Saturday, October 17, 2009

Economic, social, and foreign policy congressional conservatism by state, 2008

++Addition++Blogger Sully compares stimulus jobs created to congressional conservatism and finds that conservative states appear to be faring better than liberal states are. I find it exceedingly difficult to have any faith in our political leaders.


Razib's post at Secular Right looking at the relationship between economic and social liberalism made me wonder how the states rank in terms of the legislative activity of the Congressional delegations they send. Each year, National Journal rates each representative based on his voting behavior over the course of preceding congressional legislative sessions throughout the previous year. Votes are separated into three major categories (economic, social, and foreign policy) and representatives are assigned (nearly, but not entirely, inverse) liberal and conservative scores based on the totality of their voting behavior in each category.

The following tables rank states by conservatism, calculated by taking each representative's conservative score (on a 0-100 scale, with higher values indicating stronger conservatism) and subtracting from it his liberal score (displayed in the same way), and then averaging these scores among all members from a state to arrive at the state's index*.

Underestimating the importance of partisanship, I originally hoped to do more with the data than I've ended up doing. All the same, here they are, perhaps to be utilized by someone more perspicacious than I am. Economic conservatism, by state:

StateEconomic con
1. Wyoming88.0
2. Idaho67.0
3. Nebraska57.3
3. Utah57.3
5. Oklahoma51.6
6. Montana42.0
7. Texas34.5
8. Louisiana34.3
9. Alabama32.6
10. New Mexico28.7
11. Kentucky26.0
12. Colorado25.9
13. Alaska22.0
14. South Carolina21.7
15. Virginia19.7
16. Georgia19.5
17. Arizona17.6
18. Kansas17.3
19. Tennessee16.2
20. Indiana14.0
21. Iowa13.0
22. Ohio12.3
23. Florida11.2
24. Missouri10.3
25. Delaware10.0
26. Arkansas8.0
27. Nevada7.0
28. South Dakota5.0
29. North Carolina1.5
30. Michigan(7.3)
31. Washington(7.7)
32. Pennsylvania(9.7)
33. Minnesota(10.3)
34. New Jersey(10.5)
35. Wisconsin(11.8)
36. California(12.4)
37. West Virginia(15.0)
38. Illinois(16.0)
38. North Dakota(16.0)
40. Mississippi(22.0)
41. Oregon(30.0)
42. Maine(35.5)
42. New Hampshire(35.5)
44. New York(42.0)
45. Connecticut(43.4)
46. Maryland(45.1)
47. Vermont(52.0)
48. Rhode Island(62.0)
49. Massachusetts(76.1)
50. Hawaii(85.0)

Social conservatism, by state:

StateSocial con
1. Wyoming68.0
2. Idaho61.5
3. Utah55.3
4. Nebraska43.3
5. Alabama39.3
6. Oklahoma34.6
7. Kentucky31.8
8. Georgia31.8
9. South Carolina31.5
10. Montana31.0
11. Virginia30.6
12. New Mexico25.0
13. Texas23.8
14. Alaska20.0
15. Tennessee18.0
16. Arizona17.0
17. Florida16.0
18. Louisiana15.6
19. Indiana13.9
20. Ohio12.4
21. North Carolina12.0
22. Colorado11.9
23. Delaware9.0
24. Nevada3.0
25. Michigan2.9
26. Missouri0.8
27. Kansas(0.3)
28. Iowa(4.6)
29. Pennsylvania(5.6)
30. Wisconsin(7.3)
31. New Jersey(9.4)
32. Mississippi(10.5)
33. Minnesota(11.0)
34. South Dakota(12.0)
35. West Virginia(12.7)
36. Arkansas(12.8)
37. New Hampshire(13.0)
38. Illinois(13.3)
39. California(13.8)
40. Maine(21.0)
40. Vermont(21.0)
42. Washington(25.0)
43. North Dakota(28.0)
44. New York(31.1)
45. Oregon(36.8)
46. Maryland(42.4)
47. Connecticut(56.2)
48. Hawaii(64.0)
49. Rhode Island(69.5)
50. Massachusetts(71.1)

Conservatism in foreign policy (phrasing it this way seems Orwellian, since 'conservative' foreign policy in the US tends toward assertiveness and interventionism, while 'liberal' foreign policy trends in the opposite direction):

