Comparing Ideology and Partisanship Across State Legislatures


Andrew Gelman at Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science points to a very interesting article by Christopher Berry and Nolan McCarty Mapping State and Congressional Ideology looking into ideology and partisanship as measured by voting patterns within state legislatures. What is really clever and useful is that the authors have scaled the State ideological dimension to the US Congress, allowing us to compare the partisanship between state and federal levels as well as between different states.

How do they do the scaling? Using "bridge" politicians who have graduated from their state legislature to the US Congress. As Andrew comments:

Cool. This is sort of like those things where people compare Babe Ruth to Mike Schmidt, or whatever: Ruth played with Gehrig, who played with etc etc., going up to the present time. I guess the next thing to do is check that the "bridge actors" identified by Shor et al. are not systematically different than other legislatures, for example, in changing their attitudes when moving up to the big House.

Not all states provide good databases of voting records, so they only have a few states mapped: PA, FL, MI and CA. The short of it? Measured by median voting records, MI Republicans are very conservative, CA Democrats are fairly Liberal, and PA Dems are relatively more to the middle, and both PA and FL Reps share the same, moderately conservative voting record.

For deep statistical discussions, I really enjoy the blog Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science which writes a lot on statistics applied to political analysis. These guys are <hush> Bayesians </hush>, a branch of statistics with alchemical reputation when I was back in school.

Here's the abstract:

Two major problems exist in applying ideal point estimation techniques to state legislatures. First, there has been a scarcity of available longitudinal roll call data. Second, even where such data exists, scaling ideal points within a single state suffers from a basic defect. No comparisons can be made across institutions, whether to other state legislatures or to the US Congress. Our project is a solution to both of these dilemmas. We use a new comparative data set of state legislative roll calls beginning in the mid-1990s to generate ideal points for legislators. We then take advantage of the fact that state legislators sometimes go on to serve in Congress to create a common ideological scale between Congress and the various legislatures. These "bridge actors" are similar in concept to members of the House who go on to serve in the Senate, thereby providing the "glue" necessary to scale the House and Senate together. We have successfully prototyped this approach for California, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida. Using these bridge actors, we create a new state-federal congressional common space ideological scores. We conclude by using these common space scores to address important topics in the literature.

The money quotes start at page 16 in the PDF of the article:

Now, for the first time, we can directly compare the results from different states with each other, as well as with the US House. We do so first by comparing the range of ideological preferences in each institutional setting. The US House is constrained by the NOMINATE procedure to lie in the (-1,1) range. Unlike scaled scores, predicted scores can range beyond the (- 1,1) range of NOMINATE. Therefore, California's and Michigan's most conservative Republicans are quite conservative indeed by congressional standards, reaching out as far as 1.5 on the first dimension. In contrast, Florida has an ideological range that look more like that of Congress.

Second, we compare medians of each state's bichamber "legislature." The congressional median is at 0.5, understandable as the House was dominated by Republicans over the course of 1996-2006. Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania also have moderately conservative institutional medians over their respective time periods, while California has a moderately liberal median. The results largely echo Berry et al. (1998)'s elite ideology scores for the states (see below).

Third, we can compare the party medians. Michigan's Republicans stick out by being extremely conservative, while the other states' Republicans mirror the House. Democrats are far more diverse, ranging from less liberal in Pennsylvania and Michigan to most liberal in California. Florida sticks out again, and looks most like a microcosm of the US House, with identical Democratic and Republican medians.

Fourth, we can say something about partisan polarization which has become such a hot topic in American politics (McCarty, Poole and Rosenthal 2006). The baseline remark, of course, is that preferences are distributed bimodally. Beyond this simple fact, what more can we say? One way to compare polarization across institutional settings is to check the distance between party medians. Pennsylvania's party medians are closest together, California's are furthest apart, and Florida's look like the US House.


Creative Class Progressivism - Is this what we want to be?

Chris wrote in his Drinking Liberally post:

In addition to overtly political and media-oriented work conducted with progressive interests in mind, the progressive movement is also part of a social movement. It is connected to the growing dominance of "creative class" values within much of American culture, and to the rise of a new structure of the public sphere based not on mass membership institutions but upon self-starting, micro-targeted social networking. Contemporary progressivism has become more than just about our political beliefs, but also about the way we conduct many other aspects of our daily lives.

I was completely floored. Aren't we supposed to fight for the least among us and to empower them? To define an entire movement as reflecting the values of high-income, largely white, urban professionals seems antithetical to the world I want to live in. Moreover, to then claim, as I often read on this site, that the same movement is fighting for some sort of "general" liberalism, free from interest group politics, is astounding.

There's more...

Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

Grover Norquist on Republican support for Iraq:
The base isn't interested in Iraq. The base is for Bush. If Bush said tomorrow, we're leaving in two months, there would be no revolt.
To which Atrios added:
It's hard for non-lizard brain people to see how they could pivot on a dime like that, but noted Bush basers like Glenn Reynolds spent years arguing against more troops in Iraq then immediately went to arguing the opposite as soon as Dear Leader said it was a good idea.

So, yeah, Grover's probably right. They'd just need to create some fake political event to allow them to declare victory and go home.

