What senators and representatives vote in favor of democracy?
Quantifying the commitments of politicians to defend democracy is not easy. Even defining “democracy” it’s complicated – scholars disagree on its exact definition, let alone attempt to establish how close politicians or parties adhere to democratic principles. There is not survey in progress of how strongly elected members of Congress believe in democratic principles, for example, and it is unclear what such a poll would tell us, given that politicians (and their staff) are often masters of the trick. But just like add politician votes can tell us something about where they fall ideologically economic or social policies, a thing that may What you have to do is see how members of Congress vote when democracy issues are brought to the floor.
Of course, the problem here is that democracy issues are rarely put to a vote. “Most aspects of democracy are not up for debate in Congress in a given year,” he said. Michael Coppedge, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame and one of the principal investigators to Varieties of democracy. That’s an important caveat because the breadth of such a metric is limited by how much Congress actually votes. “There are many things that are taken for granted that are essential to what democracy is,” Coppedge said. “Instead, on what we get our votes [are] skirmishes on the periphery of what democracy means. “
A further complication is that there is no single agreed list of what are (or are not) problems with democracy. It does not matter what the most democratic position is on each issue.
With all of that in mind, I have constructed two different metrics to help us understand a legislator’s stance on democracy. First, it is a minimalist definition of democracy, limited to basic requirements such as free and, theoretically, fair elections and other measures that help safeguard democracy. Second, there is a broader definition, which contains everything in the first category, but also includes bills that expand civil liberties and who has political power. That way, we can see where politicians converge on these two metrics and where they differ.
First, the most concise definition: “questions of electoral democracy. “Included in this definition are the most basic requirements of any functioning democracy, such as free elections and freedom of the press. And while most of these issues do not usually come up in congressional votes, some did this year, in particular , the tally of electoral votes for Pennsylvania and Arizona in the 2020 election. usually a ceremonial event that this year faced objections from members of Congress and it coincided with the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Four other types of bills fall into this category: a bill that would have created an independent commission to investigate the January 6 attack; when that could not pass the senate, a bill to create a select committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol; a bill to increase the independence of government oversight of the executive branch; and the second bill to impeach former President Donald Trump, as he was accused of inciting “an insurrection against the United States government.” We realized that the bill was more political than the others in this category, and we debated whether to include it, but ultimately decided that being too political was not a good reason for exclusion, especially since the bill was about a core democratic. principle: the peaceful transfer of power in US elections. (For what it’s worth, including this vote didn’t significantly change the results.)
The way politicians vote on these issues not only reflects the extent to which they support President Biden’s policies, which FiveThirtyEight tracks through its Biden Score metric. Although party lines are important here, this simplified metric of democracy still shows substantial variation, particularly among Republicans. On the other hand, most Democrats are clustered in the upper right corner.
Take Republican Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Bill Cassidy, Mitt Romney, and Ben Sasse. All five opposed objections to the electoral vote recount in both Pennsylvania and Arizona and supported the National Commission to investigate on January 6 – the three pro-democracy bills voted by the Senate in this category, though they differ widely. to the extent that they support Biden’s agenda. Similarly, in the House, Republican Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick, Tom Reed, John Katko, Adam Kinzinger, and Liz Cheney voted largely in favor of pro-democracy measures in front of the House, although Cheney rarely votes with Biden in another way.
At the other end of the spectrum, you can see which representatives have voted against both Biden and the basic pro-democracy measures that Congress has adopted. For example, Senators Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Tommy Tuberville, Roger Marshall, and Cindy Hyde-Smith have voted against the Democratic position each time, even though Hyde-Smith tends to vote with Biden far more than everyone else.
But this basic metric is, of course, a fairly narrow definition of what it means to live in a democracy, so I created a second metric that also includes bills that attempt to create a more expansive and inclusive democracy. Use legislative dashboards from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the government watchdog group Common cause and the nonprofit research organization Vote smartI looked at all the other bills that Congress brought to the floor this year that could also be considered key to a functioning democracy, in addition to the ones I have already mentioned. Invoices that fall into this second category include:
Interestingly, the big picture doesn’t change that a lot when looking at this more comprehensive set of bills, although the partisan differences are somewhat more stark. While the basic metric had some Republicans on par with Democrats, this is no longer the case – no Republicans support the broader definition of democracy more than Democrats.
In the Senate, Collins, Murkowski, Romney, Sasse and Cassidy continue to lead Republicans on this metric, supporting nearly every bill that falls on this second metric. The notable exception is the For the People Act, which no Senate Republicans voted in favor. Meanwhile, we saw more movement in the House, which voted for more “small d” democratic bills and whose democracy score increasingly correlated with Biden’s score. However, there were still some Republicans who supported most of these more expansive democratic positions, such as Fitzpatrick, Reed, Katko, and Kinzinger, although most of them vote with Biden less than half the time. Cheney, however, fell into this more expansive metric in large part because he did not support legislation such as a bill to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity, the For the People Act, and the Act Office of Washington, DC.
And this brings us to an important point. As this broader definition of democracy shows, many of these issues have been polarized by party. That can make it difficult to separate anti-democratic politics from partisan politics, according to Gretchen helmke, a professor at the University of Rochester and one of the founders of Bright dial clock, a group of political scientists that monitors democracy and its threats. HR 1, the Law For the People, is an instructive example: Democrats have promoted this bill as a small democratic because it makes it easier for people to exercise their right to vote, but also first presented it in 2019 as a statement of what the party stood for, when he had no chance of passing a Republican-controlled Senate and White House. So have Republicans voted against this bill as part of a stance against the right to vote, or have they opposed it because they are concerned that it will give Democrats a sweeping legislative victory? There is no single answer here. In almost every bill we analyzed in the most comprehensive metric, it was very difficult to separate politics from politics.
Of course, this metric is not based on a random subset of potential problems. Democrats, who currently control both houses of Congress, could be strategic in what they choose to advance, political scientist Jake grumbach indicated. Grumbach, professor of political science at the University of Washington and author of a recent document that tracks the state of liberal democracy at the state level, warned that Democrats might want to avoid tough decisions for their members by introducing bills that could divide the party, leading them to keep bills off the floor that the party disagrees with. a form of selection bias what a plague all studies of the electoral behavior of the Congress. Therefore, we must be careful in drawing conclusions about the liberal and illiberal tendencies of the elected officials in our sample. But to see where your representative or senators stand, check out the full set of scores for all legislators on this metric in the table below:
At this point, the core of democracy in America is not up for debate. “Today we are fighting battles for certain aspects of the democratic process, but not for its core, for the most part,” Coppedge told me. But the fact that questions of democracy have become so clearly partisan is not good for the future of democracy. And given how politically divided that struggle has already become, it’s more important than ever to track how Congress votes on democracy issues that do make it to the floor.
Graphics by Ryan Best and Anna Wiederkehr.