The End of the 114th Congress

The 114th Congress has finally ended. The most polarized Congress since the early 20th Century and one where almost all issues have been drawn into the first dimension [we will address dimensionality in a future post; the current period is unique in American history].

In our last post cited above, we, like most other election watchers, assumed that Secretary Clinton was on a path to a certain victory over Donald Trump. This post would have dealt with what we anticipated to be certain splits within the Republican caucus of the House (we expected the Senate to be 50-50 or 49-51 in favor of the Democrats). All that has changed.

However, it is hard to see how some of President-Elect Trump’s policy positions can be reconciled with the views of the Republican Caucus in either Chamber. For example, in this blog post by Sam Quinones he discusses how the opioid epidemic is correlated with Donald Trump’s Performance in the Election [the analysis in the linked PDF is by Shannon Monnat of Penn State University]. As Quinones notes, these areas that strongly supported Trump will require “massive investment in drug treatment before they can be great again.” We called attention to Quinones’ work in a post early this year and in this op-ed by CDC Chief Thomas Friedman he discusses the seriousness of this epidemic.

Below is a smoothed histogram of the 114th House and Senate using our Constant Space DW-NOMINATE Scores. Note the gap between McConnell (R-KY) and Ryan (R-WI) and the gap between Pelosi (D-CA) and Schumer (D-NY). Add in the filibuster requirement of 60 votes on legislation and it is hard to see how Trump can pass meaningful social policy to help those areas that strongly supported him. Trump may be more successful with taxes and deregulation that would help his supporters but that remains to be seen. The 115th Congress will not be boring.

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House and Senate Means 1879 – 2016 (as of October 2016)

Revised 18 November 2016
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ANNOUNCEMENT — Jeff Lewis of UCLA will be taking over the 34 year long NOMINATE project from Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal effective at the end of this year. At that time this Blog and voteview.com will go to a new website at UCLA that will also incorporate the old Voteview-For-Windows Software. The k7moa.com website will be up until early 2018 to archive all of the data and unpublished papers/Monte Carlo studies done by Poole and Rosenthal in the past 34 years. We will post a notice on the PolMeth mail server as well as other outlets announcing the exact timing of the switch over. Poole and Rosenthal will be happy to answer questions but inquiries as of 2017 should be directed to Jeff Lewis and his outstanding group of programmers.
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The 114th Congress will pass into history in two months. Before it does there will be a lame duck session that, with Hillary Clinton’s almost certain victory [WHOA — Did we call that one wrong!!!] and Republican losses in both chambers, will likely wrap up in a matter of weeks. The small number of roll calls will not change the figures below that much.

Below we show the polarization series for the House and Senate using the Weekly CS DW-NOMINATE scores. The impact of the last three elections — 2010, 2012, and 2014 — on the Republican Party seems to have been the large influx of “Ted Cruz” Republicans. Polarization has jumped 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.

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The figures below show the means of the two parties in each Chamber on both dimensions over time. The House Republicans actually moderated very slightly in the 114th while the House Democrats show absolutely no difference between North and South and the two have converged. The slight uptick in polarization in the House is due to the leftward movement of the Democrats being slightly greater than the leftward movement of the Republicans.

The Senate for the most part tracks the House on the first dimension. The main difference is that there are still three Senators from the South (the eleven states of the Confederacy plus Kentucky and Oklahoma [CQ’s definition]). Those three [Nelson (D-FL), Kaine (D-VA) [who will be Vice President in January], and Warner (D-VA)] are more moderate than their Northern counterparts. Nonetheless, the Senate Democrats are moving to the left and the Senate Republicans are moving to the right thereby increasing polarization in the Senate at a faster rate than in the House.

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The Second Dimension at one time picked up conflict over Civil Rights for African Americans but, beginning in the early 1970s until the early 2000s “Social Issues” such as abortion and gun control (see Poole and Rosenthal, 1997; McCarty, Poole, and Rosenthal, February 2016). The Second Dimension has faded to insignificance but could make a come back with a possible split in the Republican Party during the 2016 elections.

