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.

More on The Divisions in House Republican Party (March 2016)

To recap: 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 getting close to being 34 years old (the multidimensional version, written by Nolan McCarty and Keith Poole, is over 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 the 114th House through mid-March 2016. There have been 834 total votes of which 718 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 0.99986 with a standard deviation of 0.00014 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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Of more interest, however, are the clear divisions in the Republican Party shown in the smoothed histogram. The gap between Speaker Ryan and the head of the Freedom Caucus Jim Jordan (R-OH) is very wide. Given the turmoil in the Republican Presidential Nominating process, it is growing harder and harder for Speaker Ryan to restore “regular order” and pass a budget. With Hillary Clinton leading both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in the polls and the competition between Trump and Cruz to gain the 1237 delegates they need for the nomination likely to drag out until at least May and perhaps even to the convention in July, this is likely to paralyze the House Republican Party for some time. This potential paralysis has motivated one of the members of the Freedom Caucus, Paul Gosar (R-AZ), to lead an effort to stop any post-Presidential Election or “Lame Duck” session of Congress for fear that spending “deals” would be struck by the leaders of both Political Parties. Depending on the state of the Presidential race in September this issue could get entangled with Presidential campaign politics. (The House is scheduled to go into recess on September 30th.) All in all, it will not be a boring year!

The next five plots show the estimated ideal points for the 435 Members who served during the 114th through mid-March along with their 95% Credible Intervals. Furthest left is Grijalva (D-AZ) at -2.38 followed by Lee (D-CA) at -2.16. On the far right are Massie (R-KY) at 4.16, Amash (R-MI) at 4.52, and Jones (R-NC) at 5.73.

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How Would the GOP Contenders Fare in a Matchup with Hillary Clinton?

The 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) Pilot Study asked respondents who they would vote for in a series of randomized general election matchups between Hillary Clinton and a series of Republican candidates (we focus on Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio). Bernie Sanders and John Kasich were not included in these matchups.

We model respondents’ choices between Hillary Clinton and the Republican candidate across the treatments of Trump, Cruz, or Rubio as the nominee. We include party ID, ideology, education, income, gender, race, and trade attitudes as predictor variables, also estimating interaction effects between GOP candidate, party ID, and education/trade attitudes/gender in a bivariate probit model.

Below we plot the interaction effects on predicted probabilities of supporting the Republican candidate. The main finding is that Trump divides the electorate by gender, education, and trade attitudes like no other. Among independents (coded “4” on the party ID scale), for instance, there are huge gaps in predicted Trump support on each of these variables. Across party identification, women, those with college/postgrad degrees, and voters supportive of free trade agreements are much less likely to support Trump than men, those with high school degrees or less, and voters opposed to free trade agreements.

These findings, of course, are hardly surprising, although the magnitude of the effects took us aback. If Trump is the GOP nominee, his path to victory would rely on the bloc of the electorate least likely to vote. Based on weighted values from the 2016 ANES Pilot Study, only 38% of independents with a high school diploma or less said they voted in the 2012 election (which, as a self-report measure, is itself an overestimate). This is a meaningful slice of the electorate—comprising about 6% of all voters, again with weights applied—but one whose turnout has historically lagged. Hence, the real uncertainty surrounding a Trump nomination.

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NOTE: “1” indicates less than high school education, “6” indicates postgrad degree.



NOTE: “1” indicates strong opposition to free trade agreements, “7” indicates strong support.

Multidimensional Scaling of Feeling Thermometers from the 2015 CCES and 2016 ANES Pilot Study

Below, we use a multidimensional scaling method (metric unfolding) to analyze feeling thermometers data from two recent national public opinion surveys: the 2015 Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) and the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) Pilot Study. Both surveys asked respondents to rate their feelings towards candidates and groups (for example, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Muslims) on a 100 point scale. We transform the thermometer ratings into distances and produce a spatial map of the results, much as we would to produce a map of cities from on a spreadsheet of driving distances between the cities.

The results are shown below, with the survey respondents marked as “D”, “R”, and “I” based on their party identification. In both plots, the first dimension (the horizontal axis) represents the familiar partisan-ideological divide, separating liberal/Democratic groups and candidates from conservative/Republican groups and candidates. Groups like scientists and college professors are placed in the center-left, while groups like the police are placed center-right.

We suspect that the second dimension is tapping into establishment vs. outsider divisions in both parties: between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders among Democrats, and between Donald Trump and the other candidates (particularly Jeb Bush) among Republicans. Trump is preferred by the larger cluster of Republican voters in the top-right quadrant of both plots, while Bush is preferred by the smaller clusters of Republicans in the bottom-right quadrants. Cruz and Rubio are both somewhere in between.

