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Senators representing their parties, not their states

Yesterday, I linked to Kombiz Lasvany's graph showing the difference between the percentage of Republican governors who signed a letter asking for state relief funds (70 percent) and the percentage of Republican congressmen who voted for those funds (about zero).

This got me interested in the degree to which members of Congress are representing their parties rather than their states. So I asked Dylan Matthews to work up two graphs testing this. The first shows how Democratic and Republican senators voted on the relief funding. As you can see, there was virtually no breaking of ranks. If you knew a senator's party, you could predict their vote almost perfectly:


Compare that with this graph grouping votes by unemployment rate. We separated the Senate into two categories: senators from states with less than 8.5 percent unemployment (which is the median state unemployment rate), and senators from states with more than 8.5 percent unemployment. As you can see, there's plenty of crossover. Knowing the unemployment rate of a state wouldn't be of much help in predicting a senator's vote:


Senators, in other words, are representing their parties, not their states. You see this particularly clearly when you look at states with one Republican and one Democratic senator. Kit Bond and Claire McCaskill represent the same state, with the same economic conditions, but they've been on the opposite side of most of these votes.

By Ezra Klein  |  August 11, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Given the labels and numbers on these graphs, these are Reps, not Senators, surely?

Posted by: Mike_Russo | August 11, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I knew you wanted to reform the Senate, Ezra, but this is insaaaanity!

Posted by: hb21 | August 11, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Every senator should be required to memorize the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. There is zero reference that a Senator's job is to extract money form the other 49 states to send to his home state for spending on programs that should be funded by his state, corporations, or private parties.

Time for a complete change. Fire all of them.

Posted by: bestmoneyguy | August 11, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I'm confused by the labels reading "House Support" but the text describing senators - which is it?

Posted by: madjoy | August 11, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Oh but they do represent their States: the Republicans think they are doing their constituents a favor by denying them federal aid. They think it's tough love. They also think "empathy" is a dirty word.

Posted by: jeirvine | August 11, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse


So in this context why didn't Democratic senators who live in conservative states vote AGAINST healthcare reform?

Shame on you Evan Bayh, Ben Nelson et al.

Posted by: visionbrkr | August 11, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Ah, and so begins a new, and even more difficult challenge (crusade?) in government reform: reducing the power of the two main parties to control legislators.

Count me in.

It's a very interesting line of inquiry.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | August 11, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

The GOP is useless. It doesn't give a damn about the average American.

Posted by: jckdoors | August 11, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

the massive disagreement between Washington Republicans and state Republicans is notable, but the graphs on unemployment vs. vote are useless. It's already clearly a party line vote from the earlier graph, the colors are confusing (red and blue? really?), and the 8.5% borderline is arbitrary and meaningless.

Posted by: eggnogfool | August 11, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Harry (D.umb.a.zz) Reid is a perfect example.

Reid has become the quintessential Democrat, one who has time and time again used race-baiting tactics to garner votes and turn the light away from him and his party’s complete incompetency. What kind of “leader” says that President Obama was a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one’? What kind of “leader” can say that his own state has no illegal immigrants working construction when a non-partisan Pew Report says that over 12% of said construction workers ARE illegal? The he says" I don't know how anyone with a Latino heritage could be or vote for a Republican, need I say more?"
What a scumbag your are Mr Reid.

Posted by: NO-bama | August 11, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

It isn't necessarily a relevant comparison. The Republican Governor's request was a generic plea for help. The actual bill (voted on by the Congress) included a number of onerous restrictions and budget issues which Republicans did not like. Comparison would be relevant only if we know what the Governors think of the bill that was passed. Also, the obvious mixup on the numbers (Senators vs House members) throws the entire analysis into question.

Posted by: JM80 | August 11, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

Of course the Senators are supporting their party. That's why there such happiness among voters.

This fall, you KNOW what to against every INCUMBENT you can.

No more incumbents, ever.

Posted by: bgreen2224 | August 11, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Clearly, this is the vote the House took the other day, so these are Reps, not Senators. Ezra just had a typo. I think we can all work around it.

I will agree that using red and blue to represent republicans and democrats in one graph and high and low unemployment in another is a bit confusing.

Posted by: MosBen | August 11, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

bgreens notion that incumbents are the problem is myopic, to say the least. The simple, obvious fact is that the system is the problem, not the people in the system - Tea Partiers will go to Washington and be totally indistinguishable from other conservative Republicans. This will not change until we take the money out of politics, which should be obvious to everyone, even money-is-the-root-of-all-good Republicans. The only other reason our system could be so broken is that American democracy has run its course, that the constitution does not work in the Internet age, and that the Chinese will inherit the Earth. This Democrat is not willing to give up on this country

Posted by: windroad1 | August 11, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Man, did the numbers on the graph change? I'd swear they did. If not, I'm losing my mind and you can ignore the first part of my post.

