The Party Line
1:54 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

Republican Legislators Can Afford To Be Stubborn

I recently spoke to WFAE’s Tom Bullock for a story about the state budget impasse and its likely culprits - political safe districts.

As a political scientist, I always have to think of different factors that may explain what happens in politics, which makes my job that much more fun, or frustrating, depending on what we’re trying to understand and explain.

Beyond the fact that the state budget battle between the GOP-controlled chambers could be explained as simply a clash of personalities, or ideological differences between conservative and very conservative, some could argue that it’s all about what every elected official worries about: Re-election.

And when it comes to re-election, having favorable conditions provides incumbent officials the opportunity to ensure they don’t have to worry about re-election. Redistricting can all but ease their fears.

Of course, Republicans redrew the state legislative districts in 2011. The 2012 election was a test to see how effective those new maps are.

In looking at each district, one could take two numbers and compare themselves to each other: The votes of a presidential candidate and the legislative candidate within a state legislative district.

If, for example, the Democratic presidential candidate Democratic legislative candidate each receive 50,000 votes, then we could say the voting behavior of that particular district pretty closely aligned. 

This graphic shows that 96% of the vote for a Democratic legislative candidate (the vertical axis) in 2012 can be explained by the performance of President Obama in the legislative district.

For example, the Democratic candidate for State House District 29 received 38,181, while President Obama received 38,195 votes.  In state Senate District 23, the Democratic candidate received 72,262 votes, while the president received 71,911 votes.

In statistical analysis terms, these are some amazingly close relationships that demonstrate the power of redistricting in evaluating a legislative district’s voting behavior.

So, for many incumbents, their worries aren’t necessarily with the voters back home in the general election; redistricting has taken care of that for them.

Instead, there may be other factors that are driving this policy gridlock between the House and Senate — perhaps it is ideological, due to the more conservative nature of the state senate’s Republican caucus in comparison to the state House.

But if legislators don’t have to worry about the general election, Republicans can be more unyielding in their policy demands, even with each other.

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