PVI/Vote Index for 2008

One year ago I tried out an experiment where I plotted US Representatives’ voting records against the presidential lean of their districts, in an effort to identify what representatives were not the most liberal or conservative, but who most overperformed or underperformed their districts. After some hemming and hawing, it was called the PVI/Vote Index. The point of the exercise was to give some clarity and focus to one of the most frequently heard refrains of the liberal blogosphere: “We’re going to primary that ratfink so-and-so,” usually delivered without much consideration as to what kind of candidate that district might actually support.

It’s time to revisit the topic, partly because another year has gone by, and aggregators have released another year’s worth of data, letting us look at the 110th Congress as a whole (instead of just 2007). Also, with the creation of the blogger/labor Accountability Now PAC for purposes of nudging (or primarying) recalcitrant Dems, with Progressive Punch adding a similar function to their website, and with even the Cook Political Report (subscription req’d) tipping a toe into this type of analysis, it seems like other people are starting to zero in on who is and isn’t a good fit for his or her district.

As before, the Index is based on a pretty simple idea: rank every district from 1 to 435 in terms of how Democratic its presidential voting record is, rank every representative from 1 to 435 in terms of how liberal his or her voting record is, and find the difference, with a larger difference in one direction or the other meaning that representative is overperforming or underperforming the district’s lean. (There are a host of methodological issues that go along with this assumption, and I’ll discuss some of them over the fold. In the meantime, let’s get right to the numbers.)

Let’s start with Democrats who are underperforming their districts (in other words, Democrats whose voting records are less liberal than their district composition would ordinarily support):

Rep. District PVI PVI rank DW/N Liberal rank Difference
A. Davis AL-07 D+17 65 – 0.286 183.5 – 118.5
Meeks NY-06 D+38 6 – 0.397 122 – 116
Meek FL-17 D+35 11 – 0.390 126 – 115
Jefferson LA-02 D+28 28 – 0.371 139 – 111
Doyle PA-14 D+22 42 – 0.363 142 – 100
Engel NY-17 D+21 45 – 0.378 137 – 92
Brady PA-01 D+36 9.5 – 0.439 96 – 86.5
Sires NJ-13 D+23 39 – 0.398 121 – 82
Berman CA-28 D+25 35.5 – 0.406 117.5 – 82
Fattah PA-02 D+39 5 – 0.454 84.5 – 79.5
D. Scott GA-13 D+10 112 – 0.257 191 – 79
Moran VA-08 D+14 81 – 0.345 152.5 – 71.5
Crowley NY-07 D+28 29 – 0.431 100 – 71
Rush IL-01 D+35 12 – 0.455 83 – 71
Lipinski IL-03 D+10 106.5 – 0.312 174 – 67.5
Reyes TX-16 D+9 117.5 – 0.286 183.5 – 66
Towns NY-10 D+41 3 – 0.492 69 – 66
Harman CA-36 D+11 103.5 – 0.319 169 – 65.5
Rangel NY-15 D+43 2 – 0.493 67 -65
Cooper TN-05 D+6 144.5 – 0.211 208.5 – 64

Three of the top four underperformers here were also in the top four last year: Artur Davis, Kendrick Meek, and Bill Jefferson, which indicates that the pattern is pretty consistent. (The fourth, Greg Meeks, not coincidentally the only African-American member of the New Dems besides Davis and Meek, replaces Charlie Rangel.)

Notice something else interesting? We don’t have to primary any of those three! Jefferson learned the hard way that the future is Cao, while Davis and Meek are doing us a solid by opening up their seats to run for higher office. (And if they somehow win, they’ll immediately switch from goats to heroes in my book, since if they stay consistent policy-wise, they’ll suddenly be vastly overperforming the lean of their states as a whole.)

But it does shine a spotlight on the open primaries in AL-07, FL-17, and LA-02. These primaries should be absolute top priority for blogosphere action: these are districts that can support progressives, not just centrists, and we have basically free shots at electing Better Democrats here. (These mostly-African-American districts may be a little outside the familiarity zone of the mostly-white blogosphere, but remember that one of our signature achievements is knocking off Al Wynn in MD-04, which is what can happen when the netroots and the local grassroots actually work in concert.)

As with last year, the list is heavy on Congressional Black Caucus members, some of whom are also Progressive Caucus members. The latter may not be terribly fruitful targets (although, again, the primaries will be very important once they retire), who are being penalized a bit unfairly for living in some of the nation’s most Democratic districts. They’d need to be in McDermott/Kucinich/Lee territory to be truly apt ‘fits’ for their districts.

