NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is Congress More Partisan?

January 10, 2003

There are fewer moderates or progressives on the Republican side and fewer conservatives among the Democrats -- especially when it comes to fundamental economic and social policy questions and the role of government in American life. That reality is summarized neatly in the "Party Unity" scores published by Congressional Quarterly (CQ).

Each year, CQ counts the number of votes on which a majority of Republicans oppose the stand taken by a majority of Democrats. Then it calculates the percentage of times on which each member has voted with the party majority on those roll calls.

  • In the Senate, the new majority leader, Bill Frist of Tennessee, often described as "a healer," was every bit as loyal a partisan last year as the man he replaces, Trent Lott of Mississippi.
  • Lott was a 98 percenter; Frist, 97 percent, and the new Republican whip, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, also voted the party line 97 percent of the time.

The only surprise is on the Democratic side of the Senate.

  • Democratic Leader Tom Daschle agreed with his party majority only 80 percent of the time -- a remarkably low figure for a man often described by Republicans as a partisan obstructionist.
  • His deputy, Harry Reid of Nevada, was more partisan, toeing the Democratic line 94 percent of the time.

Nothing in these long-term trends or in the personal records of the party leaders suggests bipartisanship will be easily achieved in the 108th Congress. Fasten your seat belts, there's turbulence ahead.

Source: David S. Broder, "Don't Bet on Bipartisan Niceties," Washington Post, Wednesday, January 1, 2003.


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