Polarization Continues Through 2015

The first session of the 114th Congress was slightly more polarized than the 113th Congress. However, what is important about the polarization graph below is the impact of the last three elections 2010, 2012, and 2014, on the Republican Party. The large influx of “Ted Cruz” Republicans has caused polarization to jump sharply from the first two years of President Obama’s first term. Polarization in the House may have leveled off (see below) but the Senate increase is much larger than the House. These results are from our final set of Weekly CS DW-NOMINATE Scores where the House and Senate are scaled together and each unique member of Congress receives a single score on the first and second dimensions.

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The figure below shows the means of the two parties in each Chamber over time. For the most part the Senate means are more to the interior than the House means (the bright blue and bright red lines) but not always. In the last two elections, the Republican caucus in the Senate has become as conservative as the Republican caucus in the House. In contrast, Democratic Senators are clearly more moderate than their House counterparts.

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Given how extreme Republican primary voters have evidently become (the base of the Party), it should be no surprise that a steady movement to the Right by Republicans coupled with the emergence of talk radio and now various social media platforms, that the Presidential nominating process has been “hijacked” by the extremes. In short, we may finally becoming to the end of the polarization that began in the 1970s simply because the Republican Party may fracture in 2016.

No Child Left Behind is Left Behind

On 10 December 2015 President Obama signed a major re-write of the No Child Left Behind Act passed in 2001. No Child Left Behind had become controversial because of its mandatory standardized testing with aid to school districts tied to the testing results. The Obama administration also wanted to tie incentive pay to teachers based on the testing results. The bill also prohibits the Federal Government from imposing Common Core which is widely opposed by Conservatives and allows States great flexibility in imposing education standards. The new law passed by very large margins in both the House and Senate because it made Democrats and Labor Unions and most Republicans happy.

Only the extreme Conservatives in the House and Senate opposed the Act. In the House there were 64 No votes all from Republicans. Although the PRE is only 0.28 most of the “errors” are close to the cutting line:

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In the Senate there were only 12 No votes, and again, all from Republicans. The PRE is 0.33 and the “errors” are all close to the cutting line:

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The Transportation Bill Finally Passes

Congress finally approved a Transportation Authorization Bill on Thursday, 3 December 2015. The Bill authorizes $305 Billion dollars over a five year period. The $305 Billion would come mostly from the gasoline tax (which has not been raised since 1993) and partly from other “gimmicks” such as raiding the Federal Reserve’s reserve fund. The Bill also authorizes $10 Billion for Amtrak, and it allows Amtrak to pour the profits from the popular Acela Northeast Corridor route back into infrastructure improvements in the corridor (which are very badly needed). The bill also revives the Export-Import Bank and includes a host of other provisions for urban rail transportation and railroad oil tank car safety standards supported by the American Association of Railroads.

Below is the final passage vote in the House. The vote was 350-65 with the 65 “Nays” coming primarily from Conservative Republicans. Nonetheless, the vote has a respectable PRE of 0.32.

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In the Senate the bill passed 83-16 (Sanders (I-DE)) did not vote. Here two Democrats, Warren (D-MA) and Carper (D-DE) voted “Nay” along with 14 mostly Conservative Republicans. Note that the cutting line could be moved slightly to the left and reduce the number of errors from 10 to 7. However, CS DW-NOMINATE is a probabilistic model so that moving the cutting line slightly to the left would result in all the probabilities of the “Yea” voters to become slightly smaller. Optimal Classification would position the cutting line to maximize the correct classification because it is not a probabilistic procedure.

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alpha-NOMINATE on the 114th House (Update)

Update: 3 December 2015. While we await the completion of voting this week we revisit the latest results from alpha-NOMINATE. A multidimensional version of alpha-NOMINATE will be completed within a few months and we will be showing both one and two dimensional results when it is completed.

As we discussed in earlier posts, alpha-NOMINATE is a new form of NOMINATE that is fully Bayesian and is meant to replace W-NOMINATE which is now about 33 years old (the multidimensional version, written by Nolan McCarty and Keith Poole is almost 25 years old). NOMINATE was designed by Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal during 1982-1983. It used a random utility model with a Gaussian deterministic utility function (see pages 14 – 15 of the linked 1983 paper) and logistic error (random draws from the log of the inverse exponential). The Gaussian deterministic utility function is able to capture non-voting due to indifference and alienation.

Alpha-NOMINATE is a mixture model in which legislators’ utility functions are allowed to be a mixture of the two most commonly assumed utility functions: the quadratic function and the Gaussian function assumed by NOMINATE. The “Alpha” is a parameter estimated by Alpha-NOMINATE that varies from 0 (Quadratic Utility) to 1 (Gaussian Utility). Hence, in one dimension with Alpha = 0, Alpha-NOMINATE is identical to the popular IRT model. Thus Alpha-NOMINATE can actually test whether or not legislators’ utility functions are Quadratic or Gaussian.

Below we apply Alpha-NOMINATE to the 114th House. There have been 643 total votes in the House as of the Thanksgiving recess of which 569 are scalable (at least 2.5% in the minority; that is, votes that are 97-3 to 50-50). We used the R version of Alpha-NOMINATE to perform the analysis. We used 4000 samples from a slice sampler in one dimension with a burn-in of 1000. The first graph shows the Trace and Density plots for alpha.

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The mean of alpha is 0.99987 with a standard deviation of 0.000013 strongly indicating that the Representatives’ utility functions were Gaussian.

Below is a smoothed histogram of the 3000 configurations after burn-in. The divide between Democrats and Republicans is a very deep one.

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