Is There Still a Political Middle?
The noise level at the extremes questions whether any moderates remain
“Drain The Swamp!” “The Squad”. “The Freedom Caucus”. “The country is more divided than ever!”
The drumbeat from the media continues to pound on these themes year after year. And because they are who they are, they tend to focus on extremes. Social media only exacerbates the problem. It all paints a picture of two intransigent camps with irreconcilable differences. But, does that show up in the makeup and legislative behavior of the House of Representatives?
Fresh435 looked into this question, with the help of the “Ideology Score” from GovTrack, producers of this metric since 2013. Their score essentially reflects the willingness of a Representative to work with the other side to sponsor or co-sponsor bills and make resolutions. (You can read more here.) They score on a scale from 0 (extreme left) to 1 (extreme right). We’ve converted that to 0 to 100 for easier interpretation.
Shifting Scales of Ideology
The chart below shows how ideology scores distributed every year from 2013 through 2020. It’s likely such a curve is always bimodal, meaning it has one peak on the left and one on the right. The area of concern for those who prefer a less partisan House capable of getting things done is how shallow is the part in the middle?
Surprisingly, we learned the numbers of Reps in the moderate ranges between 41 and 60 was actually at its lowest in the two years preceding the election of Donald Trump. The swamp was already draining down a sinkhole in the middle (and, perhaps, leaving ideological garbage on its banks?).
The middle started filling up again in 2019 after the Democrats reclaimed the House. That is mostly because while the Dems were shifting five points left as a group, the squishier Republicans moved a full seven points left. They were effectively dragged into the middle.
Is it the Newbies?
Your first thought may be it was the freshman Democrat class of 2019 that pulled them left. Your thought would be wrong. But, you are excused for being wrong because media on both sides of the ideological fence focused all your attention on the four rookies with Ideology Scores under 10. You know them as “The Squad”, i.e., Reps. Tlaib, Pressley, Omar and Ocasio-Cortez.
In reality, that group of first-years behaved at a “31” level, while the already established Democrats slid down to 26. The neophyte Republicans were also four points closer to center than their predecessors. In 2020, the entire body move a couple of points to the right. We’re certain that had nothing to do with it being an election year. 🙄
Fresh435 will revisit this analysis when the 2021 data is complete. Given how close the House currently is to a 50/50 split, we expect to see both sides moving toward the middle. For the time being, that middle still survives, but like all things political will likely rise and fall with the tides.