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In the discussions of the current government shutdown, many have mentioned the death of moderation in the Republican Party, with a revanchist minority taking the reins of the party and its direction. This piqued my interest in looking at the ideological evolution of both parties and the asymmetric polarization that has defined the past few decades.

To get a look at asymmetric polarization in action, I decided to pore through the data on, which runs the DW-Nominate scoring system. The system provides a rank ordering of all of the members of the Senate and House in each Congressional session. Scores range from -1.000 (most liberal) to 1.000 (most conservative). You can read their methodology on the site linked above.

As is the case with any such scoring system, there are flaws. The most obvious and annoying one, in my opinion, is the fact that congresspersons are given only lifetime scores, so you can't see the evolution of a particular person's ideology. This also makes the rank-orderings of past Congresses imperfect because they are not treated as sessions frozen in time. The flaws of DW Nominate are perhaps most evident in the scoring of Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Gillibrand went from being a Blue Dog representative from upstate New York to a member of the liberal faction of the Senate Democrats, now representing the full state. DW Nominate does not account for this because it only provides a single score based on her full career.

Nevertheless, the scoring system is still quite useful for tracking trends over time.

Out of curiosity, I decided to track how many representatives of each party received a score more than 0.500 or more than 0.600 away from the center. Democrats with scores between -0.500 and -1.000 can be called liberal Democrats, and Republicans with scores between 0.500 and 1.000 can be called conservative Republicans.  The use of 0.600 adds another layer of intensity.

This allows us to see how strong the liberal faction of the Democratic Party and the conservative faction of the Republican Party are.

I decided to look at three Congressional sessions: the 100th (1987-1989), 106th (1999-2001), and 112th (2011-2013). The 113th session, the current one, has not been scored yet. This takes us from the end of the Reagan presidency to the end of the Clinton presidency to the present.

I tried to work with only the members currently seated at the end of the Congress so that I would not have any duplicates.

100th Congress

The 100th Congress had 254 Democrats and 178 Republicans at its end.

15 Democrats (5.9% of the caucus) had scores between -0.600 and -1.000.
42 Democrats (16.5% of the caucus) had scores between -0.500 and -1.000.

7 Republicans (3.9% of the caucus) had scores between 0.600 and 1.000.
26 Republicans (14.6% of the caucus) had scores between 0.500 and 1.000.

106th Congress

The 106th Congress had 210 Democrats and 222 Republicans at its end.

16 Democrats (7.6% of the caucus) had scores between -0.600 and -1.000.
54 Democrats (25.7% of the caucus) had scores between -0.500 and -1.000.

24 Republicans (10.8% of the caucus) had scores between 0.600 and 1.000.
59 Republicans (26.6% of the caucus) had scores between 0.500 and 1.000.

112th Congress

The 112th Congress had 191 Democrats and 240 Republicans at its end.

18 Democrats (9.4% of the caucus) had scores between -0.600 and -1.000.
51 Democrats (26.7% of the caucus) had scores between -0.500 and -1.000.

57 Republicans (23.8% of the caucus) had scores between 0.600 and 1.000.
113 Republicans (47.1% of the caucus) had scores between 0.500 and 1.000.


Across Congresses, the size of the liberal faction has been relatively the same; its share mainly fluctuates because of the size of the total caucus. The movement to the left of the mean DW Nominate score of the Democratic Party (which you can see on the website) is not a result of a stronger liberal faction, but rather a result of the disappearance of conservative Southern Democrats from the caucus.

The conservative faction of the Republican Party has seen substantial growth, both in terms of raw numbers and in terms of its share of the party. Conservative Republicans now make up almost half of the caucus.

Originally posted to Liberty Equality Fraternity and Trees on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 05:05 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Don't worry LEFT! Don't you know (8+ / 0-)

    That the moderate Republican Caucus is going to save us by voting for a clean CR?

    Hahahaha, I kid myself.

  •  possible extension (5+ / 0-)

    It might be cool to see what's happening to the people between -.1 and 0 for the Dems and .1 and 0 for the GOP reps. I suspect that you'll see those numbers go to zero for the GOP and near zero for the Dems. (You still have a few blue dogs, but moderate republicans are all but extinct.)

    •  Would be interesting (5+ / 0-)

      I was going to do that at first, too, but in 1988, there were some Democrats on the conservative side of 0 and Republicans on the liberal side of 0. I didn't want to have to confirm party identity.

