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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More on Polarization Through the 114th

A number of people have requested that we provide “regular” DW-NOMINATE scores for the House and Senate using the dynamic two-dimensional model through calendar 2015. We have computed these and will post them on our data for friends page this weekend.

Below we show the polarization series for the House and Senate separate scalings. This graph is almost identical to the one in our post a few weeks ago using the Weekly CS DW-NOMINATE scores. As we noted in that post, 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 first session of 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), 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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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!

Speaker Boehner Exits Stage Right

Speaker Boehner kept his promise to make the life of his successor a bit easier by brokering a compromise budget bill that extends the Debt Ceiling until March 2017 and lifts the sequester caps to allow an addition $80 billion in spending on Defense and domestic programs. Although the bill is loaded with many “Christmas Tree Decorations” it should ensure that there is no government shutdown or a major fiscal crisis before the 2016 Presidential Election.

Below we use our Weekly Constant Space DW-NOMINATE Scores to show the budget votes in the House and Senate. In both chambers the fit in terms of Aggregate Proportional Reduction in Error (APRE) is reasonably good. Note that the vote splits the Republican Party in each Chamber:

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After the passage of the Budget “Christmas Tree” bill the House then elected Paul Ryan as Speaker. In the vote below 235 Yeas are shown when the actual was 236 Yeas. Speaker Boehner voted for Ryan as his replacement but he had too few votes to be scaled so he does not appear in the count. The 187 vote for Nancy Pelosi consist of 184 votes for her and one vote each for Colin Powell, Cooper (D-TN), and
Lewis (D-GA). The Green “R”s are the die-hard members of the House Freedom Caucus who voted for Webster (R-FL).

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Finally, some good news. Congress extended the deadline for Positive Train Control until the end of 2018 and President Obama signed the extension. This happened just in time (literally) as the Railroads were going to have to begin to curtail service within a few weeks. Now there will be no impact on the economy and we can all have a very Happy and Merry Holiday Season Everyone!

The Clock Keeps Ticking

(Revised 27 October 2015, it looks as if a deal is in the works to settle all the issues discussed below in one fell swoop. Also, graph updated to show some of the members of the House.)

The United States Government seems to be careening towards multiple crises that include a Government shutdown, a shutdown of the Railroad system, and a Debt Ceiling bill that appears to be in jeopardy. First, the current Continuing Resolution runs out on December 11. Second, the debt ceiling must be raised by 3 November. Third, Congress has failed to pass a Transportation Bill that includes a delay the Positive Train Control mandate. This must be passed soon because the railroads cannot operate without the delay and they will begin the process of shutting down their systems in November. Fourth, given President Obama’s certain veto of the Defense Authorization Bill, that bill will have to re-worked quickly given conditions in the Middle East.

So, given all these urgent matters what does the House do this week? It passes a Reconciliation Bill to de-fund the Affordable Care Act knowing that President Obama will veto it. The problem is that the Republican Caucus in the House is badly split between the 40-45 members of the Freedom Caucus and the remaining 200 or so Republicans. Using our Weekly Common Space DW-NOMINATE Scores, below we show smoothed histograms of the Democrats and the two Republican Parties in the House. Note that the area under the curves adds to 1.
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The House Freedom Caucus is concentrated on the far Right of the Republican Party and has enough votes to prevent the Republicans from passing bills with 218 votes without assistance from the Democrats. Speaker Boehner was forced out by this group because he was willing to violate the “Hastert Rule” — that is, put bills on the floor that a majority of Republicans oppose. The House Freedom Caucus is demanding that the Hastert Rule be enforced by Paul Ryan. In effect this will lead to gridlock and give the HFC veto power over controversial legislation (many Republicans are afraid to challenge the far Right for fear of Primary challenges, hence the veto power).

Speaker Boehner threw some red meat to the HFC by passing a Reconciliation bill that defunds most of the Affordable Care Act. This vote is shown below:

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This is a pointless exercise because, even if it gets through the Senate, President Obama will veto the bill. Indeed, Senators Rubio, Cruz, and Lee will vote against the bill in the Senate because they feel it does not go far enough in the defunding of the ACA.

The current state of affairs in Congress is such that it risks a true train-wreck both literally and figuratively. Unless Speaker Boehner can pull some rabbits out of his hat before he leaves at the end of this coming week these unresolved bills could produce the most serious crisis since 2011.