StateFP con
1. Wyoming76.0
2. Idaho66.5
3. Oklahoma60.4
4. Utah58.7
5. Nebraska46.0
6. Alaska38.0
7. Alabama34.9
8. Texas34.8
9. Georgia31.4
10. Montana31.0
11. Nevada30.0
12. Kentucky29.7
13. Louisiana29.3
14. Virginia25.7
15. New Mexico24.7
16. South Carolina24.2
17. Florida19.4
18. Colorado16.9
19. Ohio16.8
20. Kansas16.5
21. Arizona14.9
22. Indiana13.6
23. Tennessee11.6
24. Delaware9.0
25. Missouri7.8
26. Michigan2.7
27. Mississippi1.3
28. Arkansas0.3
29. Pennsylvania(0.7)
30. North Carolina(1.5)
31. South Dakota(2.0)
32. Washington(6.8)
33. Illinois(10.1)
34. Minnesota(15.3)
35. California(17.4)
36. New Jersey(24.2)
37. West Virginia(26.3)
38. Wisconsin(26.5)
39. North Dakota(27.0)
40. Rhode Island(30.5)
41. Iowa(32.0)
42. Connecticut(38.4)
43. New York(38.7)
44. Maryland(40.8)
45. New Hampshire(53.0)
46. Oregon(53.6)
47. Hawaii(61.0)
48. Maine(62.5)
49. Massachusetts(76.7)
50. Vermont(77.0)

To keep the above from becoming frustratingly disparate, the following table orders states by overall congressional conservatism, arrived at by averaging the three categories while also showing each state's respective rankings by category:

StateOverallEcon rankSocial rankFP rank
1. Wyoming77.3111
2. Idaho64.8222
3. Utah57.0334
4. Oklahoma48.9563
4. Nebraska48.9345
6. Alabama35.6957
7. Montana34.761010
8. Texas31.07138
9. Kentucky29.211712
10. Georgia27.61689
11. Alaska26.713146
12. Louisiana26.481813
13. New Mexico26.1101215
14. South Carolina25.814916
15. Virginia25.3151114
16. Colorado18.2122218
17. Arizona16.5171621
18. Florida15.5231717
19. Tennessee15.3191523
20. Indiana13.8201922
20. Ohio13.8222019
22. Nevada13.3272411
23. Kansas11.2182720
24. Delaware9.3252324
25. Missouri6.3242625
26. North Carolina4.0292130
27. Michigan(0.6)302526
28. Arkansas(1.5)263628
29. South Dakota(3.0)283431
30. Pennsylvania(5.3)322929
31. Iowa(7.9)212841
32. Mississippi(10.4)403227
33. Minnesota(12.2)333334
34. Illinois(13.1)383833
35. Washington(13.2)314232
36. California(14.5)363935
37. New Jersey(14.7)343136
38. Wisconsin(15.2)353038
39. West Virginia(18.0)373537
40. North Dakota(23.7)384339
41. New Hampshire(33.8)423745
42. New York(37.3)444443
43. Maine(39.7)424048
44. Oregon(40.1)414546
45. Maryland(42.8)464644
46. Connecticut(46.0)454742
47. Vermont(50.0)474050
48. Rhode Island(54.0)484940
49. Hawaii(70.0)504847
50. Massachusetts(74.6)495049

About what you'd expect, with a few exceptions. New Mexico's delegation is quite conservative, while Mississippi's is pretty leftist, as is North Dakota's Earl Pomeroy, relative to his state's uninterrupted support for Republican presidential candidates extending all the way back to Richard Nixon's election in 1968.

It is important to realize that the enormous inherent advantages of incumbency can make representation appear to be arbitrary from this nationwide vantage point. Why was Wyoming's representative, the now-retired Barbara Cubin, so stridently conservative, while North Dakota's Earl Pomeroy is a moderate Democrat? Wyoming did replace Utah as the reddest state in '08, but the Presidential and political gaps--exit polls indicate 39% of Wyoming voters consider themselves conservative and 14% liberal to North Dakota's 36% and 16%, respectively--are not nearly as wide as the chasm between the their respective Congressional representatives are. The same sort of contrast is apparent on the left end by looking at Delaware's Michael Castle, a centrist Republican, and Rhode Island's Patrick Kennedy and James Langevin, both of whom are reliably leftist Democrats.

The question is meant to be rhetorical. I don't have an answer, other than point out that Wyoming's Cubin had been in office since the Republican revolution of '94, the same year Ted Kennedy's son Patrick took office in Rhode Island, Pomeroy and Castle were first elected to Congress in '92, and Langevin, at age 45, has been in his spot for five consecutive terms. Especially when a representative is opposite the center of his constituency, the longer he stays, the easier it becomes to keep staying. There are a combination of reasons for this, including voter appreciation of pork brought in from the federal level to the district feeding trough, name recognition and its conseqeunt media advantages, and financial backing from the party's national committee.

As the House putatively exists to enact legislation at the federal level, the charge that North Dakotans are being poorly served relative to Wyomingites ignores the fact that it is the nationwide aggregate that is ultimately important from the political perspective of voters. State and local governments matter more than Congressional representatives do in the way residents go about their daily lives. Their congressional representatives mostly matter to the extent they are able to win stuff through the spoils system. With the odd exception of a Ron Paul, the vast majority of congress critters are making concerted efforts to bring home the federal bacon, whether they be on the left or the right.

