Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Perils of Partisanship

Many people point to increasing partisanship in Washington for their dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in Washington with our elected officials.

These charts from Congressional Quarterly show the extent to which partisanship has become the rule rather than the exception in Washington compared to years past.  All of this can be found in CQ Roll Call's Vote Studies-2013 In Review.

For example, Senate Democrats voted together unanimously 52% of the time in 2013. There were no dissenting opinions or independent thinking by Democrats more than half of the time. Republicans voted as a bloc about 1/3 of the time.

Democrat=Blue, Republican=Red
Party Unanimity in the Senate

Notice that up until 1990 it was rare that either party voted unanimously together more than 10% of the time.

Here is the chart showing party unanimity in the House. The GOP voted together 35% of the time in 2013. The Democrats voted as a bloc 22% of the time.

Democrat=Blue, Republican= Red
Party Unanimity in the House

You see the same trends in average party unity scores.  This is the percentage of votes on which a member voted in agreement with a majority of his or her own party.

Senate Democrats set a record in 2013 with a 94% average party unity score. The comparable Republican score was 86%.

Democrat=Blue, Republican=Red
Average Party Unity Scores, Senate

It is important to look at this data as we have most of the Democratic Senate candidates across the country trying to desperately separate themselves from President Obama going into the mid-term elections this year.

However, the facts are clear that Democrats have supported Obama's agenda in an overwhelming fashion. They have also voted as a bloc for the liberal, progressive Democratic agenda like never before.

Let's look at the voting records of some of the Democrats who are now claiming that they hold far different views than President Obama as they run for re-election this year. Don't they know that their votes are recorded and reviewed?

Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) voted for Obama's position 97% of the time in 2013.

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) 97%

Senator Kay Hagan (D-North Carolina) 96%

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) 99%

Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) 97%

The attempts of Democrats to distance themselves from President Obama reached the heights of absurdity last week when Democrat Senate Candidate in Kentucky Alison Lundergan Grimes refused to answer four times when questioned whether she voted for Barack Obama for President in 2008 and 2012.

Grimes was actually a delegate for Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention though she was a delegate for Hillary Clinton in 2008.

Why is this important?

My view of elections, especially federal offices, is that most are decided by voters answering a simple question. Most people cannot organize and reconcile their views on a multitude of issues. Most people cannot answer complex questions. They look to answer a single question that is easy for them.

For example, consider this poll that I saw referenced last week of Millennials aged 18-29. 75% of Millennials said they identify themselves as "pro-choice" when it comes to abortion. However, 65% of Millennials in the same survey also said that "pro-life" describes them on the issue. Do you see what I mean?

That is one of the reasons there are political parties. It makes it easier to decide who to vote for even though most individuals probably do not agree with every single item in the party platform of the candidate they vote for.

I believe that for the most part when people vote (in particular the key swing "independent" voters) they consider simple questions and vote accordingly.

Think about the following successful campaigns of the past and the questions that were at the heart of the voting decision by key voters in those races.

1980 Ronald Reagan       "Are you better off now than you were four years ago"?

1992 Bill Clinton             "Who can feel your pain better"?

1994 Mid-Term               "Are you in favor of the Contract with America"?

2004 George Bush          "Has George Bush kept you safe since September 11, 2001?"

2008 Barack Obama       "Are you tired of George Bush?"

2010 Mid-Term               "Do you want to repeal Obamacare?"

2012 Barack Obama        "Do you trust a rich, white guy like Mitt Romney to look out for you?"

This is why the Democrats are trying so desperately to separate themselves from President Obama and avoid having this mid-term election be a referendum on the President and his policies.

However, Democrats can try to run away but it is difficult to hide a record that is more partisan than at almost any time in history and which it is almost impossible to find any daylight between Obama and Senate Democrats on almost every important issue.

It is also naive to believe that any newly elected Democrat (e.g. Alison Grimes, Michelle Nunn (GA), Greg Orman (KS), (yes, he is a Democrat!) would, or could buck, The White House or Harry Reid if they were elected. Therefore, a vote for any Democrat is really a vote for President Obama and Harry Reid. It is that simple. The numbers above don't lie.

The Democrats placed all their bets on Barack Obama and Harry Reid the last few years. They did not hedge or meet anyone half-way.

The bet is being called in this mid-term election.

Can they overcome the perils of partisanship?

We will soon find out.

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