Within the parties, respondents’ relative preferences between the candidates do not appear to follow a traditional liberal-conservative divide, but are structured along a separate dimension—perhaps involving establishment vs. outsider attitudes and preferences on cross-cutting issues like free trade.

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The Francis Vote?

Even before this week, Republican voters were split over Pope Francis and Donald Trump. In the 2015 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we asked respondents to rate a variety of political groups and figures (including Pope Francis and Donald Trump) on a 100-point “feeling thermometer,” with higher values corresponding to more favorable evaluations.

Below, we divide the roughly 250 Republican and Republican-leaning respondents in the survey into two groups: those who rate Trump higher than Francis, and those who rate Francis higher than Trump. We then split respondents by whether they rate Trump, Cruz, or Rubio most highly on the feeling thermometers.

Two things are clearly seen in the plot: most Republicans (about 2/3) rated Trump more highly than Francis (this survey was fielded in late 2015); and Trump (naturally) wins the Trump greater than Francis group, while Rubio is the big winner in the Francis greater than Trump group.

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Next, we look at which types of voters comprise the two groups in the GOP. We specify a binary probit regression model in which the response variable is coded 1 if the respondent prefers Francis to Trump, and 0 if the respondent prefers Trump to Francis. Below we present the effects of a series of variables (all coded to range between 0 and 1) in terms of the change in predicted probability of a Republican respondent being in the pro-Francis group.

Not surprisingly, conservative immigration attitudes most strongly predict pro-Trump dispositions, while education increases the probability of preferring Pope Francis to Trump.

Catholic identity has perhaps the most intriguing effect: whether or not Republican Catholics are more likely to side with Pope Francis over Donald Trump depends on level of religious activity and involvement. Those who are most active (in the top half of a religiosity scale comprised of level of prayer, church attendance, and personal religious salience) are more likely (about 35% more likely) than other Republicans (including less religiously active Catholic Republicans) to rate Pope Francis more highly than Donald Trump.

This might seem a fairly obvious finding (more active Catholics are more strongly committed to the Pope), but Pope Francis has also stood out in his appeal to non- and lapsed Catholics (the so-called Francis Effect). However, there is no apparent Francis effect (at least as it involves feelings vis-a-vis Trump) among Republican Catholics.

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The Presidential Contenders: 6 February 2016

Below we show a smoothed histogram of the 114th House (red and blue) and Senate (dark red and dark blue) using our Constant-Space DW-NOMINATE Scores. In the graph we show the current contenders for the Democrat and Republican Presidential Nomination along with some other legislators and President Obama (as a Senator) for reference. We cannot show Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Chris Christie, or Carly Fiorina because they never served in Congress.

Bob Dole, who was the Republican nominee in 1996, is almost at the same location as John Kasich who served in the House from 1983-2001. Both were moderates compared to current Republicans in both Chambers. Ted Cruz is very extreme and unless there was a multi-candidate election it is hard to see how he could win nationally.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton (as a Senator), Joe Biden (as a Senator), and President Obama (as a Senator) are practically indistinguishable. To their left is Bernie Sanders but anchoring the far Left of the Democrats is Elizabeth Warren.

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If Hillary Clinton were to exit the race, despite the enthusiasm of the Democratic base for Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, clearly Vice President Biden would be more competitive nationally. But this is a strange year and we are a long way from November.

The Divisions in the House Republican Party

(Clarifications made 0020UCT 9 January 2016)

To recap: 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 first Session of the 114th House. There were 705 total votes in the during the first Session of which 614 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 0.99986 with a standard deviation of 0.000014 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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Of more interest, however, are the clear divisions in the Republican Party shown in the smoothed histogram. Ryan Lizza in a recent article in the New Yorker, 14 December 2015, discusses these divisions in a particularly lucid fashion. He quotes Charlie Dent (R-PA, CS DWNOM Score of 0.243 on the first dimension) that there are 70-100 Republicans like himself that will vote with the Democrats to pass the Omnibus bills to keep the government running, 70-80 “hope yes, vote no’ Republicans, who voted against those bills but secretly hoped they would pass; and the the 40-60 members of the rejectionist wing, dominated by the Freedom Caucus, who voted against everything and considered government shutdowns a routine part of negotiating with Obama” (p. 37). The Rejectionist wing’s de facto leader is Ted Cruz (R-TX, CS DWNOM Score of 0.975).

