Staggering–towards a typology

Offered as a public service, in response to a comment from JD, who observed:

To my knowledge, the following countries have partial renewal besides the US: Chile, Argentina, Czech Rep., France (indirect, of course).

I remember someone offering a detailed terminology for different types of staggered election. Does someone recall which thread that was?

I don’t think said terminology was offered here (or at least not by me), but it is an obvious F&V topic. So, let’s give it a try.

I plant this under “bicameralism” because, at least at the national level, the topic mainly concerns second chambers. However, it should be noted that Argentina continues to have staggered terms for its first chamber. At one time, so did Luxembourg, although they abandoned it decades ago.

By definition, staggering means that some members of a legislative chamber are elected at different times* than other members of the same chamber, generating “classes” of members according to when their seats are next up for election. It has entered the discussion due to the observation (by, for instance, my UC Davis colleague Ben Highton in February) that this year’s class of US Senate seats was especially unrepresentative of the partisan breakdown of the country as a whole.

Any typology of staggering would consider variables such as whether districts alternated in which were in play across elections or whether some fraction of each district’s seats came up at every election. I am sure there are other variables…


________
Please note the M-dash in the title of the post, as the meaning rather changes if it is omitted.

________
* Or for different term lengths, although as far as I know this variable is relevant only for a new chamber, or when the staggered schedule is being reset (as after a double dissolution in Australia.)

Would the House adopt the Senate’s health bill?

One way that the Democratic Party can prevent a loss of the Massachusetts Senate seat from stopping their healthcare program from becoming law, without either reopening negotiations (e.g. trying to get one of the Maine Republicans to vote with them) or using hardball tactics (e.g. finding a procedure to pass the bill without needing 60 votes), is for the House simply to adopt the Senate bill. Then it would not require another vote in the Senate.

Would the House do that?

More for the charge sheet: a pivotal special senate election

I can’t claim to know who will win the special election for the US Senate seat from Massachusetts formerly held by Ted Kennedy. However, I do know one thing: It is yet another item in the “charge sheet” against the American way of politics and policy-making that a government that, along with its legislative majorities, was endorsed by substantial majorities of the electorate could have its entire agenda pivot on the outcome of a special election for one seat in one house in one state just one year into its tenure.

It is worth noting that the current government is the first government in the USA to have popular majorities backing both it and its legislative majorities in quite some time (since 1976, I believe; no Republican Senate majority in at least five decades has been backed by a popular majority and Clinton never won over 50% of the vote). But that does not matter. One might think that elections should matter–that is, national elections–and that governments endorsed by majorities might be generally able to implement their programs. Well, at least that is what one might think if one were a committed small-d democrat.

That the Democratic Party is in such a fight for this seat–in Massachusetts!–is also a new item for the charge sheet against the party. How can it have missed the boat so badly with its policy agenda that it is struggling to hold a Senate seat in a state so reliably Democratic, till now, in Senate elections?

One item from the Globe and Mail suggests one reason why Republican Scott Brown is putting up such a challenge: He says that health care is a state issue. That is a defensible position–personally, I think it’s wrong, but it is defensible. The interesting twist is that various elements of the Democratic proposals resemble the healthcare policy put in place already in Massachusetts. That healthcare program was signed by a Republican governor (Mitt Romney, and that fact won’t help him with the national Republican primary electorate in 2012). So, in a sense, at least some swing voters in Massachusetts may be voting to protect what they already have from feared federal intrusion by a national policy. Ironically, that is how the Senate is supposed to work: as a forum for protecting state interests. Here we have a state that is seriously under-represented in terms of population per Senator, given that severe malapportionment of the institution. But in this one election, it will be seriously over-represented, as a relative few swing voters in one state essentially decide the fate of the governing party program, by bringing its majority below 60% in one house.

On the contest itself, Republicans chose for themselves about as good a candidate as they could have: Brown is very liberal for a Republican–even in the context of Massachusetts, where Republicans are in general about as liberal as they can be and still be Republicans. (Both points are made by Boris Shor, in a graph posted by Andrew Gelman at 538.)

On the other hand, evidently Democrat Martha Coakley is no exactly an exciting candidate, or one in touch with her voters–she evidently does not even know that Curt Schiling is something of a Massachusetts legend, suggesting he was a Yankees fan. If Coakley loses, there will be debate about how much candidate effects mattered and how much it really was a referendum on Obama’s policies, especially healthcare. But there is little doubting the impact. And, whatever one’s opinion of the policies or the current government, that just shows what an odd way we run this system known as American democracy.

