How Newt Gingrich remade the Senate
This paper (pdf) by Sean Theriault and David Rohde proposes a new and intuitively convincing explanation for rising polarization in the U.S. Senate: Blame the House. And in particular, blame Newt Gingrich.
The House, as we know, is a more polarized place. That's been especially true since 1978, when Newt Gingrich was elected and began ratcheting up the GOP's partisanship in order to create a clearer contrast with the majority Democrats. Gingrich's strategy worked -- and not just in the House. Some congressmen, after all, go on to become senators. And it turns out that the behavior of those congressmen-cum-senators can single-handedly account for the rise of polarization in the Senate:
The growing divide between the voting scores of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate can be accounted for almost entirely by the election of a particular breed of senator: Republicans who were previously elected to the House after 1978. It is the replacement of retiring or defeated senators (both Democrat and Republican) by these newly elected former House Republicans that single-handedly can account for almost the entire growth in the divide between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate since the early 1980s.
For another account of how Gingrich broke Congress, see my interview with Steny Hoyer.
| September 20, 2010; 1:18 PM ET
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