Friday, November 5, 2010

The most damaging roll call vote

Back in September, Steven Greene and I did some preliminary research finding that Democratic House members who had voted for health care reform were running about three points behind those who voted against it.  Well, now that the election is over, we figured we'd check to see how those candidates made out.

Using the same analysis we did last time, only predicting vote share rather than polling results, we find that Democratic House members who voted for health care reform did an average of 5.2 percentage points worse than those who voted against it.  This effect is statistically significant.  This is controlling for district partisanship and the members' ideal points (an estimation of their overall voting record).

Suffice it to say this is a huge effect.  As it turns out, of the 41 House Democrats we examined, nine eight of them who supported health reform ended up losing by less than 5.2 points: Carney (PA), Kilpatrick (AZ), Klein (FL), Mollohan (WV), Perriello (VA), Pomeroy (ND), Salazar (CO), Spratt (SC), Wilson (OH).  That is, the analysis suggests that had those folks voted against health reform, they'd still have jobs in Congress.  Now, this is a pretty simplistic analysis -- we don't know whether Democrats would have fared better or worse overall if health reform had failed, for example -- but it's still a pretty astonishing effect for one vote.

Conversely, we find that five Democratic members who did get reelected would be out of a job today if they'd voted yes on health reform.  These include Altmire (PA), Chandler (KY), Matheson (UT), McIntyre (NC), and Shuler (NC).

We ran the same analysis for two other controversial votes, the stimulus and cap-and-trade.  We found no statistically significant effect for either of those votes.  (This is somewhat different from Eric McGhee's findings, so Eric, Steve, and I will need to hammer this all out over beers in Chicago next April.)

Some caveats: This does not include the entire Democratic caucus -- just the 41 members from the 50 most conservative Democratic-held districts who were running for reelection.  We'll expand our analysis on this soon.  It also doesn't control for spending, although most analyses I've seen on that suggests the effect was kind of a wash.

I've done some previous reflection on how to interpret the fact that Democrats finally following through on a longstanding party commitment appears to have hurt them dearly.  For more on this, I'd suggest reading Jonathan Bernstein, who suggests that delivering on this goal was worth losing an election over. I still maintain that health reform will be popular and untouchable, along the lines of Social Security, in the coming decades, but we're not there now.  It's currently unpopular.  If it were popular, it would have happened a long time ago.  Instead, what it took was a determined and (relatively) unified party with sizable majorities in both chambers.  Going against public opinion is a big part of what strong parties do, and it's not surprising that there's occasionally a large price to be paid.


Richard Skinner said...

But Mollohan lost in the primary. How could his vote have hurt Mike Oliverio, who opposed ACA?

Seth Masket said...

Whoops, coding error. Like I said, the data are preliminary. Will revise shortly.

Richard Skinner said...

Striking how rural / old a list this is.

Richard Skinner said...

Doesn't this go some way to explaining the GOP over-performance in the House?

One could easily imagine how ACA could hurt marginal Democrats without lowering Obama's approval rating, which is about where one would expect to be with the current economic misery. After all, John Spratt / Earl Pomeroy / Chris Carney all owed their seats to the votes of ticket-splitting McCain supporters, who wouldn't have backed Obama anyway. But a pro-ACA vote could easily have lost their support.

bshor said...

Mollohan's primary loss could be interpreted in the same light, esp. since Oliverio was one of the MOST conservative democrats ever, and probably campaigned on the issue.

Also -- what about strategic retirements? These aren't counted here, but should be.

Richard Skinner said...

I would think that scandal would be enough to explain the defeat of Mollohan.

I don't see a large number of strategic retirements due to ACA. Bart Stupak? David Obey? Brian Baird? Dennis Moore?

Richard Skinner said...

Percentage of voters over 65:

Carney: 16.6%
Kirkpatrick: 14.6%
Klein: 19.9%
Perriello: 15.4%
Pomeroy: 14.5%
Salazar: 13.7%
Spratt: 12.4%
Wilson: 15.6%

Ben Bishin said...

Very interesting. I wonder if you might consider adding a more general party unity control a la the recent Carson, Lebo, and Koger AJPS, as I could see the result being more a function of that vs. health care per se? Of course given the split on health care, the data might lack the power to differentiate between the two.

commercial liability insurance said...

the statistics provided here are quite interesting are people against this are more then people in favour of this how this could be?i hope that data provided here is accurate

Insured Insurances said...

ahh! stunned to see the data..