In 2014 I built the first version of Evidence-Based Wyoming to analyze the votes of Wyoming legislators as they voted on legislative bills. Initially known as Evidence-Based Politics, Evidence-Based Wyoming was then first conceived as a mathematical science experiment that could be used to demonstrate and predict the voting proclivities of Wyoming legislators.
What follows is the first-ever report of what was then known as Evidence-Based Politics. I hope it provides insight into the motivation, methodology, and reasoning behind Evidence-Based Wyoming. The idea remains the same, use math to present a science experiment others can reproduce that can be used as a tool to understand our legislature and what it does.
A Study into the Voting Patterns of the 62nd Wyoming Legislature
Wyoming has a reputation as being a conservative state, but Wyoming has trouble passing conservative legislation. Several states have been successful in keeping the government in line with time-honored and proven conservative principles. On many fronts, other states are taking the fight to the federal government over Obamacare, deciding not to participate with Common Core education “standards”, and establishing tough new restrictions on abortions. Yet despite being widely known as a conservative state, Wyoming has difficulty in adopting similar conservative measures.
The Wyoming Republican Party is the dominant party in the state. The Wyoming Republican Party is also the home of conservatives. A quick examination of the Wyoming Republican Party State Platform reveals it to be a document of decidedly conservative principles.
Which asks the question if other states can advance the conservative cause, why not Wyoming?
This is a difficult question to answer. There are many organizations, studies, surveys and rankings that propose to inform us about the intentions of the voters. The problem is few if any of those rankings are free from political bias. The NRA, the Wyoming Liberty Group and others do a good job in providing information about legislators, but their ranking ultimately involve someone from their organization making a decision about what is a good vote and what is a bad vote. This adds bias to the results and while useful in understanding individual legislators isn’t much more than the opinion of the organization doing the rankings.
This goal of this study is to quantitatively analyze publically available data to understand the political leanings of our legislators without the taint of organizational or personal political bias. To be successful, this study must compare the voting patterns of each legislator in an objective quantitative way. Done properly, this will keep personal bias out of the analysis. In order for this analysis to have weight it must be a quantitative study that others can reproduce.
The first step in developing a tool to gauge the voting pattern of each legislator is the selection of datasets that satisfy two basic requirements:
- The data must be publicly available
- The data must be unambiguous and concise, leaving no room for the injection of bias.
The two chosen sets of data are the declared party affiliation of each legislator and the roll call votes each legislator took as part of the 62nd legislature.
The party affiliation is chosen by the individual legislator and is available on the website of the Wyoming legislature. It is definitively unambiguous being either Republican or Democrat.
The roll call votes of each bill the legislator considered during the 62nd legislature are also publicly available. They too are unambiguous and for each roll call vote a legislator takes part as his or her vote is either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
The main purpose of the algorithm is to identify what is Democrat and what is Republican in a quantitative way.
To make this decision, each roll call vote is analyzed. For each individual roll call vote, the generic Democrat and Republican votes are calculated by determining the simple majority of each party for or against the issue on which the roll call vote is taken. This provides two data points for each roll call vote, the generic Democrat vote and the generic Republican vote. The core of the analysis relies on these generated data points.
Once the generic party votes for each roll call vote are determined, each individual legislator can be compared to the generic party votes to generate a percentage of agreement between the generic party votes and the votes of the individual legislators. This is done by going through each roll call vote and calculating the number of times the legislator voted in agreement with the generic party vote for each roll call vote taken. In a similar manner, the base line generic agreement between generic Republicans and generic Democrats can also be calculated.
The next step in the process is to determine a Democrat and Republican score for each legislator. The scores are calculated as follows:
Finally the scores are normalized between years so when the years are compared the comparison is on similar terms.
The results are then plotted on a graph with the x-axis indicating the Republican score for the legislator. Similarly the y-axis is used to indicate the Democrat score for each legislator.
Linear regression is then used to identify the trends among the Republican legislators, Democrat legislators and the legislature as a whole.
Finally a Democrat/Republican gradient is calculated for each legislator by subtracting the legislator’s Republican score from the legislator’s Democrat score.
62nd Legislature, House of Representatives
|Republican Score||Democrat Score||Democrat-Republican Gradient|
62nd Legislature, Senate
|Republican Score||Democrat Score||Democrat-Republican Gradient|
Total House roll call votes including committees: 1353
Total Senate roll call votes including committees: 1232
House generic Democrat/generic Republican agreement percentage: 85.73%
Senate generic Democrat/generic Republican agreement percentage: 88.39%
During the calculation there were several problems with the data sets as provided by the Legislative Service Office. The single largest problem was the inconsistency and lack on uniqueness in the recording scheme used to record all votes. One legislator had no less than four different name string used to identify the same legislator. In all cases best efforts were made to determine the correct legislator to assign the vote to. In cases where there was no way to decipher the correct legislator without resorting to manual editing of the vote, that individual legislators vote was discarded. This occurred in less than 2% of all roll calls processed.
