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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

New Blue Dogs Few and Mellow

Derek Willis’s “The House Democrats Who Are Voting With Republicans More Often” at The Upshot can be read as an update on party unity. Among Willis’s observations:

A small group of House Democrats has begun moving to the right in the current Congress, breaking from a majority of colleagues on votes that pit lawmakers from liberal areas against those from more rural and conservative districts.
The lure of a Senate seat, which in many cases requires shifting from a narrower ideological focus to a broader one, and the threat of a well-funded challenger are among the reasons for this this shift.
A few members of this group, which numbers fewer than a dozen, are congressional veterans like Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who survived a tough challenge in 2014 and is voting with a majority of his fellow Democrats 64 percent of the time, down slightly from the previous Congress.

What is most striking here is that “fewer than a dozen” is a pretty small faction. Take it as either a reassuring affirmation that Democratic Party unity is fairly impressive in 2015, or alternatively that there is a need for more healthy dissent within party ranks. Willis cites slipping party unity scores for them in recent years, though not dramatically in most cases.
Party disagreements among Democrats tend to be between moderates and liberals, while Republican bickering seems to be more between right-wingers and the extreme, fever-swamp types in the GOP, exacerbated no doubt by the size of the GOP presidential field. The “thunder” on the right seems increasingly shrill in comparison to internal debates within the Democratic Party.
The Dems identified by Willis disagree with their party over a few key issues, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, but Willis reports that “there are limits to their willingness to cross party lines. No Democrats voted for full [ACA] repeal in February, and none voted for the Republican-written budget that also repeals the law.” Most of the new House blue dogs identified by Willis come from the far west.
In terms of percentages, the numbers seem more or less in line with the percent of Senate Democrats who occasionally stray from the fold in key votes. Also noteworthy is the tame tone of their dissents with the majority of the Party, common to dissenters in both houses.
All in all, at this political moment Democrats are more unified than is usually the case, and unlike Republicans, they are not bitterly riven about a host of social and cultural issues. Hillary Clinton’s unusually high popularity in opinion polls may be more a reflection of Democratic unity on issues, despite a significant percentage of Democrats who prefer Elizabeth Warren and other candidates. At this juncture it seems a safe bet that an overwhelming percentage of Democrats will rally behind the presidential nominee, whoever it may be, and the positive effects will also be felt down ballot.

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