What is Wrong With Delaware’s Elected Democrats?

Delawareans have three federally elected officials representing them in Congress, none of whom adequately represent their state:

  1. Tom Carper (D – Senior Senator)
  2. Christopher Coons (D – Junior Senator)
  3. John Carney (D – At-Large Representative)

All of these members represent a D+8 — which is basically another way of saying that Barack Obama won with fairly large margins there: 59% of the vote in 2012 and 62% of the vote in 2008. In plain English, this all means that — barring an extremely anti-Democratic election year and an extremely moderate Republican challenger — Carper, Coons, and Carney have virtually no chance of losing their seats to a Republican in a general election.

Attempting to give them the benefit of the doubt, one possible explanation could be that – though Delaware has a 48-28 Democratic registration advantage – their state has a high elasticity. Nate Silver coined the term ‘elastic state’ by measuring how likely each state is to react to national political conditions, where a high elastic state reacts more than the average and a low elastic state reacts less:

If a state has an elasticity of (for example) 1.1 points, as Wisconsin does, that means a one-percentage-point change in the national numbers would be expected to change the Wisconsin numbers by 1.1 points. Or, likewise, a five-point change in the national numbers would change that state’s voting preferences by 5.5 points.

The thought-process here is that maybe if Delaware voters were overly sensitive to national political conditions, that could be part of the reason why all of Delaware’s federal delegation is skewing more moderate when they don’t have to. However, Mr. Silver finds Delaware to have an elasticity of 0.98 — which means they are actually marginally less affected by the national mood. That, combined with their high Democratic party affiliation margins, means these legislators have no reason not to be voting more progressive.

A few quick examples of the bad votes we’ve seen from the Delaware delegation:

– Thomas Carper has voted against amendments preventing deep cuts to food stamps
– Christopher Coons has voted for FISA Extension acts
– John Carney has voted with Republicans to loosen regulations on Dodd-Frank.

Mr. Carper is the biggest offender of progressive principals in a blue state, but the other two have room for improvement as well.

Delaware is the only state in America where all of its Democrats in Congress vote consistently worse than all of their colleagues in similar partisan district-leans. There’s absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be voting more like their D+8 Senate and House colleagues like Dick Durbin and Jim McGovern.