Texas Republicans — and Beto — are more conservative than their national parties

Members of the Texas congressional delegation from both parties hold a news conference on Sept. 7, 2017. Photo by Abby Livingston

During the 115th U.S. Congress (2017-2018), the 25 members of our GOP delegation to the House once again demonstrated that Texas Republicans are, on average, notably more conservative than their GOP colleagues. And among the 11 members of the Texas Democratic House delegation was a potential presidential candidate, Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, whose ideological profile is that of a Democratic centrist who is seeking national attention at a time when his party’s left wing is increasingly active and vocal.

I examined the 957 non-lopsided roll call votes cast during the 115th U.S. Congress to locate the U.S. House representatives from Texas along the liberal-conservative dimension that dominates legislative behavior. For each representative, a Liberal-Conservative (Lib-Con) Score was calculated, along with its 95 percent credible interval (CI).

The chart locates the 36 members of the Texas delegation from left (most liberal) to right (most conservative), along with their respective 95 percent CIs. Also included is a vertical dotted line that indicates the location of the median Lib-Con Score for the respective entire Democratic (D) and Republican (R) caucuses in the U.S. House.

Anyone to the right of their party’s shaded area has a Lib-Con Score in their party’s most conservative (Republican) or centrist (Democrat) quartile and anyone to the left of their party’s shaded area has a Lib-Con Score in their party’s most liberal (Democrat) or moderate (Republican) quartile.

Only representatives who cast votes in 20 percent or more of the 957 roll calls are included. This restriction resulted in Republican Michael Cloud of Victoria (who in June of 2018 won a special election to replace Blake Farenthold of Corpus Christi) being excluded; had Cloud been included, his Lib-Con Score would have been between those of Michael Burgess of Lewisville and Bill Flores of Bryan.

Texas Republicans

The Texas Republican delegation’s Lib-Con Scores ranged from Sam Johnson of Richardson on the right (who had the 2nd most conservative score in the entire GOP caucus) to Will Hurd of Helotes in the center (47 House Republicans had scores less conservative than Hurd’s). Of the 25 Texas Republicans in the 115th Congress, 21 landed to the right of the GOP caucus median, and a mere four to the left. Among the 21 on the right, more than half (12) scored in the most conservative quartile of Republican U.S. House members, while only one of the four representatives to the left of the median were to be found within the GOP caucus’s least conservative quartile.

Texas Democrats

The Texas Democratic House delegation ranges from Henry Cuellar of Laredo in the center (the 4th most conservative House Democrat) to Lloyd Doggett of Austin on the left (46 Democrats had more liberal Lib-Con Scores than Doggett). Cuellar’s ideological location is the principal reason why the progressive Justice Democrats organization chose Cuellar as its first target for the 2020 Democratic primaries.

Six members of the Texas Democratic delegation had Lib-Con Scores to the right of the Democratic caucus median, while five scored to the left. However, all six representatives to the right of the median scored in the most conservative quartile of House Democrats, while only one of the five Democrats to the left of the median were in the most liberal quartile.

Beto O’Rourke & Julián Castro

Two Texans have either launched a 2020 presidential bid (Julián Castro) or are actively considering one (Beto O’Rourke). O’Rourke served in the 115th Congress, and, while Julián Castro did not serve, his twin brother Joaquín did. There is a relatively robust academic literature that has found that due to a combination of genetics and environment, twins raised together tend to possess similar ideological preferences, therein allowing Joaquín Castro’s Lib-Con Score to be used as a rough proxy for that of his twin. With that very important caveat in mind, the 95 percent CIs surrounding Castro and O’Rourke’s respective Lib-Con Scores do not overlap; Joaquín Castro is significantly more liberal than O’Rourke, and the same might prove to be true of his brother.

O’Rourke’s score also reveals that, within the context of national Democratic politics, Beto is quite moderate, with a more centrist ideological position than those of more than three-quarters of all Democratic U.S. House members. Within the current context, where the Democratic Party is veering further to the left on issues ranging from health care to taxes, Beto’s centrist track record could represent a liability in a race for president. On the other hand, with a Democratic left lane that is more congested than Houston freeways during rush hour, O’Rourke’s centrist profile could give him room to maneuver in the comparatively uncongested center lane, where the potential number of candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is much smaller.

Disclosure: Rice University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Mark P. Jones

Fellow in political science at Rice University’s Baker Institute