Saturday, September 18, 2010

How much did the health care vote hurt?

There was much speculation at the time of the passage of the Affordable Health Care for America Act that a yes vote might put Democratic House members from moderate districts in greater danger of electoral defeat.  Voters are known to punish members for being ideologically out of step, but would one particular roll call vote matter?  (Steven Greene suggested this idea to me -- blame him for this particular act of inception.)

To see how House members were doing, I used's brilliant election forecasting site.*  I decided to look at the members from the 50 most conservative congressional districts (as measured by the 2008 vote for McCain) that are represented by Democrats.  These range from Florida's 22nd (represented by Ron Klein), where McCain got 48 percent of the vote, to Mississippi's 4th (represented by Gene Taylor), where McCain pulled 68 percent.

Out of the original 50 districts, only 41 had members who cast a vote on health care reform and are running for reelection.  If we just divide these members based on their health care votes, those who voted for health reform are running 2.7 percentage points behind those who voted against it.  But, of course, we should control for other things, especially district conservatism, since those from the more conservative districts voted almost uniformly against reform.  I also included the members' DW-NOMINATE scores to distinguish the health care vote from the members' overall voting records.

What I found was that Democratic supporters of health care reform are running 3.2 percentage points behind Democratic opponents.  (This is statistically significant at the p≤.05 level.) That's a three percentage-point penalty resulting from a single roll call vote.  I would describe that number as large.  Most members of Congress win by much greater margins than that, of course, but for Democratic incumbents from conservative districts in a distinctly anti-Democratic year, three points is serious business.  Indeed, of the 41 Democrats I examined, only six are currently forecast to win by more than three points (and none of those voted for health care reform).

*The 538 forecasting site is far from perfect, and I question some of their results.  For example, they suggest that Rep. John Salazar in Colorado's 3rd will only get 48 percent of the vote, which I think understates his support significantly.  But they're depending on polling, which is pretty scant in most congressional races.  Regardless, 538's site is far and away the best thing going on out there in terms of House election forecasting.  Thanks to Wesley Hussey for the tip.

Update: The data are available here.


Jeff Lazarus said...

That's really interesting analysis. There's one piece that I know of which looks at the electoral effects of individual votes (Bovitz & Carson, in the 2006 PRQ I think). Your finding is at the upper end of the range they come to, which makes sense given the extreme salience of the issue.

Winning Progressive said...

On the merits, this is a bizarre result, as health care reform is a serious effort to save a truly broken health care system. I, for one, am glad insurance companies can no longer deny people coverage if they have pre-existing conditions, and will be rewarding Democrats with my support for taking this hard vote back in March.

tillkan said...

Of course this is happening, I and other people predicted that this piece of Heritage foundation crap of a Republican health care bill would not be popular. The only chance of getting past the demagoguery would have been medicare-for-all because people actually know what it is. It would have had a bottom of 50% support and likely more.

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I wouldn't put Scott Tipton's chances of winning in CD-3 at more than 30%, and wouldn't put Ryan Frazier's chance of winning in CD-7 at more than 15%. The incumbent Democrats in these races have won by large margins against tougher opponents in these districts and the challengers are underfunded and underwhelming.

Cory Gardner certainly has the strongest chance of flipping a district this year, in CD-4, but the odds are closer to even (perhaps 55% at most) than decisively in his favor as indicated at 538.

Likewise, the odds of Ken Buck winning according to 538 are about 72%, but in my view that race is close to 50-50.

The common denominator in the mispolling is that the enough of polling models for polls that are being used in the estimates are overestimating GOP turnout, particularly in light of the bleak chances of a GOP win in the Governor's race and GOP disavowal of ballot issues designed to stir up Republican support (like 60, 61 and 101).

The results for Colorado are so off base that it is hard to take the national results seriously.

Chad Murphy said...

I added an interactive term of healthcare * ideology to the model, and for these districts, (if I'm reading it correctly) the more liberal an MC is, the more they get punished by the voters for the healthcare vote.

presvote = 0.030
healthvote = -1.6987
nominate = -16.02
health*nominate = 9.693

Seth Masket said...

Thanks for the tip, Chad. The interaction isn't statistically significant, but it's still an interesting finding. I should probably expand the analysis to the whole House, or at least the whole Dem caucus, to get a better sense of what's going on there.

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