Thursday, February 23, 2012

Do Liberal Activists Control the Democratic Party? Yes, Yes They Do.

A few critics of the report I wrote for Third Way have targeted my assertion that liberal activists control the Democratic party. It's worth noting that the folks who have taken issue with that claim are themselves liberal activists - so their perception may be skewed. As a quick check I examined the DW-NOMINATE scores of all Democratic House members in the 112th Congress. The average first-dimension score of the Democratic caucus is -.429. Nancy Pelosi, the Minority Leader, scores a -.533 - well to the left of average. I then took the party leadership - Minority Leader, Whip, Assistant Leader, Whips, Caucus Chair, Steering Committee and Ranking Members on major committees - and the average score across those folks was a -.496. Fewer than a third of the leadership had a DW-NOMINATE score more conservative than the caucus average.

A study last year by Joseph Bafumi and Michael Herron found that Democrats in Congress are to the left of even the median Democratic voter in their respective states (GOP members are too the right of the median GOP voter). So essentially, in a Democratic caucus in the House that is already to the left of Democratic voters, the leadership of the party is to the left of the caucus - so do liberal activists control the Democratic party? Well yes, yes they do.

Some folks questioned my reliance on self-identified ideology. The research on that is actually quite extensive and shows without question that how one identifies on a liberal-conservative dimension reflects one’s core system of preferences and attitudes and is reliably correlated with a range of substantive policy preferences including the size and scope of government, traditional vs. progressive social values, and the use of military force. I would direct critics to the following works:
  1. Abramowitz, A., & Saunders, K. (2006). Exploring the bases of partisanship in the American. Political Research Quarterly, 59, 175-187.
  2. Baldassarri, D., & Gelman, A. (2008). Partisans without Constraint: Political Polarization and Trends in American Public Opinion. American Journal of Sociology, 114(2), 408-46.
  3. Gerring, J. (1997). Ideology: A Definitional Analysis. Political Research Quarterly, 50, 957-994.JostNosek, B. A., & Gosling, D. S. (2008). Ideology: Its resurgence in social, personality, andpolitical psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(2), 126-136.
  4. Gerring, J. (1998). Party ideologies in America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Jost, J. T., Nosek, B. A., & Gosling, D. S. (2008). Ideology: Its resurgence in social, personality, and political psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(2), 126-136.
Democrats are a diverse coalition of voters, but ideologically the party is home to a large number of moderates even though party activists are liberal. The party cannot win without the support of those moderates. It cannot afford to push them away. To those on the left that refuse to accept anything less than ideological purity consider - if candidate A shares 5% of your beliefs and candidate B shares 60% of your beliefs - and there is no candidate C - withholding your vote because B doesn't represent 100% of your beliefs does nothing more than help elect candidate A.There are no moral victories in politics. After the election the moral victor goes home. The actual victor makes policy.