Political scientists have long used roll call votes cast by members of Congress to plot them on the Liberal-Conservative dimension along which most legislative politics now takes place. This ranking of the Texas House of Representatives does the same by drawing on the 1,138 non-lopsided roll call votes taken during the 2015 regular session. As with previous rankings, this one uses a Bayesian estimation procedure developed by Stanford University professor Simon Jackman.
In the figure below, Republicans are indicated by red dots and Democrats by blue ones. (Find party-specific figures for Republicans here and for Democrats here.) The figure is based on the roll call vote analysis and for each legislator provides a mean ideal point, referred to below as the Lib-Con Score, along with the 95 percent credible interval (CI) for this point estimate. If two legislators’ CIs overlap, their positions on the ideological spectrum might be statistically equivalent, even if their Lib-Con Scores are different. Also included are vertical dashed black lines, which indicate the location of the respective median Democratic (D) and Republican (R) representatives as well as that of the House’s median representative (F).
In addition, this table contains each representative’s Lib-Con Score and rank-ordered position on the Liberal-Conservative dimension, ranging from 1 (most liberal) to 148 (most conservative). House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio, who by custom doesn’t ordinarily vote, is not included here. Neither is Dawnna Dukes of Austin, who cast a vote in only 15 percent of the roll calls during the session. The table also details the ideological location of the representative in relation to his or her co-partisans. In each party, every representative’s ideological location was compared with that of his or her party caucus colleagues and then placed into one of seven mutually exclusive, albeit arbitrary, ordinal ideological categories going from left to right:
- More Liberal/Less Conservative Than 2/3
- More Liberal/Less Conservative Than 1/2
- More Liberal/Less Conservative Than 1/3
- Democratic/Republican Center
- More Conservative Than 1/3
- More Conservative Than 1/2
- More Conservative Than 2/3
For example, representatives in the More Conservative Than 1/2 category have a Lib-Con Score and 95 percent CI that locates them at a position noticeably more conservative than half of their co-partisans. Similarly, representatives in the Democratic (or Republican) Center category are neither significantly more liberal/less conservative than one-third of their co-partisans nor significantly more conservative than one-third.
It’s important to keep in mind that Republicans can register Lib-Con Scores that are noticeably lower than those of most of their fellow Republicans while remaining conservative. It merely signifies that they have voting records that are less conservative than those of most of their fellow Republicans.
For instance, Republicans Sarah Davis of West University Place, J.M. Lozano of Kingsville and Rick Galindo of San Antonio all have Lib-Con Scores that are significantly more conservative than that of every Democrat. But unlike a overwhelming majority of their GOP colleagues, for whom the November 2016 general election will be a cakewalk, Davis, Lozano and Galindo represent three of the state’s dozen or so “swing” districts, where a Republican with a noticeably more conservative voting record would be much more vulnerable to defeat at the hands of a Democrat in 2016.
The members of the Republican House caucus vary considerably in their location across the conservative side of the ideological spectrum. The delegation ranges from Matt Rinaldi of Irving, Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, Tony Tinderholt of Arlington and Matt Schaefer of Tyler at one end, to Galindo, Lozano, J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville and Davis at the other.
Overall, the Republican House delegation is ideologically quite diverse, with substantial ideological differences within the 97-member caucus. Almost a third of the delegation (30) has a voting record that is significantly more conservative than either two-thirds (14) or one-half (16) of their Republican colleagues. Similarly, more than a quarter (26) of the delegation has a voting record that is significantly less conservative than that of either two-thirds (nine) or one-half (17) of their fellow Republicans.
The Democratic delegation ranges from the very liberal Justin Rodriguez of San Antonio, Nicole Collier of Fort Worth and César Blanco of El Paso to the much more moderate/centrist Joe Pickett of El Paso, Tracy King of Batesville and Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City. As a group, the Democratic House delegation is much more ideologically homogenous than its Republican counterpart.
Over half (28) of the 51 House Democrats are located in the Democratic Center, meaning their Lib-Con Score is neither significantly more liberal than one-third, nor more conservative than one-third, of their co-partisans. In contrast with the GOP delegation, a scant three Democrats are significantly more liberal than one-half or more of their fellow Democrats and less than one-fifth (nine) significantly more conservative than one-half.
Ideological continuity and change
In 2015, the ideological distribution within the Democratic and Republican delegations, as well as the general ideological location of the individual legislators (those who were in Austin two years ago), closely resembles that of 2013. But there are a small number of individual exceptions where the ideological position of a representative in 2015 was noticeably different than in 2013 — so different it suggests a purposeful change in behavior by the representative.
While the returning Democrats in 2015 didn’t vary too noticeably from their 2013 ideological location, several Republicans saw noteworthy movement in their Lib-Con Score relative to their peers. Four of the five most visible ideological shifts involved Republicans moving from the right to the left in 2015 compared with their location in 2013, while one was the opposite. The two representatives whose ideological positions within the GOP caucus shifted the most in 2015 were Cindy Burkett of Sunnyvale and Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake.
In 2013, Burkett was located in the Republican Center, with 39 Republicans ranked more conservative than her and 54 less conservative. In 2015, Burkett moved two categories to the left, with a Lib-Con Score that was significantly less conservative than more than half of her fellow Republicans, with 79 Republicans ranked more conservative than her and 17 less conservative. Burkett’s district is one of a small group of about 10 GOP-held House seats that Democrats have a realistic chance of winning in 2016 given the right candidate and state/national conditions, meaning that Burkett (like Davis, Galindo and Lozano) needs to be far more concerned than most Republicans with how she is perceived by general election voters.
In 2013, Capriglione’s Lib-Con Score was significantly more conservative than that of more than two-thirds of the Republican caucus, with a mere four Republicans to his right and 89 to his left. In 2015, Capriglione’s Lib-Con Score located him two categories to the left in the Republican Center, with 43 representatives to his right and 53 to his left. Capriglione remained to the right of the GOP median in 2015, but he landed quite far from the rightward edge of the ideological spectrum where he was situated in 2013.
Disclosure: Rice University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.