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Alpha-NOMINATE applied to the 114th House (12 September 2016)

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 1200 total votes in the House as of the Thanksgiving recess of which 1039 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 0.99957 with a standard deviation of 0.000394 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. The respective Party leaders are near the modes of the two Parties.

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The next five plots show the estimated ideal points for the 436 scalable Representatives along with their 95% Credible Intervals. On the left, Representative Grijalva (D-AZ) is located at -2.376. His 95% credible interval runs from -2.577 to -2.182. The five Republicans on the right end are Duncan (R TN-2) at 2.086 (1.84 – 2.30), Huelskamp (R KS-1) at 2.14 (2.37 – 1.93), Massie (R KY-4) at 3.78 (3.94 – 3.61), Amash (R MI-3) at 4.03 (3.89 – 4.17), and Jones (R NC-3) at 8.845 (8.39 – 9.29).

Walter Jones is also the most extreme member of the 113th House. Indeed, many of the more extreme members of the Republican caucus continued into the 114th. With the volatile issue of Planned Parenthood funding holding up the funding for fighting the Zika virus it may prove difficult for Congress to pass a Continuing Resolution that would fund the Government past the upcoming Presidential election.

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(TO BE CONTINUED!)

The Presidential Square Wave Through the 113th Congress

Below we plot the first dimension DW-NOMINATE Common Space scores of the presidents in the post-war period, which we refer to as the “presidential square wave” due to its shape. An ideological score is estimated for each president throughout the entirety of their tenure in office by scaling their “votes” on a subset of roll calls on which they announce a position (measured using CQ Presidential Support Votes). Negative CS DW-NOMINATE scores indicate greater liberalism and positive scores indicate greater conservatism. The presidential scores are directly comparable across time and with members of Congress. However, there was a significant second dimension dealing with Civil Rights that lasted into the early 1990s. This will affect the first dimension scores of Presidents prior to George H. W. Bush.

These presidential CS DW-NOMINATE scores are estimated using all available CQ presidential support roll calls through 2015.

Very little has changed from the last presidential square wave. President Obama fits the spatial model estimated by CS DW-NOMINATE extremely well, with over 95% of his 803 “votes” correctly classified. Obama has moved very slightly rightward (-0.354) and is now just to the left of LBJ (-0.337) and right of Truman (-0.373), though this trio is virtually ideologically indistinguishable. President Eisenhower is the most moderate president (0.282) of the post-war era.

Among members of the 113th Congress, President Obama is very ideologically close to Representatives Stephen Lynch (D-MA) [-0.355] and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) [-0.352] in the House, and Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) [-0.350] and Mark Udall (D-CO) [-0.353] in the Senate.

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The Politics of Firearms Control

The first serious effort by the federal government to control firearms was The National Firearms Act of 1934 (for a detailed summary, see Anthony Madonna’s summary of the legislative history of the 1934 NFA). The bill was passed on 18 June 1934. The Act taxed the sale of machine guns, sawed off shotguns or rifles, and silencers. The NFA was a response to the notorious gangsters and bank robbers of the era — for example, John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde, and Pretty Boy Floyd (all were shot dead by law enforcement officers in 1934). The plague of gangsters who robbed banks and then fled across state lines led to Congress passing The Federal Bank Robbery Act of 1934 on 14 May 1934. This made it a federal crime to rob any national bank or state member bank of the Federal Reserve. This act allowed the FBI aided by local law enforcement officials to pursue bank robbers across state lines. The bill was passed by both Chambers by voice vote.

The debate over the NFA prefigures some of the debate taking place today. The decision to tax and register machine guns seemed to implicitly assume that individuals had the right to own firearms under the second amendment. Certainly firearm ownership was relatively widespread in the 19th Century in rural areas of the United States and Congress made no effort to limit their ownership. The wording of the second amendment is hotly contested in the 5-4 District of Columbia et al. v Heller (2008) decision. The five justices in the majority held that individuals had the right to own a personal firearm whereas the four justices in the minority held that this right was linked to membership in a (State) militia. Needless to say, each side constructed their arguments around different interpretations of the Founders’ intent and early history of the Republic.

