Are Republicans Really Less Bipartisan Than Democrats?

One of the most common criticisms against Republicans, especially when they are in opposition, is that they are “the party of no”. This accusation was particularly prevalent during the Obama years, with many saying the GOP willingly sank any possible bipartisan deal with the objective of hurting Obama’s chances for reelection.

Although the Obama and Trump years (marked by incredibly high polarization) are behind us many still accuse the GOP of wanting to repeat the strategy of the Obama years, which has lead some liberal figures to pressure Biden against negotiating with the GOP. The question then is: Is it true? Are Republicans less bipartisan than Democrats? How are they voting in the Biden era?

The answer will probably vary a lot depending on the chamber you are looking at. In terms of partisanship and voting behaviors during the Biden months, the difference between the House and the Senate is like day and night.

The “cooling saucer” of the Republic

One of the oldest maxims in American Politics is that within Congress the House is more partisan than the Senate. There are good reasons for this, the House was originally the only part of the federal government to be directly elected by the people (Senators were elected by state assemblies until 1914) and it has shorter terms (2 years instead of 6) which basically means that Representatives are constantly campaigning.

The Senate usually (annoyingly if you ask people on the House) prides itself on this, and it is not uncommon to hear Senators and political commentators define the Senate using a quote attributed to the father of the nation himself, George Washington, to Thomas Jefferson at the Constitutional Convention when he described the Senate as the “cooling saucer” of Congress.

The Senate is usually considered to be more deliberative and less passionate than the House (Flickr)

Although Congress and the nation have changed a lot during the last 230 years, with Senators now being elected directly by the public, partisanship increasing to alarming levels, among other things, it appears that the oldest features of the Republican design remain intact: The House is more partisan than the Senate, even during the Biden era.

The first sign of this could have been found in the Impeachment vote against Trump, where 10 Representatives (out of 211) voted for the resolution, while 7 out of 50 Senators voted for conviction. Meaning that while in both chambers most people voted according to their party on a major issue, the percentage of defectors in the House was significantly less than in the Senate.

The trend has continued ever since, with the vast majority of House Representatives voting according to the official position of their party, mainly if Biden supports it or no. Senators have had a far less disciplined approach when it comes to voting behavior.

What about in 2021?

According to an ongoing tracker developed by Fivethirtyeight, which tracks the voting records of members of Congress and calculates the percentage of times that a member voted with or against the president, the majority of Republican members have only voted with Biden between a 0-20% of the time, while only 2 Democratic Representatives, Ron Kind (WI) and Jared Golden (ME) have voted with the administration less than 90% of the time.

Although a vast majority of Republicans tend to almost never vote with Biden, there are a decent amount of GOP Representatives who vote with the Democrat’s position more than 20% of the time, with at least 25 Representatives from the GOP voting with President Biden when bills come to the floor of the House. Even some firebrand conservatives like Rep. Dan Crenshaw (TX) or the rising star Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (FL) tend to vote more with the opposing party than the vast majority of Democrats, who are almost unanimous in their support of the administration policies.

A tracker on the number of times a Representative has voted for or against Biden. With the Y-axis presenting the time a Rep. has voted with the President and the X-axis showing which Presidential candidate won that district in 2020 (Fivethirtyeight)

However, despite House Republicans being more willing to break with the leadership on their votes than House Democrats, the stark reality is that there is little overlap in the voting patterns of Representatives. Regardless if you are a Democrat or a Republican, it is extremely rare to ever disagree with the official party line.

Senate Republicans more bipartisan

In the Senate, the reality is a bit different. With different rules than the House of Representatives, the bills that come up for a vote in the Senate need to have at least the implicit support of a majority of the senators, if not, the bill will be filibustered and will never get a proper vote in the floor of the Senate.

According to the same tracker made by Fivethirtyeight, a majority of senators have actually agreed with the position of President Biden more than 50% of the time since his presidency began in January this year. With even Sen. Mitch McConnell voting with Democrats 69% of the time since the 117th Congress began. Democrats followed a very similar pattern to their peers in the House, with only a handful of Democratic Senators opposing the President’s position even once.

Republicans in the Senate have voted with Biden more than their peers in the House (Fivethirtyeight)

Although these numbers do show there has been a significantly greater amount of goodwill between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, the statistics should be taken with a grain of salt as many of the votes in the Senate have been nominations for executive posts, something that is less controversial than actual legislation and that is exclusive to the Senate.

Having taken that into account it is still quite telling the difference in the voting records in the Senate. While in the House there is little room for agreement between the two warring parties, the Senate (at least during 2021) has shown a greater overlap between members of different political parties and while both parties remain sharply divided in the issues that steal the headlines of the press, there are many issues where Republicans have actually voted with the administration, a weird attribute for the party of “obstruction”.

It is important to note these numbers would probably change as time passes. With Biden’s cabinet almost entirely confirmed and with the administration preparing controversial votes like the Infrastructure bill or HR 1, it is very likely that Republican Senators start behaving a little bit more like their House peers, just like it happened during the Trump administration.

However, until now, the data shows that congressional Republicans tend to be more willing to vote the same way as the opposite party, while Democrats rarely dare to oppose the position of the Biden White House.

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