Why Polarization?

In the U.S., Democratic elected officials have become steadily more liberal while Republican elected officials have marched even faster in the conservative direction. As a result, polarization in the Senate and House of Representatives has increased:


The graphs show the difference in ideology between the average Democrat and average Republican over time–zero suggests no average difference in ideology according to the NOMINATE scores, which are widely used in political science. (UCSD Prof. Gary Jacobson, one of the country’s very top experts on Congress, kindly shared versions of these graphs with me.)

The increased polarization has resulted in the decimation of moderates in the House. Here is the distribution of representatives by party and ideology in the 93rd Congress:


According to the measure used here, right on the horizontal axis (i.e. more positive numbers) equates to greater conservatism while left on the same axis equates to liberalism (i.e. more negative numbers). Representatives with scores close to zero are relatively moderate.

In 1973-4, while Democrats tended to be more liberal than Republicans, there was still a lot of overlap between members of the two parties. A fair number of Republicans are more liberal than some Democrats. Similarly, many Democrats are more conservative than their Republican colleagues.

Now, look at the distribution for the House in 2011-12:


Not only is there no overlap between the two parties, there is even distance between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat. No wonder it is so hard to form bipartisan coalitions that can produce legislation in our divided government.

The new Congress will be even more polarized. The Democrats who lost tended to be among the most conservative members, such as Rep. Barrow from Georgia. Newly elected Republicans also tend to be more conservative than the colleagues that they replace.

Overall, both parties have become more extreme. The data indicates, however, that Republicans have moved twice as fast to the right as Democrats have to the left. But just because the Democrats have moved more slowly, does not mean that they will not eventually arrive.

Why is this happening?

Many explanations are mooted to explain it but two factors have clearly played a major role: (1) the people who identify with each party are more ideologically homogenous, and (2) the people who vote in party primaries, and choose nominees, are more extreme than all members of their own party.

The following figure by Pew shows the composition of the primary electorates of both parties in 2010 and 2014. Among Democrats, 64% of primary voters were liberal in 2014 and 76% in 2010. Among Republicans, 69% of primary voters were conservative in 2014 and 77% in 2010.

The decline in extremism from 2010 to 2014 is illusory as the survey methods were different. Unlike in 2010, the 2014 survey utilizes self-reported voters but many survey respondents say they voted even though they did not and the non-voters are more likely to be moderates. Regardless, the primary electorates of both parties are more extreme than in past decades.


Most representatives are from districts that are generally safe for one party or the other, so they naturally focus on the party primary–heavily skewed in one ideological direction.

But even fewer safe districts wouldn’t really undercut polarization. The ideological distribution of primary voters is such that nominees must cater to them even if winning the general election requires moderation. Marylanders should remember when liberal Del. James Hattery beat more moderate Rep. Beverly Byron in the 1992 primary. Hattery then promptly lost the seat to Roscoe Bartlett.

The same dynamics are occurring in Maryland legislative elections. The new Democratic caucuses in the General Assembly will contain more liberal and fewer moderate members than in past years. The retirees and the defeated are disproportionately among the more conservative Democrats (e.g. Dyson and James). Similarly, the Republican caucuses will also be more staunchly conservative. Republican retirees (e.g. Kittleman and Brinkley) were more moderate and willing to work with Democrats than their replacements.

Governor-Elect Hogan is going to have a difficult time navigating these political waters. In order for legislation to pass the General Assembly, it will require substantial Democratic support. However, the required compromises risk alienating conservative legislators who are opposed to arriving at accommodations with the Assembly’s liberal majorities even though it is vital to the operation of Maryland government.

The next four years will be many things but boring isn’t one of them.


New Yorker on Hogan’s Win

The key paragraph from the liberal weekly on the Maryland gubernatorial race stunner:

But there is another, broader story about what happened to Brown, one that should make Democrats even more nervous and Republicans even more cheerful. The backlash against O’Malley and the implosion of Brown show how vulnerable Democrats are, still, to being identified as a party that is insufficiently interested in economic growth and insufficiently allergic to taxes. A popular candidate or a sudden crisis might shift voters’ attention elsewhere, but the issue of taxation doesn’t tend to stay out of the spotlight for too long. Even in deep-blue states, voters have the sense that Democratic politicians don’t hate taxes as much as they do. And sometimes it doesn’t take much—maybe only thirty-nine dollars—to remind them.



Redistricting Forum at UMD


Redistricting Reform in Maryland: Challenges and Solutions Forum to Analyze Next Steps for Reform in Maryland, Nationwide

The Tame the Gerrymander coalition will hold a public forum focused on efforts to replace gerrymandering with a fair and open process to draw congressional and state-legislative district lines. Speakers will include Congressman John Delaney of Maryland, Maryland Delegate Aisha Braveboy and Dan Vicuna, the National Redistricting Coordinator for Common Cause.  Speakers at the forum, all veterans of the uphill battle against gerrymandering, will discuss the problem with the current system and possible solutions that are introduced in Congress and working in states across the country.