      If we look at the number in each party within 0.200 of the center during the last Congress, we get the following:

      2 Republicans: Chris Smith (NJ-4) and Frank LoBiondo (NJ-2)

      12 Democrats:

      Heath Shuler (NC-11), Dan Boren (OK-2), Jim Matheson (UT-2 then, UT-4 now), John Barrow (GA-12), Joe Donnelly (IN-2), Collin Peterson (MN-7), Jason Altmire (PA-4), Jim Cooper (TN-5), Mike McIntyre (NC-7), Bill Owens (NY-23 then, NY-21 now), Mike Ross (AR-4), Larry Kissell (NC-8)

      Of those, only Matheson, Barrow, Peterson, Cooper, McIntyre, and Owens are in the 113th Congress.

  •  You said: (4+ / 0-)
    Gillibrand went from being a Blue Dog representative from upstate New York to a member of the liberal faction of the Senate Democrats, now representing the full state.
    I was not aware of Gilligrand's 'blue dog' status earlier in her career.....thanks for that micro-political-brackground.

    I would guess that there must be an interesting story that could be told about how and why Gilligrand made the political transition that she did.

    •  She came from (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bastrop, Matt Z, LakeSuperior, pademocrat

      an area where there were somewhat mixed political demographics to being a senator from New York.

      The state as a whole is lot more democratic than the area she was representing at first.  Her switch was almost instantaneous.

      Pointless background. I was doing my first masters in an area covered by her election campaign. I could not stand her commercials. Not the other guy was better but I was a bit stunned when they appointed her.

      To be honest she has turned out rather ok. But my personal opinion is that she lacks charisma.  

    •  She's done a dramatic left turn (8+ / 0-)

      and she did it with no explanation, but I can supply one.

      She's a very smart and opportunistic politician (also a kickass fundraiser) and when she was appointed to the seat previously held by Hillary Clinton, she recognized that her best chance for retaining the position when she had to be elected to it was to represent her whole constituency, including New York City.

      Sometimes opportunism can be a good thing in a politician.

      "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

      by sidnora on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 08:50:42 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for this background. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        sidnora, Matt Z, LakeSuperior

        This a very interesting diary with such insightful comments.

        Turning Texas starts with Wendy Davis.

        by bastrop on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 10:40:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  I like her. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        It's not merely that she has shifted to the left. She is also an aggressive, leading-edge spokesperson for those positions. She is usually one of the first to speak out against attacks on women, on LGBT people, on voting rights, and sane gun laws.

        She's not only to the left of Hillary, I think she's a much more effective spokesperson for a lot of the issues troubling us. She's the one I want for President.

        Ed FitzGerald for governor Of Ohio. Women's lives depend on it.

        by anastasia p on Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 10:58:23 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I like her too. (0+ / 0-)

          In fact i like her better than Hillary, and I would also rather have her for President. As her constituent, I feel like she represents me in ways that Hillary never did.

          I realize that calling someone an opportunist is not generally considered a compliment. Perhaps I should have said "pragmatic", but either way, she is an officeholder who sees her job as representing her constituency, rather than deeply-held views of her own.

          In order to appreciate what's good about that, just look at the the Looney Tunes Caucus in the House, who are fiercely wedded to their crack-brained views, not just on opposing and obstructing, but also on things like climate change, women's reproductive health and evolution.

          "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

          by sidnora on Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 05:08:47 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Interestingly, this is not the first time... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ...this happened in New York.

        I think I read somewhere that when Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, Governor Rockefeller appointed a Republican House member to replace him.

        This GOP Congressman had a conservative voting record in the House. However, upon representing all of New York State, especially from "Robert Kennedy's" Senate seat, he quickly moved to the left and became one of the more liberal members of the Republican Party.

        •  That would be (0+ / 0-)

          Charles Goodell, and while he did move to the left once appointed, he didn't start out all that conservative to begin with. Gillibrand went from a gun-toting upstater to a cosmopolitan champion of equal rights seemingly overnight. I'm not complaining, however.

          "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

          by sidnora on Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 03:58:08 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Very interesting (11+ / 0-)

    to see a quantitative measure of ideology applied to the Congress.  With the evidence you provide here, it's tough to deny that the GOP really has veered way to the right.  Further, it makes clear that claims that "both parties have moved to the extremes" are a pile of crap.

