Legislative Effectiveness, Part II: The South

This is a second post about legislative effectiveness. The first post is here.

After looking at the difference in legislative effectiveness between the majority and minority parties using new research from the book The Lawmakers, this is a more in-depth analysis of their data for the region of the country that I live in and call home: the South. (The researchers themselves examine the role of Southern Democrats.)

In this analysis, I want to see, using their legislative effectiveness scores (LES):

  1. If the effectiveness of Southern representatives have increased with the growth in Southern population (Southern states should have gained House members)
  2. Where in the South the effectiveness has increased or decreased

To get the regions, I used the US Census Bureau’s designation of regions and divisions. The Census has a loose definition of the South. Most egregiously, in my opinion, is that they not only include Delaware, the District of Columbia, and Maryland in the South, but also smush it in with Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas within the same sub-division, the “South Atlantic.” I can handle DC & Maryland being considered Southern only because of the Mason-Dixon line , but Delaware? Well, they were a slave state, so… Delaware, I thought I knew you (as a corporate tax haven)? Southern by the grace of God enslaving people.

Still, I need to split up the Census’ South Atlantic division, if only because it has eight states, while the other two southern divisions only have four each. It will make for easier comparing between the divisions. Delaware, DC, and Maryland will be paired with Virginia and West Virginia as “Middle South Atlantic,” while Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas will be “East South Atlantic.” The rest of the Census divisions are here. (My head is still spinning about Delaware, so I don’t have the energy to scoff at Texas and Oklahoma being Southern, especially the Okies. ANYWAY.)

Test 1: Southern Effectiveness Growth 

To test if Southern effectiveness has increased, we first have to see if the number of members in the South has increased. I am assuming Southern membership will have grown because of the region’s population growth. (On a side note, the West should probably increase, too.)

Southern House Membership

Southern and Western membership in the House has been steadily increasing, while the Northeast and Midwest have been declining. This isn’t too surprising. But what about effectiveness?

Effectiveness by Region

This gets more interesting. Despite more Southern members, the average effectiveness of Southerners didn’t jump until the Republicans took over the House again in 2011. At the same time, Northeastern reps’ effectiveness jumped when the Dems took over in 2007 and then plummeted when Boehner and company got their mojo back.

Test 1 Result: Southern effectiveness didn’t actually increase until the Republicans took over the House after the 2010 midterm election. This seems to reflect the South as the heart of the Republican party, especially considering that Southern Democrats were losing effectiveness in the 70s and 80s.

Test 2: Where In The South?

Within the South, we can see exactly where House membership has grown.

Number of Southern House Members by Census Division, 1973-2011


While the “West South Central” (the green line: Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) has been increasing, my newly crowned division, the “East South Atlantic” (the purple line: Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas), took off in the 1990s. The rest of the South, House memership-wise (and thusly population-wise), remains stagnant. But how does that transfer over to legislative effectiveness?

Average Effectiveness of Southern House Members by Census Division

The mid-1980s, like in the second chart in this post, weren’t good for the South. Their influence was dipping in all divisions. However, once we get into the 1990s, the divisions are, well, divided. States like Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee (the red line) can’t find traction. It wasn’t until the GOP takeover of Congress in 2011 do we see each Southern division’s effectiveness ratchet up.

Test 2 Result: In the 1990s and 2000s, the South Atlantic states (Southern states that touch the Atlantic Ocean) were much more effective. The differences in effectiveness were also more pronounced. The split between the divisions is starkest in the Congressional sessions starting in 2007 and 2009, both Democratic majorities, when the Mid-Atlantic states’ effectiveness shoots up and the other three divisions are at or near their nadir. When that tanned Ohioan became Speaker, those three shot up while the Mid-Atlantic came down, showing exactly which parts of the South are dominated by Republicans.


About Jay

Health Policy Wonk. Slow long distance runner. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, Cameroon '06-'08. Former Night owl.
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