Lieberman’s right-wing shift (and other data points from the Senate rankings)

Robert Farley (building on Peter Beinart) makes the entirely plausible claim that Sen. Joe Lieberman has shifted to the right since 2006 out of some mix of personal animosity towards the progressive base of the Democratic Party (which ousted him as Democratic candidate in the 2006 primary only to see him win reelection as an independent) and responsiveness to his new electoral coalition (which leaned well to the right given that Ned Lamont was the left-leaning Democrat in the general election race).

There is only one thing wrong with this analysis: It is false.

According to the scaling of roll-call votes for each Senate at Keith Poole’s Vote View, here is where Lieberman has ranked so far in the 111th Senate, and going back in time to the 107th (2002, before the Iraq invasion and also before Lieberman’s presidential bid). The lower the rank, the farther the Senator is to the left within that Senate.

111: 28
110: 34.5
109: 30.5
108: 33
107: 32

Not much movement there. But what movement there is, has been to the left, particularly since Barack Obama became President.

Additionally, Keith asked the question some years ago about which Senator had moved more in his voting from the 105th to 107th Senates, Lieberman or John McCain.

Senator McCain shifted 14 (out of a total of 126 ranks [from 85 to 71]) ranks to the left during 2000 – 2002 while Senator Lieberman shifted 16 ranks [from 56 to 40]. In contrast, Senator Jeffords shifted 48 ranks — from rank 65 to rank 17 after he switched to being an independent.

So, Joe Lieberman used to be a relatively conservative Democratic Senator. But for many years now he has been just a bit to the left of his party’s median.

How about that shift by Jeffords? Far more dramatic than a more recent party-switcher, Arlen Specter:

111 (since switch): 45
111 (before switch): 62
110: 56
109: 50
108: 52
107: 54

While we are looking at ranks, it is also noteworthy that Kirsten Gillibrand, the Blue Dog House member whom progressives disdained as too conservative when she was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton’s vacated seat, has been the 12th most liberal Senator in the 111th.* Now, that is shifting to represent one’s new electoral coalition.

Back to Lieberman: he may not be especially liberal and he may take personal enjoyment from occasionally annoying progressives, but there is no evidence that he has made any shift towards the right-leaning electoral coalition that returned him to the Senate in 2006.

A final aside: The 108th was the last Senate in which there was a D amidst the Rs (or vice versa): Zel Miller was 59th, to the right of 11 Republicans!

_______
* Clinton had been 18th in the 110th.

More on Specter’s switch

At The Monkey Cage, John Sides notes, “All in all, I am quite impressed by how much political science research speaks to Specter’s switch, and how well it helps us understand his decision and what may result from it.”

The upshot is that political science would appear generally to suggest that Specter will change his voting behavior towards substantial consistency with his new party. That would be quite contrary to what I heard a reporter for Roll Call say on WHYY radio earlier today (that he would not change “a single vote”, Arlen will still be Arlen, etc.).

Parties matter to politicians, and so they tend to switch to parties that are compatible with their goals, including ideological preferences. And, yes, parties matter in these (and other) ways even in the US Senate. (For that matter, even in Brazil, where switching for consistency in policy voting might be even more unexpected by conventional wisdom, and where party switching is notoriously common.)

Some pundits have already suggested an “ah hah” moment over Specter’s almost immediate post-switch vote against the budget resolution.* But it was a freebie for him. Budget resolutions can’t be filibustered and the measure had a clear majority without Specter. It was a perfect–and for Specter, perfectly timed–opportunity to demonstrate that he remains “independent.” But that vote should not be taken as predictive of how he will behave between now and the 2010 elections, or beyond.

____
* The linked item ends by noting that Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who brifly considered joining Obama’s Cabinet, said “”When you join a caucus, you have to vote with them most of the time.”

Party switch

Senator Arlen Specter apparently is the newest Democratic member of the US Senate.

As The Fix notes:

Because of the shrinking Republican vote in the state [of Pennsylvania], Specter was seen as a dead man walking politically in the primary with polling showing him trailing [Republican primary challenger Pat] Toomey by ten or more points. The bar for Specter to run as an independent was also extremely high due to the rules governing such a third party candidacy.

That left a Democratic candidacy as Specter’s best option if he wanted to remain in the Senate beyond 2010.

And Specter himself justified his decision by saying “Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans.”

Now, one might say that was a convenient “finding.”

But should we see this as “agency loss” (he was elected as a Republican, after all) or as “agent responsiveness” (his principal–the electorate of Pennsylvania–has shifted its preferences in the last five years)?

Whatever our answer may be in the case of the current US Senate and Pennsylvania, would it vary if the electoral system or constitutional context were different?