The event is being hosted by the Norman and Florence Brody Public Policy Forum at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and is a project of Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Maryland, and the National Council of Jewish Women Annapolis Section.

The forum is a follow-up to “The Gerrymander Meander,” a 225-mile relay last month in Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District to highlight the need for reform.

When: November 10th; doors open 5:15 (light refreshments will be served)

Forum starts at 6:00pm.

Where: Executive Dining Room, 2517 Van Munching Hall

School of Business, University of Maryland College Park

(From Campus Drive, turn right at the circle onto Mowatt Lane. Follow signs to Visitor Parking. Van Munching Hall is on your left; free parking is available on the left in Mowatt Lane Parking Garage.)

Who:   Doug Besharov, Moderator and Host (Norman and Florence Brody Professor, UMD School of Public Policy)

Congressman John Delaney (Congressional 6)
Delegate Aisha Braveboy (Legislative 25)
Dan Vicuna (National Redistricting Coordinator, Common Cause)


For more information, contact:

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, 410-303-7954, jbd@CommonCause.org (Common Cause Maryland)

Nancy Soreng, 301-642-5479, nsoreng@comcast.net (League of Women Voters of Maryland)


Popping Democratic Myths

Democrats are still trying to figure out why they lost the gubernatorial election. Naturally, this process will continue for some time. But Democrats might as well begin by dispensing with some of the popular but unhelpful myths floating around.

1. Hogan’s Election was a Fluke

Some Democrats seeking comfort in the results have concluded that it was a bad year for Democrats and assume matters will revert to normal soon enough. Population shifts towards the Washington area and minority groups make this inevitable. This myth makes Republicans gleeful as it invites further complacency among Democrats rather than a serious assessment.

2. Democrats Needed a More Progressive Candidate

In an odd cracked mirror reflection of Republicans who think that John McCain and Mitt Romney were not conservative enough, this myth’s advocates contend that the base wasn’t excited because Anthony Brown was not sufficiently left wing. But it’s just not credible that Brown would have won more votes through advocacy of greater spending hikes for government programs and the taxation needed to pay for them.

3. If Only Brown had Run a Positive Campaign

Negative advertisements can be quite effective. Politicians and political consultants don’t use them because they are nasty people with twisted souls. Consider Governor-Elect Hogan’s relentless attacks on tax increases by Governor O’Malley.

Like most good myths, the one contains a kernel of truth in that improvements could have been made to the campaign, including a stronger case as to why to vote for Brown and a vibrant defense of the accomplishments of the O’Malley-Brown administration. Moreover, the negative ads on choice failed to convince because Hogan made clear he considers this a settled question.

Del. Heather Mizeur argued most passionately for strictly positive campaigns, most pointedly in her Baltimore Sun opinion piece. But though lamenting negative campaigning, the piece feels like one long negative attack on the man who beat her in the primary, which rather undercuts her central point.

4. The Message is Fine

As several Democrats have said forthrightly, voters in Maryland chose the correct candidate if they don’t want further increases in taxes to provide for more progressive policies. Except that they say this not realizing that this is exactly why people were ready for a change. Hogan campaigned for tax reduction and less regulation and Marylanders liked it.

Perhaps their sentiments will change after a certain amount of time moving in the other direction. But Democrats should fear that Hogan’s mix of moderation of social issues and economic conservatism could prove powerfully attractive, particularly if he pursues it in a practical and balanced way.

Again, Democrats have fallen into the Republican trap. Many Republicans view that taxes can never be cut too low with religious fervor (e.g. Sam Brownback in Kansas) and fail to recognize that taxes are needed to provide for government services that are broadly supported such as education. However, the number of Democrats who view ever higher increases in taxation as desirable and wise with a parallel ideological fervor has grown.


I look forward to hearing the ideas that Democrats have for moving forward even as they analyze past mistakes. While change can be difficult, adjustments could prove easier than expected and help Maryland–and not just the Democrats–make progress.



GOP Moves Forward in Six Counties

The Republicans had a good Tuesday night, capturing the governor’s mansion and making gains, albeit limited, in both houses of the General Assembly. The GOP also made gains in six counties. Summing up the night–they went from 25% to 44% of county executives and from 54% to 56% of council seats.

The most exciting pickups for the Republicans are the two county executives, including taking the top chair in red-leaning Wicomico, But the Republicans had a real coup with Alan Kittleman’s victory in Howard–an increasingly Democratic county that went for Hogan as well as Kittleman.

