This is a special edition post. Being the first day of 2021, we’ll call it a ‘the world didn’t end last night’ post. To that end, I want to specifically talk about politics today. Having said that, this is NOT an opinion piece. This post is rooted in publicly-available, verifiable statistics. Don’t take my word for it; you can find all of this information on the Internet.
Most people think about politics in terms of Red v Blue. It makes sense. That’s how the pundits have framed it over years of commentary regarding our political landscape. We’ve been conditioned to see it as one team against the other, pushing the ball down the field, making gains at the expense of their hated adversary. I am asking you to look at this through a different lens.
You see, Red and Blue create an entirely new color when they are mixed together. That color is Purple. For the record, Purple happens to be the color of royalty, but more on that later.
When you watch your preferred news network, they refer to Purple states as “toss-ups” or “battlegrounds.” This lens of viewing Purple distorts your understanding of how we should really be viewing the political mixing going on at the national level. The lens I want to share with you is to view Purple as a growing political aristocracy that combines national legislators from both “teams.” The catch is they are playing against you and me. Now, I know, I know. You think I’m going down the road to bend you towards my personal opinion. I promise I’m not. I spent hours doing research (that I will share with you) on the make-up of each Congress over the last twenty years, and their voting patterns.
To lay out some ground rules, I am going to provide a definition of bipartisanship that I am using for this post and any other post in the future where I refer to the term. Unlike our elected officials (who refer to something as bipartisan if it has one member of the opposing Party vote for or sponsor it), I am defining bipartisan as requiring 75% (327 members in the House, 75 members in the Senate) of either chamber of Congress voting for the passage of a particular piece of legislation. I have a statistical reason for arriving at this number, which I’d like to share with you.
First, in looking at the makeup of Congress over the last twenty years, I found some surprising information. You may be wondering why I chose to look at the last twenty years in particular. It seemed like a nice round number, it provides ten separate Congresses of data, and it takes us back to the last time where a national election was so hotly contested that it ended up in the courts. Enough about that. So, over the last twenty years, there have been 2,215 recognized members of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives; and 2,119 recognized members of the Democrat Party. This gives us an average makeup of 222 Republicans and 213 Democrats. The spread over this same time-frame saw Republicans have anywhere between 178 seats and 246 seats; while Democrats had between 187 seats and 257 seats over the same span. The variance between the low and high for each Party was 68 for Republicans and 70 for Democrats. This is a surprisingly stable number. It tells us that despite shifting which Party we voted for over the last two decades, we ended up with a roughly divided House of Representatives (half the variance or less, or 35 or fewer in the disparity between Parties in the House) five times, and a lopsided (to varying degrees) House the other five times.
- 107th Congress: (2001 – 2002) House: +9 Republican, Senate: +2 Republican
- 108th Congress: (2003 – 2004) House: +24 Republican, Senate +3 Republican
- 109th Congress: (2005 – 2006) House: +30 Republican, Senate: +11 Republican
- 110th Congress: (2007 – 2008) House: +31 Democrat, Senate: Even
- 111th Congress: (2009 – 2010) House: +79 Democrat, Senate: +16 Democrat
- 112th Congress: (2011 – 2012) House: +49 Republican, Senate: +4 Democrat
- 113th Congress: (2013 – 2014) House: +32 Republican, Senate: +8 Democrat
- 114th Congress: (2015 – 2016) House: +59 Republican, Senate: +10 Republican
- 115th Congress: (2017 – 2018) House: +40 Republican, Senate: +3 Republican
- 116th Congress: (2019 – 2020) House: +37 Democrat, Senate: +8 Republican
Republicans held the House for seven of these Congresses, and the Senate for six. Democrats held the House for three, and the Senate for three. From the 107th – 109th Congress, Republicans held both chambers of Congress and the Presidency. Democrats held all three during the 111th Congress. Republicans held all three during the 115th Congress.
Again, five of the Congresses represented a truly divided government where neither Party held all of the power, while the other five represented varying degrees of lopsided power. It’s important to note that when the Democrats did swing a particular election in their favor (2008 national election in which President Obama was first elected into that office), they did so at a smashing pace, having a near-stranglehold on the reins of government. Republicans have not duplicated that particular phenomenon over the last twenty years, even with the election of President Trump in 2016.
The average difference in which Party held majority in the House was +39. This is heavily impacted by the Democrats win at the ballot box in 2008. The average difference in the majority Party in the Senate was +6.5, and while the Democrats scored heavily in 2008 (the heaviest of any majority there), the Republicans held a double-digit majority in two separate Congresses (109th and 114th Congresses).
You’re probably asking why all of this matters. That’s a fair question. The real issue I wanted to dig into is how bipartisan our government truly was over the last twenty years, as I mentioned above. So why does the makeup of Congress matter? I would offer that we need to see the ebb and flow of what a specific Congress looks like (especially as it relates to the sitting President at the time) to get an idea of how bipartisan they were. Over the same twenty years, Congress passed 3,760 Acts of Legislation. This includes Bills, Resolutions, or any other Act that achieved enough votes to pass both chambers of Congress. If you’re a wonk for politics (like me), this is where it really gets interesting!
During George W. Bush’s two terms as President, our Congress was at its most bipartisan for the period in question. Let’s not do somersaults just yet. The numbers are still appallingly low. During this time (and using my metric from above where 75% of both chambers voted for passage) Congress ranged from 11% – 18% bipartisan for their respective session, where 1,830 Acts of Legislation were passed. During Barack Obama’s two terms as President, our Congress became markedly less bipartisan, ranging from 7% – 9%, where 1,294 Acts of Legislation were passed. During President Trump’s single term, Congress remained at 7% bipartisan for both sessions, where 636 Acts of Legislation were passed. For the record, were Trump to have won a second term, it could be projected that the total number of Acts of Legislation passed during two terms of his Presidency would roughly mirror that of President Obama’s two terms.
So what? Well, this data (listed below) shows us that our government has become less bipartisan over the last twenty years, stagnating into forcing through legislation that is overwhelmingly (93%) passed by one Party with only minimal support from the other side. We can also see a sharp decline in the number of Acts passed, where President Bush and Congress moved nearly as much legislation through as Obama and Trump combined. I’m not here to debate if it’s good or bad to get more legislation through Congress. There are arguments to be made for both sides. With 3,760 Acts passed, we are averaging 188 new Acts each year. I’ll let you decide if that’s good government.
- 107th Congress: 383 Acts passed, House achieved 75% of members passing 115 Acts, Senate achieved 75% on 69 Acts, Bipartisanship rate: 18%, House/Senate BP ratio 1.67:1
- 108th Congress: 504 Acts passed, House achieved 75% of members passing 113 Acts, Senate achieved 75% on 66 Acts, Bipartisanship rate: 13%, House/Senate BP ratio 1.71:1
- 109th Congress: 483 Acts passed, House achieved 75% of members passing 94 Acts, Senate achieved 75% on 53 Acts, Bipartisanship rate: 11%, House/Senate BP ratio 1.77:1
- 110th Congress: 460 Acts passed, House achieved 75% of members passing 61 Acts, Senate achieved 75% on 58 Acts, Bipartisanship rate: 13%, House/Senate BP ratio 1.05:1
- 111th Congress: 385 Acts passed, House achieved 75% of members passing 28 Acts, Senate achieved 75% on 33 Acts, Bipartisanship rate: 7%, House/Senate BP ratio 0.85:1
- 112th Congress: 284 Acts passed, House achieved 75% of members passing 22 Acts, Senate achieved 75% on 32 Acts, Bipartisanship rate: 8%, House/Senate BP ratio 0.69:1
- 113th Congress: 296 Acts passed, House achieved 75% of members passing 24 Acts, Senate achieved 75% on 23 Acts, Bipartisanship rate: 8%, House/Senate BP ratio 1.04:1
- 114th Congress: 329 Acts passed, House achieved 75% of members passing 29 Acts, Senate achieved 75% on 38 Acts, Bipartisanship rate: 9%, House/Senate BP ratio 0.76:1
- 115th Congress: 443 Acts passed, House achieved 75% of members passing 47 Acts, Senate achieved 75% on 33 Acts, Bipartisanship rate: 7%, House/Senate BP ratio 1.42:1
- 116th Congress: 193 Acts passed, House achieved 75% of members passing 14 Acts, Senate achieved 75% on 27 Acts, Bipartisanship rate: 7%, House/Senate BP ratio 0.52:1
Our aggregate data tells us that Congress had an average bipartisanship rate of 10%, with a range of 7 – 18%. What’s interesting here is this tells us that the 107th Congress was 257% more bipartisan than either the 115th or 116th Congress. Over the same time, the House-to-Senate bipartisanship ratio tells us that the House was, on average, 15% more bipartisan than the Senate. Having said that, the range for the House was 0.52 – 1.77, which tells us that at its best (109th Congress), the House was 340% more bipartisan than at its worst (116th Congress). I’m not surprised that the House would be more bipartisan than the Senate. They are elected every two years and have to remain mindful of being replaced much more often. They also tend to represent a smaller number of constituents (except in a handful of states), which would mean they have a targeted audience back home to please.
I told you all of that to tell you this; our Congress has become less bipartisan over the last two decades. Our House and Senate have been controlled by one Party at certain times and divided at other times. It doesn’t seem to make a difference in how they vote. What has changed over the last twenty years is what we’re getting for our money and our vote. Our paychecks help provide the salaries for Congress; and our votes provide them with the direct access/authority to make legislation on our behalf.
You should know that 36% of my paycheck goes to taxes, insurance, or state-retirement. All of these are compulsory. That doesn’t even touch what I pay in taxes and insurance after I’ve received my paycheck. Am I really getting good government for my money? Am I really receiving any representation from my elected officials when they refuse to work together? Am I even a consideration for our elected officials?
Obviously, I can’t answer these questions right now. Neither can you. What we can do is start to demand that our government work for the money we spend on their salaries; and demand they work together to ensure good government. We can demand they stop their infighting and Purple political royalty and return us to purple bipartisanship. When has your Congressional representative answered any of your correspondence? When has a member of their staff done so? All I’ve ever seen are bulk-response emails that they will consider my concern. Yet they ask me for money all the time. Is this the Representative Republic we want from our government? Did you think, twenty years ago, when George W. Bush took office, that it would represent the high water mark for bipartisanship over the last two decades? When you watched elected officials make rules for your safety during the pandemic, yet ignore their own rules, did you feel like they saw you as an equal? When politicians are asked direct questions about their publicly recorded votes on policy, are you comfortable with them dodging those questions? When your given a stimulus check out of the taxes you pay and the bulk of the bill called Covid Relief is filled with pork spending on foreign nations, do you feel relieved?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like I’m getting my money’s worth. As always, this has been the World According to Chris.