The next significant Act that regulated firearms was the Gun Control Act of 1968. It was a response to the murders of President John F. Kennedy (22 November 1963), Dr. Martin Luther King (4 April 1968), and Robert F. Kennedy (6 June 1968 — he was shot by Sirhan Sirhan on 5 June 1968). President Kennedy was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald with a bolt action rifle. Dr. King was murdered by James Earl Ray with a bolt action rifle. And Robert Kennedy was murdered by Sirhan Sirhan with a 22 caliber pistol.

The 1968 Act finally banned mail order sales of rifles and shotguns and prohibiting most felons, drug users and people found mentally incompetent from buying guns. The key votes shown below were lopsided with majorities of both political parties supporting the law.

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President Johnson, echoing some of the debate of the 1934 NFA, when he signed the 1968 Act stated: I asked for the national registration of all guns and the licensing of those who carry those guns. Clearly he felt that national registration and licensing was Constitutional and did not violate the second Amendment.

The next significant piece of legislation on firearms control was The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act passed by Congress in 1993 and backed by former President Ronald Reagan. The Brady Bill required that background checks be conducted on individuals before a firearm may be purchased from a federally licensed dealer, manufacturer or importer with a five day waiting period before the purchase could be completed. The National Rifle Association opposed the law and managed to get a provision inserted that mandated the National Instant Criminal Background Check System be put into effect by 1998. This system is still in use.

The Brady Bill split both political parties internally. In the House the old (and dying) Conservative Coalition was against the Act but it still passed by a comfortable margin.

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Almost at the same time as the Brady Act was being considered a ban on Assault Weapons was also being debated. The attention to Assault Weapons (basically, military style semi-automatic rifles and pistols) began with a 1989 school yard shooting in Stockton, California and later a 1993 shooting in San Francisco, California. Both shooters appeared to have been insane and committed suicide rather than be captured. The Stockton shooting led President George H.W. Bush to ban all imports of Assault Weapons into the United States in 1989.

The votes on the Assault Weapons ban were closer than those for the Brady Bill. Once again, the votes split both political parties internally with the vote in the House being very close. In a preview of what was to come the Senate Democrats were more united in favor of Gun Control than House Democrats. The political parties were beginning to move to a polarized position on the issue of Gun Control.

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Next up was a push by firearms supporters for the protection of gun makers from civil lawsuits over the use of their guns in crimes. This was the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. The basic idea was to protect manufacturers from being sued because someone criminally used a firearm. As Senator Sanders (I-VT) put it during the 2016 Democratic Presidential Primary Campaign: “If somebody has a gun and it falls into the hands of a murderer and the murderer kills somebody with a gun, do you hold the gun manufacturer responsible? Not any more than you would hold a hammer company responsible if somebody beats somebody over the head with a hammer.”

The votes are similar to the Assault Weapons Ban only now the Republican Party is now almost completely pro-firearm while the Democratic Party is split. The high PRE values indicate that the issue is become more divisive and set the stage for the battles during the Obama Administration.

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During the Administration of President Obama a number of high profile shootings has raised the salience of gun control to a very high level. These shootings include the mass casualty shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, on 20 July 2012 (12 dead, the shooter, James Holmes, was later ruled to be insane), the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on 14 December 2012 (27 dead and the shooter, Adam Lanza, committed suicide [he had murdered his mother before he went to the school]), and most recently, the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida on 12 June 2016 (49 dead and the shooter, Omar Mateen, was shot dead by police).

In all three shootings semi-automatic weapons were legally obtained (in the Sandy Hook case, obtained by his Mother) and used by the shooters. In the cases of James Holmes and Omar Mateen a better background check system should have prevented them from buying the weapons they used in the shootings. Holmes had been seen by a Psychiatrist at the University of Coloradoand evidently “fantasized about killing a lot of people.” Mateen was known to the FBI but this evidently was not enough to flag him during a firearms background check. Consequently, recent legislative action in Congress has focussed on beefing up the background check system.

So far action has only occurred in the Senate. On Monday, 20 June the Senate voted on the Republican version of a beefed up background check system that would encourage states to share mental health records as part of the system. The Senate also voted on the Democrat version that would require a background check for most sales or transfers of guns.