Some better targets might be a little further down the list, including frequent netroots foils like Dan Lipinski and the newly-vulnerable Jane Harman. To my eye, one of the juiciest targets is Jim Cooper, about the only representative in a district with a solidly Dem PVI who’s not just voting poorly around the margins but on some of the important stuff as well (like the stimulus). Pressure on Cooper is particularly important as the focus turns to health care, as his singular influence in the health care arena gives him unique power to obstruct progessive health care policy.

Now let’s turn to the good news: the Democrats who are most overperforming their districts, and who are most deserving of our praise (or in the case of the bluest Dogs, our tolerance). As with last year, it’s a mix of flat-out progressives in swing or light-blue districts, and Blue Doggish types who are entrenched in deep-red districts that would likely flip without them (or, in the sad cases of Lampson and Boyda, Blue Doggish types who failed to get entrenched):

Rep. District PVI PVI rank DW/N Liberal rank Difference
C. Edwards TX-17 R+18 417 – 0.240 196 221
G. Taylor MS-04 R+16 404.5 – 0.248 193 211.5
Matheson UT-02 R+17 408 – 0.154 222 186
Pomeroy ND-AL R+13 379 – 0.245 194 185
DeFazio OR-04 D+0 200 – 0.602 27 173
Lampson TX-22 R+15 390 – 0.038 234 156
Doggett TX-25 D+1 187.5 – 0.533 49 138.5
Herseth SD-AL R+10 337 – 0.234 199 138
Skelton MO-04 R+11 347 – 0.203 212 135
Hinchey NY-22 D+6 147 – 0.685 13 134
Stupak MI-01 R+2 228.5 – 0.436 97 131.5
Filner CA-51 D+7 137 – 0.723 9.5 127.5
Oberstar MN-08 D+4 160 – 0.570 36 124
Kucinich OH-10 D+8 125 – 0.791 3 122
Spratt SC-05 R+6 283.5 – 0.325 165 118.5
Obey WI-07 D+2 185 – 0.486 72 113
Chandler KY-06 R+7 300.5 – 0.256 192 108.5
Rodriguez TX-23 R+4 254.5 – 0.348 150 104.5
Boyda KS-02 R+7 308 – 0.218 206 102
Boucher VA-09 R+7 303 – 0.232 201 102

One advantage of the PVI/Vote Index is that, at the same time as shining a light on Democrats who are lagging their districts, it also illuminates right-wing Republicans camped out in moderate districts, who should theoretically be vulnerable a good Democratic challenger because of their poor fit with their districts. If there’s any doubt, check out which of these nutjobs who’ve overperformed their districts got defeated in 2008, and how many more got a serious scare.

Rep. District PVI PVI rank DW/N Liberal rank Difference
Ryan WI-01 R+2 224 0.690 397 – 173
Feeney FL-24 R+3 241 0.744 409 – 168
Chabot OH-01 R+1 205.5 0.626 372 – 166.5
Garrett NJ-05 R+4 261 0.771 417 – 156
Shadegg AZ-03 R+6 288.5 0.903 429 – 140.5
Rohrabacher CA-46 R+6 291 0.826 424.5 – 133.5
Kline MN-02 R+3 233.5 0.616 365 – 131.5
Bilbray CA-50 R+5 264 0.684 394 – 130
Fossella NY-13 D+1 191 0.507 317 – 126
Walberg MI-07 R+3 230.5 0.589 356.5 – 126
Weldon FL-15 R+4 251.5 0.622 367.5 – 116
Campbell CA-48 R+8 311 0.826 424.5 – 113.5
Bachmann MN-06 R+5 273.5 0.663 385.5 – 112
Manzullo IL-16 R+5 263 0.630 374 – 111
Franks AZ-02 R+9 322 0.910 431 – 109
Tiberi OH-12 R+1 210 0.508 318 – 108
Royce CA-40 R+8 315 0.794 421 – 106
Roskam IL-06 R+3 236.5 0.552 341 – 104.5
Mica FL-07 R+4 251.5 0.583 355 – 103.5
Castle DE-AL D+7 142 0.291 245 – 103

Finally, one last table: the Republicans who are “underperforming” their very conservative districts. While there are a few moderates here (like the primaried-out Wayne Gilchrest), mostly it’s semi-sane conservatives in some of the darkest-red districts in the nation. I’m keeping this list to 10, as either way, there’s not much we can do about these guys, other than sit back and watch as the Club for Growth goes after them with chainsaws. (Note that Jerry Moran, who’s vacating his seat to run for Senate, is one of them. His moderation, relatively speaking, may be an asset for him when running statewide.)

