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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Abramowitz: Data Links Vote Loss to Conservative Ideology

Conservatives have succeeded in hustling many pundits with the meme that America is a center-right country. As a result, the “move right and win,” strategy has prevailed in GOP circles. But Alan I. Abramowitz, author of The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy, sees it a little differently. Not one to shoot from the lip without statistical corroboration, Abramowitz a TDS advisory Board member, explains it this way in his post “Will Republicans Blow It? Tacking right doesn’t always guarantee victory on Election Day” in The American Prospect:

One way of addressing this question is to look at the relationship between the ideologies of congressional incumbents and their electoral performance. The advantage of focusing on incumbents is that their voting records can be used to gauge their overall liberalism or conservatism. For example, in the current Senate, based on a widely used scale called DW-NOMINATE, Russ Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin, and Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, have the most liberal voting records, while Republicans Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma have the most conservative.
In order to evaluate the impact of ideology on electoral performance, I conducted a statistical analysis of all contested Senate races involving incumbents between 1992 and 2008. I controlled for other factors that influence election results, such as the strength of the parties in the incumbent’s state, the strength of the challenger, and the political climate at the time of the election.
The results showed that for Republican incumbents, conservatism had a significant negative influence on electoral support. A 10 percent increase in conservatism was associated with a decline of about 1 percentage point in the incumbent’s vote. This may not sound like much, but a 10 percent decrease in conservatism might have saved seven of the 21 GOP incumbents who were defeated in these elections, including George Allen Jr. and Conrad Burns in 2006 and Norm Coleman and Ted Stevens in 2008.

But does the relationship cut the other way? Not so much, according to Abramowitz:

What about the other party? Interestingly, for Democratic incumbents, liberalism did not have a significant impact on electoral performance. Only nine Democratic senators lost their seats between 1992 and 2008. Having a strongly liberal voting record neither helped nor hurt Democratic incumbents, which may reflect the fact that liberal Democrats generally don’t emphasize ideological themes to the extent that conservative Republicans do.

Abramowitz cautions that it’s unclear whether a similar relationship prevails concerning the ideological leanings of challengers or open-seat candidates. But he nonetheless concludes that “..the evidence from two decades worth of Senate races involving Republican incumbents does raise serious doubts about the “move right and win” theory…While ideological moderates may have a hard time winning GOP primaries these days, they make stronger general-election candidates than hard-line conservatives.”
And with GOP moderates an endangered species in the 2010 mid terms, that is good news for Dems, who hope to hold their majorities.

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