The conventional wisdom has been that members of Congress are more likely to appeal to their base than attempt to move to the center due to most members of Congress being in safe districts. Chris Cillizza estimates that 38 percent of the House won recent elections by such large margins that they have no fear of losing in a general election. Many others have won by smaller margins but remain unlikely to lose. Dan Baltz described the increased polarization of Congressional districts and the impact on voting behavior, with members of Congress from more competitive districts also voting more like the rest of their party:
Today, there is almost no overlap between the voting behavior of the most conservative Democrats in the House and the most liberal Republicans. That’s in part because there are few moderate-to-conservative Democrats and moderate-to-liberal Republicans left in the chamber.
It also is a reflection of the fact that members from districts that are more evenly balanced ideologically now vote the way their colleagues from highly ideological districts vote. In other words, there is a big difference in the way Republicans and Democrats represent relatively neutral districts.
“Even in districts that turn over a lot, the gap between Republicans and Democrats in those districts has grown tremendously,” McCarty said.
Much of this has resulted from well-documented changes that have made each party more homogenous than in earlier eras. Two shifts account for many of these changes. The first is the realignment of the South, which has become solidly Republican. The second is the realignment outside the South with the decline of the liberal wing of the Republican Party in the Northeast and Midwest.
This is partially due to gerrymandering, but, as I’ve mentioned in the past, also due to the concentration of Democrats in urban districts giving Democrats larger margins of victory in a smaller number of Congressional districts.
If Republicans are more afraid of a losing a primary to a challenger from the far right than they are of losing a general election, they have little motivation to oppose the Tea Party agenda. While most people are frustrated by the impasse, I bet that many Democrats do enjoy seeing the right wing expose how radical they are.
The Republicans might have finally been given enough rope to hang themselves thanks to the Democrats refusing to negotiate with terrorists. As David Weigel put it, the Democrats finally got a spine. I’ve mentioned a couple of times that business interests do not want to see the Tea Party destroy the economy (here and here). It is still early, but some business groups are already starting to recruit Republican candidates to oppose Republicans who support the Tea Party agenda.
“It’s a new dynamic, and we don’t know how far it’s going to go,” said Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman who is close to the House leadership. “All the energy in the Republican Party the last few years has come from the tea party. The notion that there might be some energy from the radical center, the people whose positions in the conservative mainstream are more center-right but who are just furious about the dysfunctionality of government — that’s different.”
If Republicans who move to the extreme fear a well-funded primary challenge we may have a change in the dynamics which make Republican candidates more likely to come from the far right. This effort will still face obstacles as more ideological conservatives are more likely to vote in primary elections. This could change if enough voters get fed up enough with Republican tactics to turn out to vote in primaries (or if Republican voters get fed enough to the point where they vote Democratic). While plenty of people are opposing both parties, the polling numbers continue to get worse for the Republicans. An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows these results:
Most of the changes for both parties come from previously undecided Americans coming to a negative opinion of their work. But a challenge for the Republicans in particular is that their disapproval ratings for handling the situation have increased numerically across the partisan board, among Republicans (+7 points), independents (+5) and Democrats (+9) alike.
The Democrats, by contrast, receive an additional 9 points of disapproval among Republicans compared with last week, but with essentially no change among independents or Democrats.
On Obama, political crosscurrents in effect cancel each other out.
deology, as well as partisanship, indicate difficulties for the GOP. Even among conservatives, 59 percent disapprove of the way the Republicans in Congress are handling the situation, including nearly half of “very” conservatives (47 percent), rising to 68 percent of “somewhat” conservatives. Nearly three-quarters of moderates disapprove as well.
Obama does far better among moderates – 30 points better than the Republicans in approval for his handling of the situation. And he remains far stronger among liberals than the Republicans are among either conservatives overall or the “very” conservatives in their party’s base.
The Republicans also have lost ground at either end of the economic scale, moving from two-thirds disapproval a week ago to about three-quarters now both among Americans with household incomes less than $50,000 a year and among those with incomes more than $100,000.
Obama and the GOP do equally poorly among middle and upper-middle-income adults. But the Republicans are at three-quarters disapproval among women, have experienced a rise in disapproval the past week among young adults, and now are higher in disapproval compared with Obama even among whites, usually a much stronger group for the GOP.