Great visualization of how uniquely partisan recent Congresses have been

Polar housesenate difference

Ideology and party unity in the House, 1857 — 2011
[Via Christopher Ingraham]

Ideology and party unity in the House, 1857 — 2011


If you have been wondering if we live in unique times, this chart will demonstrate that we do. Congress today is like no other.

Have some fun playing with the slider in the graph. It plots the data from VoteView, some of which I have discussed before. It compares every Congress since 1857.

The x-axis essentially charts how liberal or conservative  each member of the Legislature is. I can see that one of the most liberal Democrats ever – from the 56th Congress –  has the same last name as me. 

The y-axis shows how often a particular member voted with his party.  So you would kind of expect that generally, the more partisan a member is, the more likely they will vote with their party and the fewer times they will vote with the other.

And what you can really see is the increasing partisanship over the last few Congresses. Compare the Congresses of the 30s and 40s to the most recent The difference is striking.

You can chart the rise and fall of moderates in American politics. They are all gone now.

You can see that some Congresses have been very partisan.But the most recent Congress is more partisan than any other one.

Never have we seen so many Congresses in a row so widely split. Ten years where party unity is over 90% for both parties. This degree of lockstep voting is unprecedented.

The data also show something else unprecedented – as a group, Republicans are the most conservative now than ever before. This continues a trend, starting from the 96th Congress in 1979-1981, which shows no sign of stopping. There is simply no historical precedent for how conservative Republicans are now in Congress. as a group, they are more conservative than they ever have been.

You see some leftward drift of the Democrats yet they are still less liberal than Democrats from the Progressive Era in the lat 1800s. Heck the Democrats in the 67th Congress in the early 20s were more liberal than now. The Democrats in the most partisan Congress seen before the current era – the 59th from 1905-1907 – were substantially more liberal.

The chart does a nice job showing that while there have been other periods in American history where there were partisan Congresses and no moderates,  Congress now is unique.

I do not think we can sustain this for very long. As Lincoln stated, ” A house divided against itself cannot stand.”