    -5.13,-5.64; GOP thinking: A 13 year path to citizenship is too easy, and a 5 minute background check is too burdensome. -- 1audreyrenee

    by gizmo59 on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 05:40:36 PM PDT

  •  Nicely done, thanks. n/t (6+ / 0-)

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Sun Oct 06, 2013 at 08:19:40 PM PDT

  •  150 years of American Politics (24+ / 0-)

    in 5 sentences:

    The North was no longer willing to allow the expansion of slavery, so Lincoln was elected and the Civil War resulted.  For 110 years after the Civil War southerners voted Democratic without  much regard to ideology, while for 50 years Northerners tended to vote Republican.  Industrialization lead to the rise of Progressive forces at the turn of the century, these forces allied themselves with Democrats under FDR. FDR's coalition was blown apart by its successors embrace of civil rights resulting in southerners voting GOP, first in Presidential Elections and then in Congressional elections.  The increasing southern dominance in the GOP lead to a reaction in the north and west, which became increasingly Democratic.

    The parties are much more ideologically AND geographically homogenous - one can argue they look more like parties in the UK.  

    If you want to understand American Politics look at this map:

     photo 1863.jpg

    Consider this:
    In 2000 Gore carried every state Lincoln did except Indiana, Ohio  and New Hampshire (lost VERY narrowly)
    In 2004 Kerry lost Iowa, Ohio and Indiana
    In 2008 Obama carried every state Lincoln did
    In 2012 Obama lost on Indiana of the states Lincoln carried

    Maryland and Delaware have been turned blue by the spread of industrialization, they were southern in 1860 and were not by 2000. A similar process is underway in Virgina, and to a lesser extent in North Carolina.

    A serious case can be made that the natural state of American Politics is the map of 1860.  There were distortions at diffirent times, but in general the story of the country is a fight between city and town, and between north and south.

    Here is something else: historically when politics is split in this way trouble results.

  •  "Discourse assessment" (4+ / 0-)

    A worthy project for a university group (not an individual, unless the individual wishes to go insane early) would be to take a look at press releases, letters to the district, and appearances on national/regional radio/television and score these according to:
    1. Conformity to other statements made by party members, with identity at 0 and no contact at 100,
    2. Reference to labor, management; environment, growth, research; federal, state, local, district governance; education, etc.
    3. References to abstractions identified as abstractions ("liberty" or "equality" or "fairness" or "accountability") that have an alliance with the discourse of one party in a given cycle.
    Plus others, of course.

    The goal would be to establish a sort of internal whipping, whereby conformity and communication are placed at odds with one another and whereby radicalization can take place at a district level without reflecting or referring to the district voters.

    My hypothesis, of course, would be that the "Reagan revolution" was about "messaging": the art of repeating an abstraction endlessly while doing whatever the heck you want.

    Everyone's innocent of some crime.

    by The Geogre on Mon Oct 07, 2013 at 05:52:32 AM PDT

  •  Although I find your analysis interesting... (0+ / 0-)

    the flaws you point out make it almost unusable.  Because there is only two categories for each party; moderate and extreme, it ignores the ultra extreme members and the ultra morerate (e.g. blue dogs) in the parties and their overall effect on the overton window. Plus, it does not define exactly what is considered to be the center in which we are judging the distance from. The author noted that as well and it is a very good diary because those issues were duly noted.

    While also agreeing that there is no real good way to quantify liberal or conservative, I think it is helpful to look at the overall handling of similar pieces of legislation to offer a comparrison.  Take for example the healthcare bills we have seen offered and the arguments for and against them.  Back in the early nineties, democrats pushed for a single payer type of healthcare bill that would make our system similar to the successful programs in Canada and Europe.  The republicans offered something very similar to what is now called the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  Republicans denounced Hillary Clinton's proposal as Socialist and Marxist and a government takeove and yada, yada, yada.  The democrats called the Republican plan a giveaway for the insurance companies, a cruel punishment for the poor for not having enough money to buy insurance, ineffective and said it did not go far enough to help enough people.

    Twenty years later, the democrats offer up the Affordable Care Act and the Rebulicans say that it is a Socialist and Marxist and a government takeove and yada, yada, yada.  The Republicans literally cheer for letting people without healthcare die from preventable causes.  I don't know about you but I notice a small shift in philosophies there.  

    If the former left is now championing the former right's position and the former right is not championing the former Satan's position, where exactly is the successor to the progressive ideology?  

    "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour..."

    by Buckeye Nut Schell on Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 05:21:43 AM PDT

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