What makes Texans in Washington different

Photo by Phil Roeder

Texas is a deep-red state, but are its elected officials in Washington really that much more conservative than their colleagues from other states?

According to the data, it turns out they are. In the U.S. House, Texas Republicans and Democrats are on average much more conservative than their fellow lawmakers from the 49 other states. Broadly speaking, Texas is like a parallel universe where each party’s political center of gravity is significantly further to the right than in the rest of the nation.

Methodology

The figure below provides the ideological location, or Liberal-Conservative (Lib-Con) Score, for the 36 Texans who served in the 113th U.S. House (2013-14). The data come from roll call vote analysis by Stanford University professor Simon Jackman using all non-lopsided roll call votes cast during that period. 

The vertical dotted lines represent the Lib-Con Score of the median U.S. House Democrat, in blue, and Republican, in red. (The dark blue and red shaded areas to the left of the dotted line indicate the range of Lib-Con Score values between the 25 percent quartile boundary and the median, and those to the right represent the range between the median and the 75 percent quartile boundary. The light blue and red shaded areas to the left of the dotted line indicate the range between the 25 and 15 percent boundaries and, on the right, between the 75 and 85 percent boundaries.) For example, any Republican located to the right of the light red area was among the most conservative 15 percent of Republicans in the House, while any Democrat to the right of the light blue area was among the most conservative 15 percent of Democrats. 

In the 113th Congress, the Texas delegation consisted of 24 Republicans and 12 Democrats. They ranged from Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, at the liberal end of the ideological spectrum to Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, at the conservative end. 

House Republicans

The median House Republican Lib-Con Score was 0.86. Of the two dozen Texas Republicans, only three had a Lib-Con Score to the left of the party median: John Carter of Round Rock (0.85), Steve Stockman of Friendswood (0.79) and John Culberson of Houston (0.79). Even Culberson, the least conservative Texas Republican, had a Lib-Con Score that was more conservative than that of 38 percent of House Republicans.

One-third of the 24 Texas Republicans were among the most conservative 15 percent of GOP representatives. They included Weber, the 113th House’s most conservative member, along with the third (Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock), ninth (Jeb Hensarling of Dallas), 12th (Kenny Marchant of Coppell) and 15th (Roger Williams of Austin) most conservative Republicans last session. Another four Texas Republicans ended up in the light red shaded area, meaning they were also in the most conservative quartile of House Republicans. In all, half of the Texas GOP delegation had Lib-Con Scores that put them among the most conservative 25 percent of congressional Republicans.

Tyler Rep. Louie Gohmert’s ranking as only the 18th-most-conservative member of the Texas GOP delegation highlights how legislators’ controversial rhetoric and their voting record on the House floor are sometimes distinct. Gohmert’s voting record was significantly less conservative than that of seven Texas Republicans and significantly more conservative than none. During the 113th Congress, vociferous conservatives like Gohmert and Stockman may have talked the conservative talk most loudly in the media, but it was Weber and Neugebauer who walked the conservative walk most consistently on the House floor.

House Democrats

Like their fellow Texans on the other side of the aisle, Texas Democrats were also significantly more conservative than their Democratic colleagues. In the 12-member Texas Democratic delegation, only Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, Lloyd Doggett of Austin and Johnson were more liberal than the median House Democrat (Lib-Con Score of -1.03) — barely so in the cases of O’Rourke (-1.04) and Doggett (-1.05). Even Johnson, the most liberal Texan, had a Lib-Con Score (-1.12) that was more conservative than 44 percent of House Democrats. And the voting record of every Texas Democrat other than Johnson was significantly more conservative than that of Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, the House Democratic leader.

One-third of Texas Democrats were among the most conservative 15 percent of their caucus. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Pete Gallego of Alpine, Gene Green of Houston and Filemon Vela of Brownsville all ranked among the Democratic Party’s 20 most conservative members in the 113th Congress.

Conclusion

During the 2013-14 congressional period, 30 of the 36 members of the Texas U.S. House delegation had voting records that were more conservative than that of their party’s median representative. And not a single Texas representative, Democrat or Republican, was located within their party’s most liberal/least conservative quartile. 

The ideology of Texas’ congressional delegation is at first glance a mirror image of the usual partisan breakdown in Washington, D.C. — Republicans are more conservative than Democrats, and Democrats are more liberal than Republicans. Where we differ is that both our Republicans and our Democrats occupy an ideological position that is noticeably to the right of their respective national peers.

Mark P. Jones

Fellow in political science at Rice University’s Baker Institute

@MarkPJonesTX

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