County Councils

Republicans also made gains in four county councils: Baltimore, Harford, St. Mary’s, and Talbot. In the latter three, the Republicans knocked all of the remaining Democrats by taking their last two seats in Harford and one seat in St. Mary’s and Talbot. In Baltimore, the Democratic majority shrank from 5-2 to 4-3 with the loss of retiring Councilmember John Olszewski Senior’s seat.

The one bright spot of the night was Frederick. Though the two Democratic Youngs won, the tea-party Republican son of Sen. Young lost the battle to become Frederick’s first county executive. The Democrats also picked up two seats on the new expanded Council. One Republican seat is sufficiently close that there is an outside chance that absentees could flip it to the Democrats.

The same four jurisdictions completely dominated by the Democrats before the election–Baltimore City, Charles, Montgomery, and Prince George’s–remain so afterwards.  Republicans wholly controlled eight counties before the election: Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Carrol, Cecil, Garrett, Queen Anne’s, and Washington. They have now added three more with Harford, St. Mary’s, and Talbot for a total of 12–a majority of all of the 23 jurisdictions, though certainly not the most populous ones.

The partisan state of play remains unchanged in purple Anne Arundel, Dorchester, Kent, Somerset, and Worcester. Anne Arundel will have the interesting challenge of dealing with secessionist theocrat Michael Peroutka on the Council. And just when they hoped things were finally settling down after the rather eventful departure of disgraced County Executive John Leopold.

No Councils flipped control. However, Howard’s Democratic majority will face a Republican executive, while Wicomico now has unified government with a Republican executive and council.


2014 v. 2012 Results from Around the Country

The following three tables compare the results in House, Senate, and Governors races with the presidential results in 2012.

The first chart shows all 17 U.S. House districts that have flipped parties. Republicans gained four seats that Romney won but also made inroads by winning 11 seats that Obama carried. Republicans lost two seats–one centered on Omaha and the other on Tallahassee. In Nebraska’s Second District, the incumbent made the mistake of saying that he didn’t think he should have to give up his salary during the government shutdown.

Flipped U.S. House Districts


The next chart shows the results of key U.S. Senate races. I’m assuming that Landrieu loses the runoff in Louisiana since the two Republican candidates won 55% of the vote. Additionally, I lumped Orman in Kansas with the Democrats.

The GOP picked up nine Senate seats. Except for Colorado and Iowa, the winning party is the same as the state’s 2012 presidential winner.

Key U.S. Senate Races


The final chart shows results in key gubernatorial elections. As you can see, Republicans made inroads in several other blue states. But Maryland is the bluest state that elected a Democratic governor and Hogan won by more than other Republicans who were reelected or picked up governor’s mansions in blue states.

Key Gubernatorial Races



General Assembly Results

Based on results from last night, Republicans have made limited gains in the new General Assembly: two seats in the Senate and seven seats in the House of Delegates. Veto overrides take 3/5 in each House–29 in the Senate and 85 in the House. As a result, there are not enough Republicans to sustain a gubernatorial veto with support from at least some Democrats.

Here are the tentative General Assembly results:



Winners and Losers


1. Larry Hogan. Not only did he win but he completely shocked everybody by winning by a greater margin than Bob Ehrlich in 2002. A stunning victory by a Republican in Deep Blue Maryland. Democrats just didn’t think it was possible.

2. Polarization. The Democrats who lost in the General Assembly are almost all moderate or conservative Democrats: Sen. Roy Dyson, Del. David Rudolph, Del. Norm Conway. The Democrats will be more liberal and the Republicans more conservative. Expect even more acrimony between the Governor and the General Assembly than when Ehrlich was in office.

3. Chris Christie. I know one governor who will be endorsing him 2016. While Maryland doesn’t carry a lot of weight in the Republican Party, I am sure that Christie will welcome its delegates.


1. Martin O’Malley. The loss of his chosen successor undercuts completely his (vice?) presidential campaign. His legacy has now been repudiated by his own state at the polls.

2. Lieutenant Governors. The curse continues. Blair Lee lost in the primary, and now Katheen Kennedy Townsend and Anthony Brown have lost in the general. Perhaps Ken Ulman should be relieved.

3. Purple Line and Red Line. Governor-Elect Hogan has said he will not proceed with these projects. Why on earth should he throw billions at light-rail for areas that will never vote for him? He’d rather spend the money on roads.

4. Orange is Not the New Black. I am sure that Heather Mizeur was completely sincere in her Baltimore Sun opinion piece. But many who are not her diehard fans will view it as a cynical ploy to get her name before the voters even as she threw Anthony Brown under the bus while avowedly endorsing him. The most memorable moment of the campaign will not be forgotten.


Maryland Politics Watch

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