Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ideological Purity = Minority Status?

An interesting (but flawed) argument was made in Sunday's New York Times regarding purging Blue Dog Democrats out of the party to establish some kind of ideological purity, much like what the GOP is going through. For both sides, such domination by the far-side of the "coalition" of either the Democratic or Republican parties would only relegate either one to minority status, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives.

With their D-Nominate scores, the noted political scientists Poole and Rosenthal create an ideological spectrum that ranks the most liberal to most conservative member of the U.S. House. Taking these rankings and using an independent analyst (such as Charlie Cook), one can identify those Democrats who are in most trouble in this year's mid-term election.

Here's what I found when I merged the two:

  • Taking the 40 most conservative Democratic seats in the U.S. House, 27 seats are listed as "Republican Lean" or "Democratic Toss-up" (the two most dangerous categories for Dems this year) meaning that seats like Heath Shuler, Larry Kissell, and John Spratt would be sacrificed...and move the Republicans twelve seats closer to majority party status.

  • If you took the "median" House Democrat (Bailey of the Iowa 1st), and looked at those seats to the left and those to right who are in trouble, only six Democrats who are "more liberal" are identified as in trouble. But to the "right" of the median Democrat, 63 Democrats are identified as being in trouble this election. If half of those 63 seats were lost (and imagine the "most conservative" Democrats lost to their Republican counterparts, which may happen this year), then you'd move the median Democrat more to the left--and move the Democratic Party into the minority in the U.S. House.

To expect pure ideological agreement in today's political environment is simply to invite minority status. If Democrats (and for that matter, Republicans as well) believe that only those who are "pure blood" in their ideological perspective are welcome into their party's coalition, then we'll have this "change" elections for the next many cycles. And the viciousness of electoral battles will only get more intense, particularly with the upcoming redistricting of congressional districts next year.

Do we really need more polarization in this nation? Be careful what ya ask for--you might just get it. Our governing and political system is intentionally designed to promote conflict--but it's also designed to enforce compromise, something few folks remember at this time in the game of politics. It's the middle ground where the battle lies in America's political landscape, and to sacrifice the middle means sacrificing a majority-party status.