the numbers guy

The House Debt Ceiling Vote by PVI (Partisan Voting Index)

Posted on: August 2, 2011

Last night the House of Representatives passed the debt ceiling compromise by 269 votes to 161, with 3 members not voting. Republicans voted 174-66 in favour, while Democrats were evenly split 95-95.

I thought it would be interesting to break down the House vote district-by-district using the Cook Partisan Voting Index(PVI). PVI measures how strongly a congressional district favours one party over the other and is based on averaging the results of the previous two presidential elections.

For instance, a district like the Illinois 1st is rated as D+34 (the heavily democratic south side of Chicago). The Texas 13th on the other hand is rated as R+29 (heavily republican, in rural northwest Texas).

I wanted to see what correlation there was between a ‘nay’ vote and the PVI of a House member’s district. In general the right-wing of the Republican party joined the left-wing of the Democratic party in voting against the compromise. To what extent did a Congressman’s ‘nay’ vote represent the partisanship of his or her district?

For the purposes of this graph, I assigned a negative PVI value to the 31 cases where a district is represented by someone from the ‘opposite’ party (i.e. a Republican representing a D+ district).

I’ve defined ‘Moderate’ districts as having a PVI of less than 10  (217 of the 435 congressional districts), ‘Partisan’ districts as having a PVI of 10 or over (218 in total) and ‘Heavily Partisan’ districts as having a PVI of 20+ (71 of the 435).

Here are the percentage results of last night’s House vote broken down by PVI:

Clearly there is a strong link between the partisanship of a Congress member’s district and his or her willingness to vote for a compromise, even one backed by the leadership of both parties. Members from moderate districts voted in favour by a whopping 73%-26%. The result from partisan districts was far narrower – 51%-48% from the PVI-10+ districts while PVI 20+ districts rejected the compromise by 56%-42%.

It is also worth noting that Democrats representing >D+10 districts voted 58%-41% against the compromise (Dems from D+20 districts voted 62% against). Many will now be watching the polls closely to determine to what extent the debt ceiling compromise may have damaged President Obama’s support among his liberal base.


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