Did controversial, progressive votes on health care, the stimulus, the bank bailout, and climate reform doom House Democrats? You'd think not, after a quick scan of the midterm results. Democrats who voted against health care lost at a higher rate than Democrats who backed the White House. Of the 42 House Democrats who voted against climate change, 25 lost -- a worse reelection rate than the national average. Of the eligible Senate Democrats who voted for both the stimulus and health care, all but two won (I'm not counting Arlen Specter).
But statistics tell a different story: Progressive votes hurt -- a lot. Let's consider three analyses.
Every Vote Matteredbegins where I began. He counted how many of the four bills Democrats voted for (health, stimulus, TARP, climate), and then tabulated the average vote for each group:
Support for these bills appears to have helped rather than hurt, he notes. He's right! But this fails to take voter demographics into account. The representatives most likely to vote for liberal bills were the most likely to represent the safest, most liberal districts, and the opposite is true for conservative Democrats.
So McGhee modeled Democratic vote share based on voters and campaign money, and mixed in voting statistics to see if it made a difference. He found a Democratic incumbent in a typically Democratic district lost about 2/3 of a percentage point for every yes vote. For Democrats in the least Democratic districts, the model suggests a loss of about 4 percent for every yes vote.