Unfortunately, from 1934 when firearms control was unanimously supported by both parties, the issue has now fallen into the vortex of partisan polarization. Almost all sensible people agree that, at the least, the background check system should be considerably expanded to include persons on the “no fly list” and include records on individuals who are clearly insane. The devil is in the details. In the past when there were a substantial number of moderates in both parties this would be an easy question to resolve. Some sort of semi-judicial system should be set up to decide if someone was unfairly denied the right to purchase a firearm. But 2016 is an election year and gun control has become a deeply partisan issue. It is possible that there may be a compromise but that seems to be a long shot as things stand at the moment.

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The Whigs and The Republicans

The last time a major Political Party broke apart was in the early 1850s when the Whig Party collapsed because of the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise was an effort by Party leaders to settle the various controversies between North and South with a classic set of tradeoffs. The Compromise was made possible by the death of President Zachary Taylor on 9 July 1850.

The Compromise of 1850 was consisted of five separate bills. The first was to organize the Territory of New Mexico which was part of the Mexican Cession of 1848 that Mexico ceded to the U.S. in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  Texas claimed most of what is now New Mexico so the bill to organize the New Mexico Territory consisted of a payment to Texas for the land east of the Rio Grande River up to the modern border of Texas (this was approved by the Texas State Legislature).  The Federal Government also assumed Texas’ debt resulting from its War of Independence from Mexico.  In addition, slavery would be decided by the people of the Territory by Popular Sovereignty.  This was a rejection of the Wilmot Proviso that would have banned slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico in the Mexican War. It was proposed by David Wilmot (D-PA) in August of 1846. It passed in the House in 1846 and 1847 but was defeated in the Senate so it never became law. Although it was never passed by Congress it was very important to the Northern Anti-Slavery forces.

Below is the House vote on organizing the New Mexico Territory.  The roll call split Southerners with many Southern Democrats opposing the bill.  They opposed the reduction in the size of the slave state of Texas.  However, most Southerners voted for the bill because they felt the tradeoff of reducing Texas was worth being rid of the Wilmot Proviso and the chance of organizing New Mexico as a Slave state.

In Contrast to the Southerners, most Northerners voted against the bill but enough Northerners voted with the Southerners to squeeze the bill through the House.

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Second up was the admission of California as a Free state. This was an easy bill to pass simply because of the massive amount of gold flowing into the economy from California.  The opposition was mainly from Southern Democrats.

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The Utah Territory was organized on the same terms of New Mexico.

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The most controversial part of the Compromise for Northerners was the Fugitive Slave Law.  However, as shown below, it passed by a comfortable margin largely along sectional lines with significant Northern Democratic support but with substantial Northern Whig opposition.

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Finally, the Slave Trade but not Slavery itself was abolished in the District of Columbia.

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The Fugitive Slave Law roiled the Northern Whigs during 1851-52 and that marked the beginning of the unraveling of the Whig Party. The Party structure of the 32nd Congress (1851-52)  simply collapsed as documented by Joel Silbey’s
The Shrine of Party: Congressional Voting Behavior, 1841-1852 and Poole and Rosenthal (1997) chapters 3 and 5. This is shown in the roll call vote below which reaffirmed the support of the House for the Fugitive Slave Law.  Contrast this vote with those above.  The spatial structure of the parties has begun to collapse.  The absence of a “channel” between the two parties shows a lack of party line voting.  Indeed, only 75% of the voting is accounted for by two dimensions in the 32nd.

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What finally delivered the decisive blow to the Whig Party and set the course for bloody conflict until the Civil War itself broke out in April of 1861 was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The main dimension of conflict is now South (on the left of the first dimension) vs. North (on the right of the first dimension).

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Finally, echoing the analysis in Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting (chapter 5) by 1858 the Whigs were gone and the Republican Party had emerged as the unquestioned second major party to oppose the Democrats. The roll call below was on a proposal by the Democratic majority to postpone President Buchanan’s message on the admission of Kansas to the Union. The infamous Lecompton Constitution which was pro-slavery had lost in a referendum on 4 January 1858. The Kansas Constitution was accepted by the Senate but voted down in the House later in the year.

In the roll call below the Republican Party is on the anti-slavery (right side) of the first dimension and the pro-slavery forces are on the left side of the first dimension. The Whig Party was gone.