Despite apparent randomness in some solidly red (blue) states fielding conservative (liberal) congressional delegations while others send center-left (-right) groups, for the most part voters get what they want. The correlations between McCain's support and economic, social, and foreign policy congressional conservatism are .80, .75, and .77, respectively. These are hardly distinguishable from the correlations between the percentage of a state's voters who consider themselves liberal subtracted from the percentage who self-describe as conservative, and congressional conservatism, which are .77, .73, and .89, respectively.

Bruce Charlton recently published an editorial in Medical Hypotheses examining the personality attributes accompanying high IQ, "including the trait of ‘Openness to experience’, ‘enlightened’ or progressive left-wing political values, and atheism." Does this hold at the state level in the US? IQ estimates derived from NAEP testing and National Journal data referenced above suggests it does. The correlations between a state's average IQ and economic, social, and foreign policy conservatism are -.09, -.14, and -.28, respectively. The relationship with foreign policy is the only one to reach significance at the 95% confidence level, giving the ordering face validity. Knowing nothing else about them, if one guy tells you he is fiscally conservative but opposes nation-building, you're likely to assume he is more intelligent than the other guy who tells you he supports strong military action overseas but thinks the federal government needs to do more to help people at home. This pattern emerges at the state level as well.

* Eight representatives were present for fewer than half of roll calls in at least one of the three categories during 2008. Their behavior is estimated by averaging the votes of the rest of the representatives in their state who share their party affiliation. Stephanie Tubbs-Jones of Ohio's 11th district died last August and was not replaced until November by Marcia Fudge. Consequently, only Tubbs-Jones votes are used to determine Ohio's political composition.


Jokah Macpherson said...

I think both 'conservative' and 'liberal' foreign policy in the U.S. are two heads of the same beast in the sense that they are outwardly focused and assume that if we work in the interests of the international community, it will reciprocate. My understanding is that one of George W. Bush's arguments for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was that it would bring Democracy to these backward nations and make them bastions of liberal government in regions sorely lacking in such. This is not radically different from Obama's belief that if we just eat a little humble pie, the rogue nations will see the error of their belligerant ways. In my mind, the biggest weakness in United States foreign policy of late has been its trend away from realpolitik.

Keen insight to give a nod to the power of incumbency and the true purpose of congressmen in your analysis. Bud Cramer, a Democrat, made a career as a congressman in the Republican-leaning district of Alabama where I grew up based on his ability to draw federal money there.

Audacious Epigone said...


My current situation is similar to the one in which you grew up. Kansas' 3rd district reliably votes Republican at the Presidential and Senate levels, but our Congressman is Democrat Dennis Moore, who has been in office for a decade. The last couple of elections, he's won by double-digit margins.

Arthur said...

It's interesting looking at Massachusetts, where I'm from. Most independents and many Democrats here are economically moderate to "conservative," which is why we so often elect moderate Republican governors (Kerry Healey aside, she ran in a bad year and played the race card ham-handedly). However we elect mainline "progressive" Democrats pretty much universally for legislative offices. I think that this this owes largely to the state of the national Republican party-we MA voters don't want to prop up the socially conservative, anti-urban GOP mainstream and they don't want "RINO"s in their party.

Anonymous said...

"MA voters don't want to prop up the socially conservative, anti-urban GOP mainstream and they don't want "RINO"s in their party."

I can understand not agreeing with Republican social conservatism.

I can't understand being willing to pay the cost of Democrat fiscal policy.

Calculate how much lower your taxes would be under Republicans. Say $10k -$50k lower per year. Over ten years that is $100k-$500K in taxes. A little too expensive for me. I would rather "suffer" social conservatism than "enjoy" liberal fiscal policies.

Money doesn't buy happiness, but at least you can pick your misery.

Steve Sailer said...


It's fascinating how high a correlation there is at the state level between economic, social and foreign policy political orientation. Iowa and Nevada show up as somewhat idiosyncratic, but that's about it?

Could this be an artifact of how the National Journal decides whether a vote is conservative or liberal: i.e., by whether more Republicans or Democrats vote for it?

Audacious Epigone said...


I'm not a National Journal subscriber, so I don't have access to the methodology, but the teaser reads: "A panel of National Journal editors and reporters initially compiled a list of 167 key congressional roll-call votes for 2008 -- 79 votes for the Senate and 88 for the House -- and classified them as relating to economic, ..."

If these editors and reporters classified yays and nays prior to looking at how congressional members actually voted, the rating system would seem to have more validity as a genuine measure of political orientation than if votes were classified according to partisan alignment, which would render it more an exercise in observing party politics than anything else.

Audacious Epigone said...

The methodology from last year is freely available, however, and it looks like determinations are made based on the tendency of members to vote the same as one another, although it's still not particularly clear to me exactly what that means.

Anonymous said...

To answer Steve Sailer's Nevada question. It is idiosyncratic because this study may not account for regionalism. NV is two staes: urban Las Vegas with liberal voting tendencies, strong unions and the majority of the state's racial minorities. The rest of the state is white and dominated by tradtional Western economic interests and social mores. NV is like Wyoming with a small L.A. plopped into it.