By Mark P. Jones, The Texas Tribune
“We ranked Texas senators across the ideological spectrum based on their 2023 votes” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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The Texas Senate’s roll-call votes during this year’s regular legislative session and four special sessions allow us to once again rank the 31 senators from liberal to conservative on that body’s ideological spectrum. (See the methodological note at the end of this article.)
The 19 Republican senators fall into four general groups on the ideological spectrum.
At the most conservative end are three senators: Bryan Hughes of Mineola, Mayes Middleton of Galveston and Bob Hall of Edgewood. Hughes, Middleton and Hall all have Lib-Con Scores that are significantly more conservative than those of the 16 other Republican senators. Within this trio, Hughes and Middleton have Lib-Con Scores that are even more conservative than that of Hall. Lib-Con Scores measure how liberal or conservative lawmakers are.
A second group to the right of the GOP median consists of six senators, ranging from Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Drew Springer of Muenster to Paul Bettencourt of Houston and Phil King of Weatherford. Hancock and Springer’s respective Lib-Con Scores are each significantly more conservative than those of 11 Republican senators, and each significantly less conservative than those of three. Bettencourt’s Lib-Con Score is significantly more conservative than those of eight Republican senators and is significantly less conservative than those of three. King’s Lib-Con Score is significantly more conservative than those of six Republican senators and significantly less conservative than those of five.
A third GOP group consists of nine senators, ranging from Tan Parker of Flower Mound and Kevin Sparks of Midland to Brian Birdwell of Granbury and Pete Flores of Pleasanton. Parker and Sparks’ respective Lib-Con Scores are each significantly less conservative than those of six Republican senators, and each significantly more conservative than those of five. Flores’ Lib-Con Score is significantly less conservative than those of 13 Republican senators while Birdwell’s is significantly less conservative than those of 11.
At the least conservative end of the GOP ideological spectrum is a single senator, Robert Nichols of Jacksonville. Nichols has a Lib-Con Score that is significantly less conservative than those of all 18 of his Republican colleagues. Nichols’ Lib-Con Score is still however significantly more conservative than that of the most conservative Democrat.
The 12 Democratic senators fall into three general groups in regard to their location on the ideological spectrum.
At the most liberal end of the Democratic ideological continuum are two senators, Sarah Eckhardt of Austin and Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio (who is running in the Democratic primary next year for the U.S. Senate seat occupied by Ted Cruz). Both have Lib-Con Scores that are significantly more liberal than those of all of the 10 other Democrats.
At the least liberal end of the Democratic ideological continuum is a single senator, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen. His Lib-Con Score is significantly less liberal than those of every one of his 11 fellow Democrats. Hinojosa’s Lib-Con Score is still however significantly more liberal than that of the least conservative Republican.
The largest group of Democrats is located between these two poles. This group of nine senators ranges from Borris Miles of Houston, José Menéndez of San Antonio and Carol Alvarado of Houston at the more liberal end to César Blanco of El Paso, Morgan LaMantia of South Padre Island and Judith Zaffirini of Laredo at the less liberal end.
Political scientists have for decades used roll-call votes cast by members of the U.S. Congress to map their places on the Liberal-Conservative scale along which most legislative politics now takes place. This ranking of the Texas Senate does the same, conducted biennially since 2011, by drawing on the 2,161 non-lopsided roll-call votes taken during the 2023 regular session and the four special sessions (during the regular session there were 2,728 votes taken all together, of which 2,055 were non-lopsided, while during the four special sessions there were 115 votes taken all together, of which 106 were non-lopsided). Non-lopsided votes are those where at least two senators are on the losing side.
As with previous rankings conducted earlier in 2023 after the regular session and in 2021 (post-special session), 2021, 2019, 2017 (post-special session), 2017, 2015, 2013 and 2011, this 2023 post-special session analysis uses a Bayesian estimation procedure belonging to the family of methodological approaches that represent political science’s gold standard for roll-call vote analysis.
The senators are ranked from most liberal to most conservative based on their Liberal-Conservative Scores, with the 95% credible interval (CI) for this point estimate also provided. If two senators’ CIs overlap, their positions on the ideological spectrum might be statistically equivalent, even if their Lib-Con Scores are different.
In no case in 2023 did the CI of a Republican senator overlap with that of a Democratic senator, indicating that every Republican is significantly more conservative than every Democrat, and every Democrat is significantly more liberal than every Republican. This stands in contrast to the situation as recently as 1989, when there were six Republicans who were less conservative than at least one Democrat and two Democrats who were more conservative than at least one Republican. However over the subsequent 35 years, a combination of the nationalization of partisan politics, a growing focus on ideological purity in each party, and the retirement (or party switching) of incumbents whose popularity in their district allowed them to resist these trends has created a widening chasm between Democrats and Republicans in the Texas Legislature.
Mark P. Jones is the Political Science Fellow at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/12/18/mark-jones-texas-senate-special-2023-liberal-conservative-scores/.
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