on for 6.29 more votes than the average Republican Representative. Considering the 361 vote deficit, in order for the Democratic position to reach majority status, it is thus necessary to replace 58 Republican Representatives with Democratic Representatives in order for the Democratic majority position to reach majority status within the chamber.
That is a frightening total. Because their rather extreme party loyalty (97%), 175 Republicans would actually hold slightly more sway over the chamber than 260 Democrats (who are loyal 81.4% of the time). Clearly, in the House of Representatives we are in a deep, dark hole as a party. It will be some time before the Democratic majority position regains control of the chamber.
Of course, there are other ways to improve the standing of the majority Democratic position within the chamber, most notably by improving voting loyalty among Democratic Representatives. David Sirota writes about Democratic efforts in the House to do just this after the bankruptcy bill debacle:In two separate articles today, the Washington Post and Roll Call paint a divergent picture of Democrats on Capitol Hill. The Post looks at Senate Democrats and says they are "standing firm" in the face of the GOP. The paper points to Democratic opposition to Bush's Social Security plan, the GOP's ethics rules changes, and the nomination of John Bolton as evidence.
Roll Call, on the other hand, finds "a major rift has developed within the House Democratic Caucus, as moderates and liberals wage a war over influence and questions mount over the leadership's direction for the minority party." The article points to a contentious meeting last week where progressives accused moderates "of selling out to special interests on the bankruptcy bill." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi "expressed particular frustration" that some members vocally joined Republicans in pushing the bill. She made "clear it was inappropriate for Members, despite their support for the bill, to urge the Republicans to bring it up."
Both of these stories are positive. The first story shows that on some key issues, Democrats have been very effective. The second story shows that on other key issues where the party has fractured - bankruptcy, class-action reform, the estate tax and energy policy - progressives are finding their voice, and are increasingly willing to tell it like it is to their colleagues (big kudos to Pelosi). That's a major step forward in building the kind of durable, sturdy opposition party that will be necessary to defeat the GOP. Far from "hurting the party," these progressives are emboldening it for the long run, as they are moving Democrats back to their traditional position as defenders of middle and working class America.Retaking the House consists of at least two separate tasks: replacing Republicans with Democrats and increasing Democratic voting loyalty. We need to make huge strides on both fronts in order to succeed.