But Bush won't do it. And the 30 percenters are happy to stay in Iraq just as they'd be happy to leave. Whatever Dear Leader says is fine with them.
For years, I have argued that conservatism is not an actual political philosophy, and that it should not be understood in terms of "core beliefs." No matter what beliefs are supposedly attached to it at any given moment, conservatism is, and always has been, not about actual beliefs, but about defending powerful, status-quo institutions for their own sake. During the French Revolutionary period, Metternich's defense of noble privilege was the conservative position, as it defended the powerful, status-quo institutions of monarchy and nobility. No conservatives would defend using military force to establish European government based on monarchy and nobility now, but that is only because those institutions are no longer in power. Instead, in a modern American context, conservatism is about defending institutions like reactionary churches, multinational corporations that act against the public interest, the military, wealthy American plutocrats, "traditional marriage," and an ethnically stratified socio-economic structure. It hardly matters whether or not these institutions actually benefit anyone, or even the degree to which the current privileges enjoyed by these institutions are actually threatened. All that matters is defending and strengthening established, institutional privilege against democratization, egalitarianism, and progress.

Much more in the extended entry.

There's more...

Identity, Progressivism, and American Patriotism


Ever since I started working full-time in politics about three or four years ago, I noticed something about myself that had not always been clear when I was a younger man: I really, really love America. I don't just mean this is the sense that I think America is one cool place among many (which it is), that it has great potential that remains unfulfilled (which it does), or that I just feel a strong personal connection to American culture (which I do). I mean it in the sense that I don't want to live anywhere else in the world besides America, and that I feel a strong obligation toward civic and institutional engagement within the country. I mean it in the sense that, dare I say it, I actually feel patriotic when it comes to America.

More in the extended entry.

There's more...

Philly Mayor: New Poll, and the Philadelphia Progressive Divide

The latest Keystone poll (PDF) is out on the Philadelphia mayoral race, and while it is good news for Tom Knox, it is also clear he has not achieved the knockout blow I, and at several other election watchers, had been expecting.

3/28-4/3. 364 RVs. MoE 5.1 (1/31 numbers in parenthesis)
Knox: 24 (22)
Fattah: 17 (26)
Brady: 16 (8)
Nutter: 12 (12)
Evans: 10 (10)
Unsure: 21 (22)

BooMan has more on the poll. Overall, there is not much movement over the past two months. What movement there was simply put Brady's number more in line with his results in other polls. Knox's momentum seems to have decidedly slowed, and with a high number of undecideds and a lot of soft support all around, there are openings for other candidates. Not huge openings, mind you, but definitely still openings.

I think what is really dragging down Fattah is anemic fundraising and a resulting lack of presence on the airwaves. I actually haven't even seen any ads for Fattah yet, even though I have seen ads for all other candidates. He might go back up if he can increase his visibility.

Nutter just went on the air last week, and this poll has a very low percentage of young voters (only 16% under the age of 35!), so I am inclined to believe that his numbers have decent buoyancy. I should note that I donated $50 to his campaign recently, and I expect that my ward, the 27th, will endorse him. But that doesn't mean I don't like the other candidates, or would be unwilling to work with them after the campaign, or on other issues.

There is a real divide in the reform / progressive community in Philadelphia between Fattah and Nutter (and, to a lesser extent, Evans and Knox). Mike Connery had an interesting diary at MyDD earlier in the week that I think summarizes the basic lines of this divide:
As I've been considering the place of - or more frequently total lack of - organizations whose mission it is to reach out to, engage, and elevate young people of color in our politics, I've started to think a lot lately about the divide between two major progressive constituencies: those who understand political activity through the vocabulary and history of social justice movements, vs. those who consider themselves to be part of a new progressive movement.

This new progressive movement seeks to work within and transform the system. It is party-based and electoral. During interviews for my book, a couple people pointed out to me that a lot of political terminology and basic concepts that we in this movement take for granted - including the term progressive - are either alienating or just nonstarters among a lot of young people of color. Instead, young people of color understand politics through a language based in community organizing, human rights, civil rights, and social justice. That is a language the progressive movement rarely embraces. Worse, its a language that the Democratic Party - our chosen vehicle of change - almost never embraces.
In my experience, I think this is basically true, and such a divide absolutely does exist. In Philly, in the political circles in which I operate, the social justice types tend to be for Fattah, while the progressive movement types, including myself, tend to be for Nutter. A piece I wrote back on Sunday, Institutionalism and the Progressive Movement, goes a long way toward explaining, at least in the abstract, why I eventually chose Nutter (in fact, as you might notice at the end of the piece, I wrote that article with an explanation of my Nutter endorsement in mind). In a broad sense, I just really feel like Nutter is the best choice to engage in the types of intra-institutional fights the progressive movement is already deeply engaged in here in Philadelphia. By way of contrast, over at Young Philly Politics, Dan explains why it seems he has come down on Fattah's side, very much in terms connected to the idea of social justice. I disagree with Dan's definition of philosophy. What I really think he is describing is a difference in management style and bureaucracy organization, as both Nutter and Fattah think government should help the poor, just different parts of government. Nonetheless, I think Dan's post and my post are a decent explanation of the social justice vs. progressive movement divide Mike outlines.

The two groups can, and often do, end up working together, as this is something of a natural alliance. Many people probably move somewhat freely in and out of both groups, and have a real affinity for people on both "sides." However, there are also moments where the two groups break apart, as I think we saw in the blogosphere over the Iraq Accountability Act, as we can see in the Philadelphia mayoral race, and as we saw in 2003 between Kucinich supporters and certain types of Dean supporters. In the end, I'm not really sure if this is even a big problem, or if there is any need to somehow merge the two groups. I do at least think it is interesting to discuss, and that it adds another wrinkle into any generalized discussions of the broader progressive political ecosystem.


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