Rep. District PVI PVI rank DW/N Liberal rank Difference
W. Jones NC-03 R+15 395 0.279 242 153
Simpson ID-02 R+19 421 0.397 271 150
Moran KS-01 R+20 427 0.442 286 141
Platts PA-19 R+12 366 0.327 255.5 110.5
D. Young AK-AL R+14 387 0.420 278.5 108.5
Lucas OK-03 R+18 414 0.493 310 104
Crenshaw FL-04 R+16 407 0.489 308 99
Bachus AL-06 R+25 433 0.538 335.5 97.5
Gilchrest MD-01 R+10 335 0.254 238 97
Aderholt AL-04 R+16 399 0.476 303 96

Much more discussion of the methodology and what this all may mean, over the flip.

We need to talk methodology briefly. I’ll do this as a Q&A in order to make it a little livelier.

What the heck is DW/N? As my primary vote-aggregating resource, I’m using DW/Nominate scores, which are a tool I used in a number of vote-scoring-themed diaries last summer. The main advantage DW/N has over other scores is that they aggregate absolutely every vote, instead of cherry-picking. (ADA ratings and CQ party unity scores, for instance, pick so few votes that it’s terribly insufficient gradation among representatives; nearly all Dems have an ADA score of 90, 95, or 100, while nearly all have a CQ score in the 96-98 range… which is why I don’t use either of those metrics.) In each case, I’m using the DW/N score of whatever representative ended the session holding the seat, even if someone else held it the majority of the term.

On the other hand, most everyone else (Progressive Punch, National Journal, CQ, the ADA) uses a 0-100 score, with 100 being most liberal, which is easy for people to mentally convert to the A-B-C-D-F grading scale. By comparison, DW/Nominate scores are difficult to interpret. The scores generally run from – 1 (most liberal) to 1 (least liberal). The scoring algorithm seems to measure similarities between voting records among representatives; a number further away from 0 indicates a greater amount of distance between your record and those of other reps. In fact, if your voting record doesn’t look anything like anybody’s elses, you can exceed the 1 to -1 range (as with Ron Paul’s 1.4).

You may recall last year, to do this project, I created one averaged-out liberal rating using both Progressive Punch and National Journal scores. While I’d very much like to use Progressive Punch scores again — I think they do the best job of the “just right” amount of vote cherry-picking and turning it into an easy-to-understand score — they’ve already turned their attention to the 111th Congress now in session and their old scores from the 110th have already vanished from public view.

And rather than try to average out DW/Nominate and National Journal scores, I’ve just decided there’s too much apples and oranges going on there. This is partly because of the different scoring techniques, which results in some odd discrepancies… National Journal’s method is insensitive to ‘purity’ votes (i.e. voting against something not because you disagree but because it doesn’t go far enough) so the furthest-left or right members of the caucuses (like McDermott, Kucinich, Stark, DeFazio, Woolsey, Waters, or Capuano for the Dems, or Paul for the GOP) tend to get buried in mid-caucus or even treated as centrists.

More importantly, though, there are 19 seats for which there is no National Journal composite score for both 2007 and 2008, mostly because the seat changed hands in a special election (or because of a lot of absences, either for sickness or leadership duties). As a result, what I’ve decided to do is run entirely separate tables based solely on National Journal numbers. As you can see, many of the same people appear relatively in the same places. Members for whom there are scores, and the PVI of their districts, are rated 1-416 instead of 1-435. (The missing parties are Pelosi, Lantos/Speier, Millender-McDonald/Richardson, Crenshaw, Norwood/Broun, Rush, Hastert/Foster, Carson/Carson, Jindal/Scalise, Baker/Cazayoux, Wynn/Edwards, Meehan/Tsongas, Wicker/Childers, Andrews, Gillibrand, Gilmoor/Latta, Pryce, Davis/Wittman, and Cubin.)

