Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Geography of the House Democrats' Health Care Vote

I've created the above map to provide a visual sense of how the House Democratic caucus voted on the Health Care Reform measure. Its not quite as sharp as I'd like given the map I had to work with and Microsoft Paint's less than precise coloring, but it still works. Those districts colored green are the House Democrats who voted yes and those colored red are the 39 House Democrats who voted no. The only district that can't be seen too well is NY Rep. Mike McMahon (13th District)who hails from Staten Island. The full vote tally can be seen here.

When I first started to create the map, without looking at the vote too closely, the first instinct was that there would be some geographical correlation between support and opposition. Would the "no" votes all be from conservative, blue-doggish, southerners? The answer is pretty clearly no. Although many of what we might identify as "the usual suspects" did vote against the bill, the 39 no votes were actually quite geographically diverse. Something that is often lost in the discussion of the conservative end of the Democratic continuum is that these members are not universally from the south. While many of these non-southern members do hail from largely rural districts (see Colin Peterson--MN7, Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin--SDAt-Large, Walt Minnick--ID1), the fact that there were a smattering of northeasterners (now seen as the Democrats' geographic base) such as Congressmen McMahon (13th), Murphy (20th), and Massa (29th) from New York and John Adler (3rd) from New Jersey should be noted.

What many of these members have in common (and what has been discussed in the days since Saturday's vote) is that they come from districts carried by John McCain. Of the 39 Democratic "no" votes, 31 come from districts that voted Republican last year. What will be interesting to watch is whether any of these numbers shift when the bill comes back for final passage after Senate and conference committee action. Already brewing is an intra-party squabble over the House approved Stupak Amendment that limits abortion coverage in the reform package. While I doubt that pro-choice progressive Democrats will bolt should these limits survive the next few stages of the process, the possibility exists that pro-Stupak, pro-health care Dems might bolt should the restrictions be stripped (for some discussion of this dynamic, see here). One also has to assume that the Democratic leadership has a few votes in their back pocket--i.e. Dems who voted "no" on Saturday--that they have commitments from should their vote be needed in the end.

Also of note is that many of these "no" votes come from members early in their careers. More junior members are less secure in their districts and haven't built up a record of constituent service and trust that might allow them to go against the grain from time to time. Of these 39, 14 are currently in their first term with an additional 2 in just their second.

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