Posted by: MosBen | August 11, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

They Y axis now makes sense. Thank you, the cognitive dissonance was driving me crazy.

Posted by: hb21 | August 11, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't make any sense to divide states by whether they are relatively higher or lower in unemployment. By historic standards, the unemployment rate is extremely high for every state. Moreover, the state aid is aimed at shortfalls in state budgets, not at unemployment. This is some sort of media pseudo-analysis.

Posted by: cyclocross | August 11, 2010 5:49 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't make any sense to divide states by whether they are relatively higher or lower in unemployment. By historic standards, the unemployment rate is extremely high for every state. Moreover, the state aid is aimed at shortfalls in state budgets, not at unemployment. This is some sort of media pseudo-analysis.

Posted by: cyclocross | August 11, 2010 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Why I am a former repuglican. If they do not control the Executive branch then the repuglicans refuse to play. It is un-democratic. Can anyone imagine the Democrats voting against everything proposed by Bush... Reagan or even Nixon. Elections have winners and losers and in a democratic society with the problems we have that is the poll that counts. We need to come together. Obama has tried and been loudly rejected by the bailed out wealthy that crashed the economy.

Posted by: angriestdogintheworld1 | August 11, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Ezra: this is a great topic. Seriously, you can make a career on this for the next couple years. It's your next HCR.

Campaign finance reform and filibuster reform are really two aspects of this larger problem where once an elected official gets to DC they are more beholden to their colleagues in the party than they are to their constituents. Why, specifically, is a very good question. What we can do about it is important to the functioning of our democracy. What it feels like to be a senator in handcuffs is interesting. Maybe get that George Packer guy in on this too. It's also why we all have a knee jerk distrust of incumbents regardless of party. Too bad the people who benefit most from this are the same ones in the best position to keep the status quo. If the tea party would take this on, I'd freaking join it.

This issue has legs and your framing of it is excellent. Good luck on the Pulitzer.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | August 11, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like the cross-overs would be good candidates for a medal, Ezra. If you read your mail, you'd know I was talking about a "Hank", from the US Mint.

Here's the description ...
The obverse design features a portrait of Secretary Paulson with the inscriptions 74th Secretary of the Treasury and Henry M. Paulson, Jr.

The reverse depicts a peregrine falcon in the center, the seal of the Department of the Treasury on the left, the Great Seal of the United States on the right and the Treasury Building in the background with the date JULY 10, 2006 inscribed above. The image of the peregrine falcon represents Secretary Paulson’s commitment to conservation and his long-time interest in birds of prey.
Didn't notice that "interest in birds of prey." before, as if having a Commemorative Medal for the former "Senator from Goldman Sachs" wasn't creepy enough.

Posted by: gannon_dick | August 11, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

I honestly think Senator read and Whitehouse from Rhode Island do care about the people of their state.I do not understand the hatred Republicans have toward the jobless.I was downsized back on 1/11/2008.I started applying for jobs on 1/14/2008.Have never been called lazy and have never done drugs.That has been some of the hate speak coming from the mouths of Republicans in power.I have applied for well over 500 jobs.If anyone in DC wanted to interview me,I would come in a second.The democrats however do not have much to say about the 99'ers who are suffering.President Obama has let me down big time.So has that Pelosi and Baccus.I say come to Rhode Island and see the people suffering first hand.This is the worst economy since the great depression.99'ers need the help also,we maybe suffering the worst.I did not want to collect 1 unemployment check never mind 99.Work is much much better then being laid off anyday.Republican Party when or if a bill for the 99'ers comes up vote with compassion.Democrats protected the union schoolteachers today.Its time to help the 99'ers.Brian Perry Rumford Rhode Island

Posted by: 20beaumont | August 11, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Lets put it this way Ezra....Senators don't care about children. They spend our children into poverty!

Posted by: ELF2 | August 11, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

Lets put it this way Ezra....Senators don't care about children. They spend our children into poverty!

Posted by: ELF2 | August 11, 2010 10:46 PM | Report abuse

Could someone please tell me what is happening on wall street with the 99ers at the rally?

Posted by: sheilagolden46 | August 12, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Fire Ezra Klein

Posted by: screwjob19 | August 12, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

What an idiotic assertion. Unemployment has nothing to do with this purely political theft of our money. Those who opposed this outrageous political bailout acted in the best interests of the nation, and of all federal taxpayers, including those in their own states.

Posted by: thebump | August 12, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

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