Here are the tables based on National Journal composite scores instead. (There is a rating for both 2007 and 2008, so I averaged the two to get one score for each. Again, representatives and districts are ranked only 1 to 416 in this series, because scores aren’t available for 19 seats.) Here are the underperforming Dems:

Rep. District PVI PVI rank NJ Liberal rank Difference
A. Davis AL-07 D+17 60 58.15 181 – 121
Jefferson LA-02 D+28 25 74.35 119 – 94
Meek FL-17 D+35 10 78.25 95.5 – 85.5
Capuano MA-08 D+33 17 77.85 101 – 84
Stark CA-13 D+21 38 74 120 – 82
Serrano NY-16 D+43 1 80.75 80 – 79
G. Green TX-29 D+8 124.5 54.1 198 – 73.5
Lipinski IL-03 D+10 99.5 61.95 172 – 72.5
Emanuel IL-05 D+18 56 72.8 128 – 72
C. Brown FL-03 D+16 63 71.6 134.5 – 71.5
Ryan OH-17 D+14 71 70.05 142 – 71
Maloney NY-14 D+26 27 78.15 97 – 70
Meeks NY-06 D+38 6 81.05 75.5 – 69.5
M. Udall CO-02 D+8 118 57 186.5 – 68.5
Engel NY-17 D+21 40 77 108 – 68
Woolsey CA-06 D+21 42 76.75 109 – 67
Reyes TX-16 D+9 110.5 61 176 – 65.5
Berkley NV-01 D+9 113 60.55 177 – 64
Waters CA-35 D+33 18 80.25 81.5 – 63.5
Cooper TN-05 D+6 136.5 53.95 199 – 62.5

Here are overperforming Dems:

Rep. District PVI PVI rank NJ Liberal rank Difference
C. Edwards TX-17 R+18 400 55.7 193 207
Pomeroy ND-AL R+13 363 61.55 175 188
Matheson UT-03 R+17 391 48.85 218 173
G. Taylor MS-04 R+16 388.5 48.65 219 169.5
Skelton MO-04 R+11 332 58.55 180 152
Lampson TX-22 R+15 374 45.4 227 147
Obey WI-07 D+2 177 85.15 42 135
Herseth SD-AL R+10 323.5 52.6 203 120.5
Spratt SC-05 R+6 272.5 65.75 153 119.5
Price NC-04 D+6 138 89.1 22 116
Mollohan WV-01 R+6 275.5 63.75 163 112.5
Delahunt MA-10 D+9 116 91.4 11 105
Hinchey NY-22 D+6 139 86.4 35 104
Boyda KS-02 R+7 296 55.4 194 102
Boucher VA-09 R+7 291 56.55 189 102
Hooley OR-05 D+1 185 80.1 85.5 99.5
Holden PA-17 R+7 288.5 56.1 191 97.5
Chandler KY-06 R+7 288.5 55.15 195 93.5
Capps CA-23 D+9 108 90.35 16 92
Grijalva AZ-07 D+10 103 91.2 12 91

Here are the overperforming Republicans:

Rep. District PVI PVI rank NJ Liberal rank Difference
Kline MN-02 R+3 223.5 10 398 – 174.5
Mica FL-07 R+4 241.5 11.75 386 – 144.5
Feeney FL-24 R+3 231 14.1 372.5 – 141.5
Ryan WI-01 R+2 215 16.4 352 – 137
Shadegg AZ-03 R+6 277.5 5.5 412 – 134.5
Bachmann MN-06 R+5 262.5 10.55 396 – 133.5
Weldon FL-15 R+4 241.5 14.35 370.5 – 129
Saxton NJ-03 D+3 162.5 30.95 280 – 117.5
H. Wilson NM-01 D+2 170 28.7 283 – 113
Garrett NJ-05 R+4 251 15.45 360 – 109
Walberg MI-07 R+3 221 20.6 328 – 107
Putnam FL-12 R+5 267.5 14 374 – 106.5
Franks AZ-02 R+9 310 4.7 416 – 106
Chabot OH-01 R+1 197.5 24.9 301.5 – 104
Fossella NY-13 D+1 183 28.2 286 – 103
S. King IA-05 R+8 305 6.5 407.5 – 102.5
Latham IA-04 D+0 188 28.25 285 – 97
M. Rogers MI-08 R+2 212 24.1 308.5 – 96.5
Royce CA-40 R+8 303 9.9 399 – 96
Akin MO-02 R+9 311 6.6 406 – 95

And finally, here are the underperforming Republicans:

Rep. District PVI PVI rank NJ Liberal rank Difference
Moran KS-01 R+20 408 33.45 268 140
W. Jones NC-03 R+15 379 38.5 247 132
Simpson ID-02 R+19 403 31.5 275 128
D. Young AK-AL R+14 371 36.25 257 114
Paul TX-14 R+14 373 35.3 261 112
Gilchrest MD-01 R+10 322 49.4 217 105
Bachus AL-06 R+25 414 23.2 314 100
Platts PA-19 R+12 351 36.75 254.5 96.5
Inglis SC-04 R+15 375 31.1 279 96
Emerson MO-08 R+11 335 40.55 240 95

Is this old or new PVI? This is Classic PVI, calculated using the Cook formula and based on 2000-2004. My rationale is that their 110th Congress votes all predate the 2008 election, so if representatives actually were taking their districts’ lean into consideration, it would be based on the previous elections.

