Best evidence yet of an authoritarian/civil liberties divide

kingby Ian Sane

House: Votes on Amash Amendment to Restrict NSA Phone Surveillance and Delay the ACA’s Individual Mandate | 
[Via voteview blog

Below we use Optimal Classification (OC) in R to plot two recent votes in the House. The first is its July 24 vote on an amendment by Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) to defund the NSA’s controversial phone surveillance program, which failed by a 205-217 margin. The second is its July 17 vote to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate to purchase health insurance, following a decision by the Obama administration that it will delay the employer mandate for one year. This vote passed by a 251-174 margin.


I’ve written before about a second dimension that is appearing in some national politics. Most votes are easily divided along one dimension – ideology. Democrats and Republicans fall on either side of this, making it relatively easy to separate them on most issues.

But we are seeing some interesting developments on the area of national security and government spying. Last week, the House almost passed the Amash Amendment which would have forced the NSA to only collect and examine data on people specifically named in a warrant, as the Fourth Amendment requires.

The voting revealed the largest split yet in House politicians along a second axis. The vote was not around ideology. While the second dimension is supposed to measure insider vs outsider status, a  simple hypothesis indicates that it might indicate authoritarian/civil liberties axis.

Here are the graphs. First a ‘control vote to show first dimension importance. this is a vote on delaying Obamacare:


The cut line is determined by an algorithm. It is placed  between the for and against votes where the fewest number of Representatives are on the ‘wrong’ side. Here the line finds only 9 who are on one side of the line and voted differently than the line would predict. This is not too bad to such a large group. 

The line is almost vertical, indicating that the second dimension had little impact. The Democrats who voted for this bill are the most conservative ones in the House.

Now look at this one on the Amash amendment. The cut line is now almost horizontal”


The simplest explanation is that this vote was much more along the second axis rather than the first; that what determined the vote fell more along the authoritarian/civil liberties dimension than ideology. 

Now, this vote is much more complex than this because the best cut line still produced 117 errors – 25% of all the Representatives votes the opposite of what the two dimensional graph would suggest.

It may be that the second axis is not a perfect representation of the authoritarian/civil liberties axis or that some of those on the ‘wrong’ side are not strictly voting their own positions but are supporting those of leadership – the President came out against the amendment so many Democrats who might have been personally for the Amendment voted for the President’s position. A similar process may have happened with the Republicans and their leadership.

But the vote does indicate an incipient change in voting patterns, one that crosses ideology.

We will see more.

4 thoughts on “Best evidence yet of an authoritarian/civil liberties divide

    1. No.It is highly partisan. The split just does not lie along political ideology defined by left or right. There was a similar partisanship during the American Revolution (where liberal/conservative lines were dwarfed by authoritarian/civil liberties – Royalist or revolutionary). Something similar was seen during the Civil War and again during WW2. Left and right did not matter nearly as much during those times as the battle between the efficiency of central, hierarchical power concentrated in a few elites and adaptability of collective, collaborative power dispersed in community. We are again out of balance,when the lure of a single authority appeals to many, hampering the ability to meet society’s problems. So once again, left and right will have to put down their differences as we come together in very partisan ways to continue the battles started by the Age of Enlightenment – will the rule of many thrive or only the rule of a few.

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