Even though floor votes indicate a considerable degree of unity on the macro level, clear trends are evident in individual voting patterns—trends that shed light on party unity and cohesion, ideological fervor, and the personal predilections of individual Senators.
A political observer might postulate that, on the whole, the Democratic Party is currently the more unified, and the data in the Senate of Virginia bear that out. Seventeen (of 20) Democrats voted with the average member of their party at least 98% of the time, a threshold not cleared by a single Republican.
The average Republican voted with the majority of his or her party 96.6% of the time, compared to 98.3% for Democrats. Only three Democrats voted with their average party colleague less than 98% of the time: Petersen (96.4%), Deeds (96.2%), and Lewis (95.6%).
This greater Democratic cohesion extends to leadership: whereas Democratic Majority Leader Dick Saslaw was the most likely to vote with the average Democrat, doing so 99.5% of the time, Republican Minority Leader Tommy Norment was only the 9th most likely to vote with the average Republican, doing so 96.7% of the time. Coming at the numbers a different way, the average Republican voted with Norment 95.7% of the time, contrasted with the average Democrat siding with Saslaw 98.3% of the time.
Interestingly, while all Republicans were more likely to vote with Norment than any Democrats were, five Republicans were more likely to vote with Saslaw than was Lynwood Lewis, who has perhaps the Senate’s most iconoclastic voting record.
In both parties, voting against leadership can be a measure of ideology (situating one’s self to either the right or the left of leadership), but it can also indicate a certain measure of contrarianism. By and large, members of both parties tend to support legislation absent a compelling reason to oppose it, but some members are more willing to buck the trend than others.
In a Democrat-controlled chamber, where (at least for most of session) all but one committee features a Democratic majority, it should not be surprising that Democrats are more likely to vote “yea” on legislation that makes it to the floor. The Democrats least likely to vote “yea” were Deeds (95.4%), Petersen (95.6%), and Lewis (96.8%).
In the next post in this series, I’ll show which members voted the most frequently with the average member of their own party and explore some of the more interesting pairings of individual Senators, identifying which duos are most (and least) likely to vote with each other, within and across parties. After that, I’ll also provide access to a script that will allow you to run your own comparisons and, if you wish, drill down to individual votes.
Posts in the Senate Dynamics Series: