Congressional Moderation: Dwindling, Not Dead

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Dick Lugar’s Tuesday primary loss in Indiana has inspired a predictably large amount of introspection about polarization in Congress. It marked a dark trend, but did it augur the death of all moderation? No. There are certain political realities that still exist for Republicans running in Blue states and Democrats in Red territory.

Exhibit A, the first TV ad of Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown’s re-election campaign out today:

“Independent,” “beholden to no one” and “working together” are words that appear in this ad; “Republican” is a word that does not. It’s not just talk either. A Congressional Quarterly analysis found Brown voted with his party in opposition to Democrats just 54% of the time in 2011, the second-lowest score in Mitch McConnell’s caucus. If a Republican wants to win re-election in Massachusetts, that’s just the way it’s going to be.

That being said, things aren’t static and Brown doesn’t cancel out Lugar. Nate Silver runs down the full list of falling bodies, but it’s hard to paint a clearer picture than this graph of Howard Rosenthal and Keith Poole’s data on congressional polarization over time (click to enlarge):

So let’s calling moderation dwindling, not dead.

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