Taking One For the Team

| Fri Nov. 5, 2010 11:15 AM EDT

More political science wonkery! Eric McGhee wants to know if Yes votes on health care reform, the economic stimulus, cap-and-trade, and TARP were bad for vulnerable House Democrats. As I noted yesterday, regressing this on the entire Democratic caucus isn't very interesting, since the results are swamped by lots of members of Congress who voted Yes on all four but are in very safe seats and won reelection easily:

So I modeled Democratic vote share in contested House districts using this count of "yes" votes, plus campaign money in 2010 (from here and here) and each district's House and presidential vote in 2008 as controls (here). The model also estimates whether the effect of roll call votes depended on the partisanship of the district, as captured by the 2008 presidential vote.

....What does this model tell us about roll call votes on these four bills? Simple answer: they mattered. A lot. A Democratic incumbent in the average district represented by Democratic incumbents actually lost about 2/3 of a percentage point for every yes vote. That doesn't sound like a lot, but that's for incumbents in districts that voted 63% for Obama.

....What might have happened if vulnerable Democrats hadn't voted for any of the four bills?....The Democrats gain back 32 seats, enough to retain control of the House.

Now, McGhee isn't saying vulnerable Dems shouldn't have made these votes. In fact, he doesn't even think it cost them their majority, because it turns out there are some other confounding factors. Read the full post for details. "But," he says, "it seems safe to say that they had a big negative effect on Democratic performance, and they certainly didn't help."

Perhaps so. For now, though, treat it as just another data point. It's probably going to take a while for the real answers to emerge from the data.