Still, this raises the interesting question of whether the 2008 election results have changed the dynamic for representatives in those few districts that changed dramatically one way or the other (for instance, are Marion Berry or Mark Kirk more endangered now?). Perhaps some of them might change their records in the 111th Congress, for better or worse, to reflect what they can see is happening on the ground in their districts. Accordingly, I’m creating yet more tables… this time, based on the newly released Cook PVIs reflecting the 2004 and 2008 elections. (I’m leaving out defeated or retired representatives from these lists, which, for instance, removes Jefferson from the underperforming Dems list, or Chabot and Feeney from the overperforming GOPers list.)

Here are the underperforming Dems. Not that many dramatic changes, but note that David Scott has zoomed up to near the top of the list, as his previously D+10 district in the Atlanta exurbs became D+15 on the strength of a huge influx of African-American residents. He’s one of only two black Blue Dogs (Sanford Bishop in rural GA-02 is the other one, and is a fine fit), and might want to rethink that.

Rep. District PVI PVI rank NJ Liberal rank Difference
A. Davis AL-07 D+18 60 – 0.286 183.5 – 123.5
D. Scott GA-13 D+15 71 – 0.257 191 – 120
Meeks NY-06 D+36 7 – 0.397 122 – 115
Meek FL-17 D+34 13 – 0.390 126 – 113
Moran VA-08 D+16 64 – 0.345 152.5 – 88.5
Doyle PA-14 D+19 55 – 0.363 142 – 87
Brady PA-01 D+35 10 – 0.439 96 – 86
Fattah PA-02 D+38 4 – 0.454 84.5 – 80.5
Berman CA-28 D+23 37 – 0.406 117.5 – 80.5
Engel NY-17 D+18 58 – 0.378 137 – 79
Schiff CA-29 D+14 75 – 0.347 151 – 76
Reyes TX-16 D+10 109 – 0.286 183.5 – 74.5
Sires NJ-13 D+21 48 – 0.398 121 – 73
Harman CA-36 D+12 98 – 0.319 169 – 71
Rush IL-01 D+34 14 – 0.455 83 – 69
S. Davis CA-53 D+14 74 – 0.362 143 – 69
Crowley NY-07 D+26 32 – 0.431 100 – 68
Lipinski IL-03 D+11 106 – 0.312 174 – 68
Towns NY-10 D+38 3 – 0.492 69 – 66
Rangel NY-15 D+41 2 – 0.492 67 – 65

Here are the overperforming Dems. Gene Taylor overtakes Chet Edwards at the top, based on the different direction their districts are going. There are definitely more Blue Dogs and their ilk on the new list than the old list, thanks to a number of southern uplands districts plunging from GOP-leaning to dark-red (Boren, Berry, Lincoln Davis, Gordon, Mollohan, Rahall).

Rep. District PVI PVI rank NJ Liberal rank Difference
G. Taylor MS-04 R+20 415 – 0.248 193 222
C. Edwards TX-17 R+20 417 – 0.240 196 221
Matheson UT-02 R+15 386 – 0.154 222 164
Skelton MO-04 R+14 374 – 0.203 212 162
DeFazio OR-04 D+2 183 – 0.602 27 156
Boren OK-02 R+14 368 – 0.128 224 144
Pomeroy ND-AL R+10 336 – 0.245 194 142
Berry AR-01 R+8 300 – 0.338 159 141
Boucher VA-09 R+11 342 – 0.232 201 141
L. Davis TN-04 R+13 359 – 0.177 218.5 140.5
Melancon LA-03 R+12 344 – 0.220 205 139
Oberstar MN-08 D+3 174 – 0.570 36 138
Childers MS-01 R+14 369 – 0.010 236 133
Mollohan WV-01 R+9 321 – 0.268 189 132
Stupak MI-01 R+3 228 – 0.436 97 131
Gordon TN-06 R+13 350 – 0.171 220 130
Hinchey NY-22 D+6 140 – 0.685 13 127
Spratt SC-05 R+7 289 – 0.325 165 124
Rahall WV-03 R+6 286 – 0.331 163.5 122.5
Grijalva AZ-07 D+6 138 – 0.655 18 120

Here are the overperforming Republicans. There’s a lot of turnover on this list from the old PVI list, but that has more to do with defeats and retirements than vastly changed districts (Chabot, Feeney, Walberg, Tancredo, Musgrave, Keller, Tom Davis, Heather Wilson, Weldon, and Knollenberg would all clock in higher than Dave Camp). However, note the sudden appearance of a lot of Illinois, Michigan, and California districts on the new list, based on Obama’s strong performance in those states.

