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Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Democrats' Bad Day

It was not a good day for Democrats. Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza write in The Washington Post:

With 19 Democrats withholding support from Nancy Pelosi for House speaker on Wednesday, it represented the largest defection from a party's speaker nominee in nearly a century.

The resistance in the Democratic Party to back now-former Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the ceremonial first vote of the 112th Congress registered higher than at any point since 1913, according to data from the Congressional Research Service.

That year, which happens to be the last year for which records are available, featured 23 votes for Republicans other than that party's speaker nominee. Of the 19 Democrats who didn't support Pelosi on Wednesday, 18 voted for other Democrats and one voted "present."

In no other election in between do the numbers approach those two races (with an asterisk next to 1923, when 22 votes were cast for other Republicans on the first ofnine ballots; by the ninth and final ballot, though, there were only two defectors).

Back in the 1920s, though, defections were much more common. Since 1945, only seven such protest votes have been lodged -- total.


The data overall is spotty, with no good numbers on which members voted for whom for House speaker. But a comparison of the House speaker vote totals and a look at the partisan breakdown of the corresponding Congresses shows that defectors have been few and far between -- and in most cases, those not voting for their party's candidate simply didn't vote (perhaps because they weren't present).

Looking at those numbers, this appears to be the first time in at least 35 years that the number of Democrats not supporting their speaker candidate has been in double digits.

In 2010, 45% of Americans identified as Democrats or said they were independent but leaned toward the Democratic Party, while 44% identified as Republicans or said they were independent but leaned Republican. The 1-point Democratic advantage is the party's smallest since 2003, when the parties were even, and represents a sharp decline from the record 12-point Democratic advantage in 2008.

Party Identification (Including Independent Leanings) Annual Averages, Gallup Polls, 1991-2010