Legislative Theories and the NY Gay Marriage Vote

by John Sides on June 28, 2011 · 2 comments

in Legislative Politics

In response to my earlier post, a political scientist emailed me and said:

…the NY events are contrary to theories that a lot of poli sci folks buy into.  Cartel theories of legislatures say that the majority party should not get rolled.  Senate Republicans were rolled in decisive fashion.  You note that our theories tell us a “divided” majority party will be weaker in its leadership than a unified one (and suggest this case is consistent with that theoretical insight).  Republicans voted 29-3 against the bill.  How much more unified can a party get?  When poli sci people theorize about “homogeneous” majority parties, they would view one in which 29 out of 32 members agree as very homogeneous.  So the weak leadership by the GOP leader is in tension both with cartel theory and conditional party government views.  That is not a reason to reject those theories.  But it suggests their limitations as applied to this case.

Two quick things.  First, I was probably too superficial in how I treated the cartel and conditional party government theories.  I was just trying to point out that the individual roll call voting behavior probably reflected some combination of constituency, party, and ideology—all things that are sort of “structural” features of legislative institutions and don’t necessarily have anything to do with Cuomo’s leadership.

Second, the NY Times piece that I noted in my first post suggests that the GOP was maybe more divided than the 29-3 margin would suggest:

But the caucus — a group of 32 senators who had seized control of the Senate in the elections last year but held just a single-seat majority — was far from unified. And, crucially for same-sex marriage advocates, the Republicans’ relatively untested leader showed no interest in forcing them to reach a consensus. “My management style,” the Senate majority leader, Dean G. Skelos of Long Island, had told lawmakers, “is that I let my members lead.”
…With the [Catholic] church largely out of the picture, the governor’s real worry was the simmering tension in the Senate Republican delegation. Its members met, for hours at a time, to debate the political and moral implications of allowing a vote. But each time new arguments arose. Some questioned whether homosexuality was genetic or chosen. Others suggested that the same-sex marriage legislation be scrapped in favor of a statewide referendum.

 

{ 2 comments }

Eric McGhee June 28, 2011 at 12:55 pm

John, you should see if Boris Shor wants to (or has) weighed in on this question. He has the best data (state legislator ideal points) to address these sorts of questions, though they might not be updated enough to comment on the current membership of the NY legislature.

anonymous coward June 28, 2011 at 3:23 pm

SSM is probably one of those issues where Republican legislators’ votes were at odds with their preferred outcome. It has to be pretty plain that most Republican legislators either wanted or were okay with SSM passing. Everyone knew that allowing a vote on SSM was virtually certain to result in its passage, so the Republican conference’s decision (made by whatever mechanism we can’t observe) to allow the vote was, functionally, the Republican conference approving SSM. Grisanti’s reasoning is plausible enough — SSM was going to become New York law soon no matter what the Republicans did this year, so this was their chance to have SSM on their terms instead of a purely Democratic version of SSM with fewer or no religious exemptions.

What we eventually got was some number of Republicans having their SSM cake and eating it too by voting against it because they knew their votes would not affect the outcome. In that case, they weren’t really rolled.

This sort of voting is common enough in the House — you can watch almost any contentious roll-call and see a whole bunch of people changing their losing vote to a winning one after it passes that magic 218 mark and the question changes from “Which outcome do I prefer?” to “Which outcome do I want to be seen to vote for?”

Assuming nobody’s done it, it would be interesting to somehow gather real-time data on House voting that captures this dynamic.

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