Rep. District PVI PVI rank NJ Liberal rank Difference
Ryan WI-01 R+2 218 0.690 397 – 179
Rohrabacher CA-46 R+6 262 0.826 424.5 – 162.5
Bilbray CA-50 R+3 232 0.684 394 – 162
Campbell CA-48 R+6 263 0.826 424.5 – 161.5
Manzullo IL-16 R+2 222 0.630 374 – 152
Roskam IL-06 Even 193 0.552 341 – 148
Tiberi OH-12 D+1 192 0.508 318 – 126
Garrett NJ-05 R+7 291 0.771 417 – 126
Kline MN-02 R+4 239 0.616 365 – 126
Royce CA-40 R+8 303 0.794 421 – 118
Lungren CA-03 R+6 261 0.641 377 – 116
Castle DE-AL D+7 133 0.291 245 – 112
Shadegg AZ-03 R+9 317 0.903 429 – 112
Biggert IL-13 R+1 210 0.512 321 – 111
Kirk IL-10 D+6 142 0.320 251.5 – 109.5
Petri WI-06 R+4 246 0.568 350.5 – 104.5
Sessions TX-32 R+8 302 0.727 403.5 – 101.5
Rogers MI-08 R+2 212 0.498 313.5 – 101.5
Pitts PA-16 R+8 304 0.728 405 – 101
Camp MI-04 R+3 236 0.538 335.5 – 99.5

And here are the underperforming Republicans…

Rep. District PVI PVI rank NJ Liberal rank Difference
W. Jones NC-03 R+16 397 0.279 242 155
Moran KS-01 R+23 424 0.442 286 138
Simpson ID-02 R+17 406 0.397 271 135
Emerson MO-08 R+15 385 0.329 257 128
Aderholt AL-04 R+26 430 0.476 303 127
Lucas OK-03 R+24 425 0.493 310 115
R. Hall TX-04 R+21 422 0.503 315 107
Whitfield KY-01 R+15 381 0.430 281 100
Bachus AL-06 R+29 435 0.538 335.5 99.5
Crenshaw FL-04 R+17 407 0.489 308 99

Why aren’t you using regression instead of discrete ranks? Good question. Last year, I used discrete ranks because that’s all I knew how to do. I’ve gotten a lot more familiar since then with some of the more advanced tools in Excel, so when I set out to re-do this project this year, my first attempts tried turning this into a regression exercise. The results, however, weren’t as satisfactory, so I went back to what I knew worked.

To illustrate this, take a look at the results graphed as a scatterplot (DW/Nominate data on the vertical axis, PVI on the horizontal axis).

DW-Nominate 2007-08

For the most part, you can see very clear correlations, as the two parties cluster tightly but also have nice slopes indicating the relationship between voting record and PVI. (And the gap between the two parties shows how even the worst Dem is still much better than the best GOPer.) However, notice that the tight cluster of Dems start to flatten out and then turn into more of a spray as you get into the districts with super-high PVIs.

The representatives in the highest-PVI districts aren’t especially more progressive than the ones in the lower but still solid-blue districts. A regression line, however, would predict that because of the great distance between say, the D+43 standing of NY-15 and NY-16 and the other districts, therefore the reps from these districts should also be much, much more progressive than anyone else. This is particularly a problem when using National Journal scores, which max out at 100; even if we somehow elected Angela Davis in those districts, she still would be underperforming because the “TREND” function on Excel says that to be a good fit, you have to bend the laws of mathematics and get a National Journal score of 105.

Just for the sake of comparison, here’s the Top 10 most underperforming Dems according to a true regression model (based on residuals, which are the differences between the projected voting records according to the trendline and actual voting records): Serrano, Rangel, Meeks, Towns, Meek, Fattah, Brady, Rush, Pelosi, and Clarke. As you can see, there are a number of commonalities between this list and the list above… but a perceptive reader will also notice that these are basically just the people in the districts with the top 10 highest PVIs, in approximately the right order (although Kendrick Meek is still somewhat out-of-whack). On the Republican side, the method also views Ron Paul as the most overperforming and potentially vulnerable Republican (although after that it settles down to the usual suspects: Franks, Rohrabacher, Ryan, etc.).