A second problem is that the LSO does not record when legislator change their votes at the last minute. This can affect the data as a legislator may vote one way, see the vote going the other and change the vote at the last minute to be “caught” on the wrong side of the vote. While it is understood mistakes can be made, equal weight must be given to the idea that politics can also be played.
The first thing that jumps out from the data is the trend seen among Republicans (red line) which shows that the more a legislator agrees with the generic Republican vote the more that same legislator will agree more with the generic Democrat vote. It is true throughout the legislature, even among Democrats, but is most significant among Republicans.
The large range of agreement of Republicans with their own party is also significant. It indicates there is substantial disagreement within the Republican Party itself. The 25-30 point distribution is four to six times larger than the range seen among Democrats.
While there are significantly fewer Democrats, they are far more cohesive in voting as a bloc. There is some variability with regards to agreement with Republicans, but in general they agree with each other far more frequently than Republicans do.
These observations, the high agreement between the two parties, the trend as a legislator agrees more with Republicans, the more the legislator is likely to agree with Democrats, the cohesiveness of the Democrats and the large differential of agreement with the Republican Party clearly indicate the Republicans are not voting as a conservative bloc, and that the party as a whole vote more liberally than suggested by the common wisdom.
If the Democrats are generally voting with each other, how is it there is such a high amount of agreement between Republicans and Democrats? Clearly there is a bloc of Republicans more inclined to vote with the Democrats rather than their own party. With that understood, it is no wonder that well known conservatives like Senator Perkins, Representatives Kroeker, Halverson and McKim disagree with the generic Republicans at slightly over half the rate they disagree with Democrats.
One of the interesting statistics is the “Democrat-Republican gradient”. This is the legislator’s Democratic rating minus the legislator’s Republican rating. The gradient in essence puts a number on how much a given legislator prefers Democrat policy compared to Republican policy. A positive gradient score indicates the legislator is more inclined to agree with the Democrat party more often than with the generic Republican.
|Table 1 – Positive Democrat – Republican Gradients|
This illustrates that there are far more legislators than just the 12 Democrats that lean toward a more liberal voting record.
There are 21 Republican legislators that have a positive Democrat/Republican gradient. This is roughly under one third of Republican legislators that are more likely to vote with Democrats than with their own party.
On March 9th, seven lawmakers authored an opinion in the Casper Star Tribune titled, “Lawmakers: Gay marriage fits Republican values”. This was the first opportunity to see if the study had any accuracy or predictive power. In the case of gay marriage it is well known that Wyoming Republican Party clearly declares in its platform that “Marriage is between one and one woman.” In fact the Wyoming GOP clearly says “A Platform, or more specifically a Platform Plank, is a simple and basic core principle.”
This puts the lawmakers at odds with declared Republican values, could this have been predicted?
It turns out that all seven lawmakers have a positive Democrat-Republican gradient. While this is an anecdotal test of the analysis, it remains worth noting the predictive accuracy of the model.
Republicans have always been a “big tent” party. Diversity of opinion is important and fosters significant and consequential debate.
One thing Republicans don’t need is to become a party that forces everyone into the same mold.
The liberals of the world are very tolerant of everyone who agrees with them 100% and hold a special enmity for those who deviate from the party line even on just one issue. Republicans should not traipse down that same path trying to obtain any form of ideological purity.
Ideally Republicans ought to make sure Republicans are honest about their convictions regardless of what those convictions are. Internecine argument with half the party calling the other RINOs, and the other responding with charges of ‘wing nut’, isn’t helpful to anyone.
Republicans instead ought to make their views known and stand up for their principles. Liberal Republicans ought to stand up and be counted as liberal Republicans. Conservative Republicans ought to do the same as conservative Republicans.
A true Republican regardless of ideological background will stand up for what they believe and make their case. Republicans are the party that believes in the individual and individual freedom after all.
What the Republican Party ought not to stand for is candidates that campaign one way as candidates, but vote another as legislators. The Republican Party ought to educate each member of the Republican Party on how their Republican legislators are voting.
The legislators that say they agree with the entire Republican platform or promise you “more freedom”, but then vote in ways counter to those promises are the real problem for the Republican Party.
It is the difference between the Politician and the Statesman. A Politician tells people what they want to hear to get elected so they can promote their private agenda. A Statesman stands up for what he believes, will forth rightly declare and defend his position, and will vote in accordance with his beliefs.
As a conservative I want the Republican Party to support Statesmen and eschew the Politicians. I particularly want to see conservative Statesmen rise to the challenge and take the conservative case to the people.
The Wyoming GOP ought to make this their core function in the coming elections.