The congressional loyalty scorecards are an enormous and laborious project that I would like to complete, but for which I simply do not have the time. If anyone has a little time on their hands and would like to make a few hundred bucks, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will talk. I would like to complete the all-time trends for all members back to 1989--Chris
In 2005, according to my congressional loyalty scorecards
, on the twenty-eight key votes I listed yesterday
, average Democratic loyalty was 84.6%. This is an improvement on 2003, the only other year I have completely examined so far. In that session of congress, Democratic loyalty in the House was 82.3%. An improvement is always good, but since I still do not know what the long-term trends are in this area, I actually do not know how good this is.
I do know, however, that Republican loyalty in 2005 on the twenty-eight votes I listed averaged 94.8%. Improvement or no improvement, we still face an even greater voting deficit in the House than the 232-203 (I count Sanders as a Dem for the purposes of this exercise) partisan deficit would suggest. Now, I know that in a Democratic congress the types of legislation that would be voted on would be different than the ones we currently face, but even with that in mind there can simply be no denying that, on average, Democratic members of congress defect to the majority Republican position more often than Republican members of congress defect to the majority Democratic position.
A 10.2% loyalty gap is pretty striking, and cannot simply be chalked up to who controls the House, or Democrats from conservative districts. The latter is most obviously false, since so-called "moderate Republicans" defect from their party at far lower rates than "conservative Democrats." For example, in 2005 there were six Republicans with disloyalty rates exceeding 40%: Boehlert, Castle, Leach, Paul, Shays and Simmons. There were no Republicans with disyalty rates reaching or exceeding 50%. By contrast, there were thirty-two Democrats with disloyalty rates exceeding 40%, and seventeen with disloyalty rates exceeding 50% (when someone passes 50%, I wonder what the point of even being a Democrat is, because at that point they are voting more often with Republicans than Democrats). There is a vast disparity in the margins, and this is where our greater disloyalty arises.
A small number of Democrats account for a wildly disproportionate amount of Democratic defection and disloyalty on key votes. In fact, the twenty-two least loyal Democrats accounted for 36% of all Democratic disloyalty in the House in 2005. Those same twenty-two Democrats were more disloyal than the 160 most loyal Democrats combined. Reducing the extremes of Democratic disloyalty thus becomes one of the keys in building a democratic voting majority in congress. Now, many people will be quick to point out that the least loyal Democrats tend to come from the most conservative districts held by Democrats. While that is generally true, it is not always true. A few live in marginal districts. A few even live in blue districts. Here is the list of the twenty-two least loyal Democrats (marginal districts are in italics, blue districts are in bold):
John Barrow, GA-12; Melissa Bean, IL-08; Merrion Berry, AR-01
; Sanford Bishop, GA-02; Dan Boren, OK-02
; Ben Chandler, KY-06; Jim Costa, CA-20; Jerry Costello, IL-12
; Bud Cramer, AL-05; Henry Cuellar, TX-28
; Lincoln Davis, TN-04; Chet Edwards, TX-17; Harold Ford, TN-09
; Bart Gordon, TN-06; Tim Holden, PA-17; Jim Marshall, GA-05; Jim Matheson, UT-02; Mike McIntyre, NC-07
; Charlie Melancon, LA-03; Collin Peterson, MN-07; Ike Skelton, MO-04; Gene Taylor, MS-04
Looking at this list, the strategy I see here to reduce Democratic disloyalty is simple. First, consistently run strong primary challenges against disloyal Democrats, either until the Democrat in question is defeated, or until the Democrat in question starts voting a lot better. If that works, move on to hyper-disloyal Democrats in marginal districts, and somewhat less disloyal Democrats in blue districts. I would also like it if hyper-disloyal Democrats in blue districts were penalized in terms of committee assignments and funding from campaign committees. Not all of the pressure can come from the grassroots if Demcoratic disloyalty is to be reduced.
This list immediately produces four targets for step one:
- Henry Cuellar, TX-28. Duh.
- Harold Ford is vacating his 70%+ Democratic seat, so we will have to wait and see what his replacement is like. I certainly hope there is a progressive option in the Democratic primary--that is a 100% safe Democratic seat, and the primary winner will become the Representative every time.
- Jim Costa, CA-20, and Jerry Costello, IL-12. I noticed that, like Cuellar, Republicans are not running a challenger against these conservative Dems who inhabit lean-blue districts. The reason why should be fairly obvious now. For Republicans, there is no need to spend money in a long-shot campaign to try and win a decently Democratic district when the Democrat in the district already votes with you half of the time. The opportunity cost deems it is far more efficient to simply endorse the conservative Democrat in the primary, ala the Club for Growth funding Henry Cuellar in TX-28.
As I said in italics above, the congressional loyalty scorecard project is enormous and unfinished. While my work thus far has only produced four clear primary targets, a more extensive search might turn up more. I have no doubt that continuing to run strong primary challenges against conservative Democrats in blue districts will go a long way toward strengthening Democratic loyalty across the board. One of the reasons Republicans are so loyal is because they know that if they are not, they will get "primaried." This is something that all conservative Democrats in blue districts need to have in the back of their minds as well.