So, I discarded the method that just tells me that our juiciest primary targets are the representatives who are in our bluest districts. Switching back to discrete ranks comes with its own problems: while it flattens out the distortion at the margins, it may create some distortion in the middle, where it may place more importance than should be accorded on small DW/Nominate score differences among members who are clustered near the median of their caucuses. So, as always, I welcome any thoughts on the methodology here and how to make this the fairest-possible assessment of House members’ fits.

One other idea I’ve mulled over is the possibility of ranking representatives only against a cohort of the representatives in 5 or 10 most similar districts, similar not just in terms of presidential voting but other demographic characteristics. For example, let’s take a look at AL-07, of interest to us not just because it’s where the most out-of-whack Dem (Artur Davis) is, but because it’s a district that points to the flaws of using only PVI as an indicator of who’s a good fit, as it’s a good bit more socially conservative than most other districts in the D+18 range.

One would want to compare Davis to the representatives in MS-03 and SC-06, similar not just in terms of their PVI but also their racial composition. Beyond that, TN-09, NC-12, FL-03, and VA-03 are also similar in region, PVI, and race, though somewhat less similar, in terms of being less impoverished and more urban. If you average out the DW/N scores for Bennie Thompson, Jim Clyburn, Steve Cohen, Mel Watt, Corrine Brown, and Bobby Scott, you get – 0.462 (ranging from – 0.544 for Watt to – 0.403 for Clyburn), so Davis’s – 0.286 still points to a significant under-performance. Of course, I’d need to develop a statistical method for analyzing which districts truly are the most similar to each other using a similar technique as Nate Silver’s state similarity index (rather than simply saying “Hmm, these ones seem similar”), so while this method seems the most promising to me, it’ll still need a lot of work too.

UPDATE: See the entire dataset at Google Docs.

30 thoughts on “PVI/Vote Index for 2008”

  1. I want Walter Jones to stick around for as long as possible.  We’re never going to get a Democrat elected to that seat and Jones is better than any other Repub who would get elected to the seat.

  2. once again. The only way I could see to make it better is some way of factoring in local concerns that don’t show up in PVI. I.E. AL-07 may be D+17 but it may not be Pro-Choice +17. Also something relating to big industries in their districts and maybe something that recognizes how hard it is for extremely Democratic districts to produce overperforming Dems.

    But overall, really damn good job. This is why you are on the Silver level of numbers godliness.  

  3. Especially after Larry Grant, in 2007 I think, criticized Bill Sali by noting that Sali voted against S-CHIP while Simpson voted for it.

  4. Hey Crisitunity,

    I was wondering how to find out when the last time any appreciable number of GOP Reps. were more left-leaning than their most conservative Democratic colleagues.  Progressive Punch scores go back pretty far, but they disappear into some sort of black hole viewers can’t get.  I could use ADA scores, which are available, but that’s like taking a sledgehammer tool to nail in a small nail to hang a painting.  DW-Nominate scores would also work, but are they also lifetime?  Also, I’d have to know who some of these older characters were.

  5. Is an interesting case. He probably fits right in on social issues but economically I would think hes too economically moderate/pro-business.  

  6. TN-05 is an interesting case.  Nashville has always seemed to be comfortable voting for Dems of Cooper’s stripe, for whatever reason (see also: Phil Bredesen, former mayor.)

    But that may be changing.  After all, Obama actually did better in Davidson County than Al Gore did.  The trouble is that there aren’t any prominent local officeholders I can think of who are progressives.  Mayor Dean seems like one, but I doubt he would run against Cooper.

  7. Walter Jones was once a Democrat, but he switched parties around 1994 so he could win his seat.  I was somewhat surprised with how conservative he was at first…his father, Walter B. Jones Sr was a moderate.  But Walter Jones really become a thorn to the GOP’s side with his view on Iraq.  He’s not a moderate:  he’s a libertarian that votes against the grain on many issues.  

    But you make a good point.  A vote against his caucus on war is a plus with me.

  8. But Jones is actually somewhat populist.  I’ll take a “some government” guy over a “no government” anarchist like Paul any day.

    Also, I get the feeling that Walter Jones’s anti-war sentiment over the past few years is real and personal.  With Paul I feel it’s just the opposite  He just doesn’t like any war because he’s a xenophobe.

  9. “If you want to debate this, I’ll put the House at ease and we can go back into my office and I’ll throw you out the window.”

  10. Simpson’s office was on the third floor.  The House Speaker suggested someone offer a fourth floor window for the “discussion”.