Fueled by talk radio the Rejectionists would shut the government down until their demands are met no matter what the cost. Essentially, the House Republicans are being held hostage by these extreme True Believers. Cruz is running a sophisticated campaign for the Republican nomination and it is conceivable that he could win. Cruz suffers from the same delusion as Barry Goldwater in 1964. Out “there” are millions of dissatisfied voters who suddenly will flock to the polls when a “true” conservative is nominated (see, Converse, Clausen and Miller, 1965. “Electoral Myth and Reality: The 1964 Election.” American Political Science Review, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Jun., 1965), pp. 321-336). The first page of that 1965 article is eerie because it could easily be read as a description of the current debate within the Republican Party.

The reality is that there are not millions of Republicans who will flock to the polls to vote for either Ted Cruz (the most despised Man in the Senate) or Donald Trump. As Bret Stephens advises Wall Street Journal readers in his Global View column on 22 December 2015 “Let’s Elect Hillary Now,” he sees the Republican Party losing on the scale of 1972. If so, there will be a decisive turn towards European style Social Democracy (i.e., a vast increase in social programs and greatly increased taxation) under Hillary Clinton (CS DWNOM Score of -0.373 as Senator from New York). However, to make things even more complicated, Bernie Sanders (I-VT, CS DWNOM Score of -0.513) may very well upset Clinton in Iowa and win New Hampshire. Clinton is the overwhelming favorite but is widely distrusted by the public (for example, Bill Clinton’s escapades are beginning to resurface — a particularly toxic one is the Juanita Broaddrick rape allegation). Nevertheless, the smart money is on Clinton and a crackup of the Republican Party.

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.

Cars, the Federal Reserve, and Refugees

The House this week passed three politically important bills. The first was concerned with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and its attempt to regulate car loans. The second is a bill to reform the Federal Reserve. Finally, the third is aimed at tightening the vetting rules for the large number of refugees that are likely to come to the U.S. within the next two years.

The “Reform/Audit the Fed” bill was preceded by a strong bipartisan vote of 332 – 96 to stop the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau from using statistical discrepancies to punish auto dealer loans. A coalition of Civil Rights organizations strongly opposed the measure. The CFPB is, for all practical purposes, immune to Congressional Control as its budget comes directly out of the budget for the Federal Reserve. As a consequence there is little Congress can do to stop its regulatory actions under divided government. But the CFPB actions against auto dealer loans has struck a nerve since auto dealers are in every Congressional District and the practical effect of the rule will be to raise interest rates for car loans. This vote is shown below:

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Eighty-Eight Democrats voted for the bill and 96 Democrats voted against. The APRE on this roll call is a very respectable 0.57 and the “errors” for the most part are close to the cutting line.

The “Fed Oversight Reform and Modernization (FORM) Act of 2015” is basically concerned with forcing the Federal Reserve to use a fixed formula to set interest rates. Republicans, for the most part, are suspicious of the Federal Reserve’s actions in the past few years even though many of them joined with many Democrats to pass the Troubled Asset Relief Program near the height of the financial crisis in October of 2008. Republicans almost all opposed the Dodd-Frank Act passed in July 2010. Part of the unease with the Federal Reserve is its policy of near zero interest rates with a balance sheet of $4 Trillion. This has fueled populist attacks from members of both political parties. However, this vote was largely along party lines and will likely not make the 60 vote threshold in the Senate:

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The Third important vote this week was on a bill to tighten the procedures for vetting refugees. In light of the terrorist attack in Paris members of both parties are queasy about letting in large numbers of Syrian refugees. This bill passed by a substantial margin with 42 Democrats voting for it and only 2 Republicans voting against it:

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This vote has a very high PRE of 0.8 and splits the Democratic Party. The chances of its passage by a veto proof majority of 67 in the Senate appear to be remote.

Complicating the issue of the Syrian Refugees and the CFPB vs. the car dealers, is that Congress must pass a bill funding the government by December 11 or there will be yet another Government Shutdown. These two issues are almost certainly going to be put in the funding bill as policy riders and this will trigger a confrontation with President Obama (and likely the Senate Democrats with the 60 vote threshold). Complicating matters is that Speaker Ryan does not trust President Obama and they have had a rocky relationship. Although Speaker Ryan does not want to have a government shutdown he has warned President Obama that he is not afraid to do so over some key issues such as Guantanamo Bay. So, Ho Ho Ho, another exciting Christmas may be ahead!