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As we argued in our last post the Republican Party in the House seems very likely to split into two factions as the result of the 2016 elections. Many Republican voters (enough to make Donald Trump the nominee) are angry at the Republican “Establishment” for not stopping President Obama on a variety of issues. The various charges that Paul Ryan is some sort of secret agent of “The Establishment” echo craziness from the days of None Dare Call it Treason (1964) and A Choice Not an Echo (1964) with their conspiracy theories about Communists and New York Bankers.

Unlike in the 1850s there is no second dimension of Congressional voting. Almost all issues — including lifestyle and affective — have been drawn into the first dimension. The split in the Republican Party will occur on this strange dimension that mixes economic and the classic “social” issues. Below is a figure we used in an earlier post showing a smoothed histogram of the 114th House:

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Suppose the split occurs somewhere to the right of Gowdy. Not everyone to the right of Gowdy listens to “talk radio from Area 51”. So some sorting out will occur between the two factions — traditional Republican Conservatives vs. “Conspiracy Republicans”. Assuming that Hillary Clinton wins the 2016 Presidential election, it is difficult to see how the Republican Party could ever again win the Presidency given the alienation of Hispanics, Blacks, and Social Liberals from the Republican Party. In addition, the traditional Internationalist Conservative Republicans will be willing to make deals with President Hillary Clinton to increase Defense Spending which will mean the end of the sequester. This will further divide the Republicans.

But what might finally trigger a realignment of the New Deal Party System are the obvious divisions in the Democratic Party that to this point have been papered over by their solid opposition to the Republicans. Income inequality has rapidly increased. The bottom 40% of the income distribution has not moved since the mid 1970s.

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Where has the money gone? To the mega-rich, especially the denizens of Wall Street who looted the economy leading up the the Great Recession. The graph below shows the spectacular run-up in wages in the Financial Sector (including insurance) relative to other sectors of the economy. No wonder all of the smart mathematics graduates from the Ivy League were lured to Wall Street!

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Finally, the runup in the share of income of the top 1% continues.

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What does this rapid rise in inequality mean for a President Hillary Clinton? Well, like Willie Sutton, she will have to go where the money is if she is going to fund all of her promises. That means she will have to steeply raise taxes on her supporters on Wall Street and the socially liberal rich. Good Luck!

The Coming Split in the House Republican Party in 2017

Although it is way to early to predict doom for the Republican Party, however, just as a snowball gets bigger when it is rolled down a hill, enough is now known that the Presidential election prospects look very bleak for the Republicans. Donald Trump is a Mountebank and will lose to Hillary Clinton with near certainty. Perhaps not as much as Barry Goldwater lost to President Johnson in 1964 or Senator McGovern lost to President Nixon in 1972, but Clinton’s victory will be at least as big as then Senator Obama’s victory over Senator McCain in 2008. If the Republican Convention in July maneuvers to give the nomination to Senator Ted Cruz (clearly the most unpopular member of Congress), Cruz will lose almost as badly as Trump and Trump’s die-hard supporters will be mad as hornets.

Assuming that the Senate flips back to the Democrats (unless there is a third Party Conservative candidate to provide cover for some of the vulnerable Republicans), how would a lopsided victory by Hillary Clinton affect the House Republicans? Suppose that Clinton subtracts 7% from every Republican’s two Party percentage from 2014 (the horizontal line in the figure below — my thanks to Gary Jacobson for suggesting this number), then the Republican Caucus would come in around 220 members. This would be enough to retain “control” but the Republican Party will be badly split by either the nomination of Trump or Cruz and it is safe to say that the far, far, right will be even less likely to be cooperative in passing necessary appropriations bills. Suppose this “suicide” caucus is to the right of 0.65 using CS DW-NOMINATE Scores and above the 57% line. This will leave 41 members to gum up the works in 2017.

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To get anything done, President Hillary Clinton will have to negotiate cross-party deals in the House. This, of course, will further infuriate the “suicide” caucus and it could lead to a permanent division within the Republican Party.

The last major Party to break up were the Whigs from 1851-1854. We may be living through an equally historic period. Time will tell.