  11. “lifetime” scores on DW/Nominate the way there are with Progressive Punch, but the advantage is that they are historically complete, i.e. you could go back to the 1st Congress, if you were interested. The last Congress where there would be any Democrat to the right of any Republican would be the 108th (2003-04), when Ralph Hall was still a Dem. His score of 0.234 put him to the right of 7 moderate Republicans (the only of whom is still serving is Chris Smith; also Simmons, Shays, Nancy Johnson, Houghton, Boehlert, and Leach). He then became a Republican, pushed along by the threat of the DeLay-mander.

    If you want ‘appreciable’ numbers, go back to the 103rd (1993-94), where there were 13 Republicans to the left of Hall, and 10 Democrats to the right of Connie Morella, the most liberal Republican at that point.

  12. which, as noted, go back to the First Congress, are all available on Professor Keith Poole’s website http://www.voteview.com. So you can look at the change over time in both parties.  It’s a treasure trove of great data.  

  13. Thought it might have been Morella, but it’s glad to have confirmation.  I’m discounting Hall because of his switch and because I’m also interested in races in areas of the country where people might have been ideological similar or switched based on the current climate.  So, a boll weevil like Hall would hardly get a more liberal serious challenger no matter what his party.

  14. Just curious, how moderate were former NY Reps. Gerry Solomon and John Sweeney considered to be? Their former 20th district was obviously designed to be a safe Republican district, albeit a little moderate or right-of-center.

    But I can’t remember if Solomon and Sweeney were as liberal as, say, Bass or even Shays. I think Sweeney was a little libertarian, from what I can remember.

  15. When he first announced that he opposed the war, I thought his father’s soul had been reincarnated within Jones.  Walter Jones was the guy who wanted to rename French Fries to “Freedom Fries”.  Something happened around 2005-2006.  I know a lot of his district had servicemen in Iraq, and he was very disturbed about the Iraqi prisons.

    Actually, you do make a good point about Jones being somewhat of a Populist.  I never heard Jones being described as one, but he has changed his voting record over the last few years.  His district is hard to understand:  you have some wealthy people, and then you have a lot of poverty-stricken families with not much opportunity to improve.  Same think with Butterfield’s district–Butterfield’s district is probably the poorest in NC.  In fact, if you made the are East of I-95 it’s own separate state, it would be the poorest in the nation.    

  16. Im just surprised his libertarian stances on foreign policy havent killed him in a primary. The GOP electorate in his district seems to be of the neo-con/hawkish variety. Likewise its an electorate that is probably pro-Patriot Act. But I guess as long as hes in sync with them on taxes and guns he’ll get their support.  

  17. I recall him hammering the mortgage lenders as not being “compassionate enough” to people facing forclosure a couple months ago.  You don’t hear a lot of republicans saying that sort of thing.

  18. Soloman had a lifetime 95% American Conservative Union, which was 2nd highest in the NY delegation at the time of his retirement and far right for a northeastern republican.

    Sweeney had a more moderate 75% lifetime ACU score.  That’s still pretty high by NY republican standards.

  19. Sweeney was a bit left of the GOP’s midpoint, but not at a point where you’d call him moderate. He was 0.334 in his final term, about the same as Peter King. That gave him the #237 slot, record-wise, in the 109th Congress (05-06), which makes him a very good fit, actually, since NY-20, using 00-04 PVI, is district #230. Solomon was pretty conservative, especially by northeast GOP standards. He was at 0.502 in his last term, which put him in the bottom third of the whole GOP caucus.

  20. I would love to see the footage of him talking to the mortgage lenders.  I don’t doubt it at all.  My in-laws live right outside his district, and there are many foreclosures in that area.  

  21. Say what you will about Paul, he has a solid following amongst the anarcho-capitalists in this country and they fund him well.  Also, his economic views are pretty much in synch with the Club for Growth, so it’s unlikely they’d ever try to run anyone against him.

  22. Does he have statewide ambitions?

    If so, I’m willing to let him sit around and wait until he retires from the House to go for higher office.

  23. Next to Michael Bennet and Evan Bayh. Rounding off the list would be our old pals Ben Nelson, Mary Landrieu and Blanche Lincoln.

  24. But I always forget that he’s just 55, it just seems like he’s older than that (he first got elected to the House in 1982, at 28.)  It’s bizarre that he’s only slightly more progressive than Bart Gordon from the 6th, whose district is R+13.

  25. But in fairness his run for Senate was in 1994 against Fred Thompson.  No Democrat was going to do much better than 40% in that race.

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