Who could run for Speaker or Senate President?

What makes a legislator a good candidate for leadership?

Last fall, Becky Lockhart narrowly won the support of her fellow House Republicans and became the new Speaker, ousting David Clark. Meanwhile, Michael Waddoups fought off a challenge from Dan Liljenquist, remaining in place as Senate President.

What makes a legislator a good candidate for leadership? There are, of course, many factors. One is political skill. Another is interpersonal skill. Yet another is ambition and thick skin–after all, not everybody wants the media flack that comes with leading the chamber.

But if we set aside all these other factors (a BIG “if”), we would expect House Republicans (or House Democrats, or Senate Democrats, or Senate Republicans) to choose as their leader the person who is most “representative” of the caucus ideologically. The entire House Republican caucus is very conservative, but we wouldn’t expect them to choose their most extremely conservative member to lead them–we would expect them to choose somebody whose views are at the middle of the House Republican caucus. Political scientists call this the median voter theorem.

You may have seen my post from last November when I used this logic to explain Becky Lockhart’s victory over David Clark. At the time, it appeared that Lockhart’s ideology might just be closer to the center of the House Republican caucus than Clark’s was. Now that I’ve got good ideology data from the 2011 legislative session, let’s revisit that idea.

A few days ago, I posted ideology scores for every Utah legislator based on their voting records in 2011. These scores range fro -100 to +100. That’s an arbitrary scale. The numbers are not percents or anything. They’re just an arbitrary scale showing who is to the right or left of whom. It’s not necessarily an honor to be the most conservative or most liberal person. After all, if Lenin were in the legislature, he’d get a score much lower than any Utah legislator, and if Mussolini were there, he’d get a score much higher than any Utah legislator. (No, I am not comparing any legislator to Lenin or Mussolini. Let’s be clear.) A high score doesn’t mean “most loyal Republican,” it simply means “further right than anybody else.”

Who could run for House leadership?

Of the 58 House Republicans, those closest to the caucus median are (in descending order) Brad Galvez, Dean Sanpei, Roger Barrus, David Butterfield, Julie Fisher, and Brad Last. There’s not much ideological difference in these six. (Since there is an even number of House Republicans, Brad Galvez and Dean Sanpei are tied for the median position.)

Of the 17 House Democrats, those closest to the House Democratic median are (in descending order) Lynn Hemingway, Carol Spackman Moss, and Mark Wheatley. (Since there is an odd number of House Democrats, Lynn Hemingway lies exactly at the median.)

That major caveat here is that there is a BIG cluster of ideologically-similar House Republicans with ideology scores close to the median. You can see this in the figure below. I’ve written a “D” for each Democrat and an “R” for each Republican. The figure shows how many legislators have a score in each range. I’ve highlighted the median for each party in red, with runners up in green. (Click the image to enlarge it, if necessary.)

Distribution of ideology scores in the Utah House, 2011

Distribution of ideology scores in the Utah House, 2011

The second major caveat is that ideology isn’t the only thing that matters in House elections. I am not forecasting that one of these legislators will become his or her party’s leader soon. I am only saying that these legislators might find it easier to build a coalition than somebody at the extremes might.

Who could run for Senate leadership?

Of 7 Senate Democrats, the median position is held by Pat Jones, followed by Ben McAdams and Karen Morgan.

Of 22 Senate Republicans, the median position is a tossup between Steve Urquhart and Wayne Niederhauser, followed by Stuart Reid or Daniel Thatcher. As with House Republicans, though, there’s a big cluster of Senate Republicans with similar views, and many of them could claim to represent the caucus’s views. Take a look at the figure:

Distribution of ideology scores in the Utah Senate, 2011

Distribution of ideology scores in the Utah Senate, 2011

The same caveats apply to the Senate as to the House. Remember, I’m not actually predicting a leadership battle. I’m just having fun with the numbers. This is the sort of thing that we love to play with in political science. So please don’t take this post too seriously.

For my complete list of ideology scores for the Utah legislature, read this post.

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About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.
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