Amid the shutdown-inspired talk of polarization and dysfunction in Congress, it is encouraging to see examples of real bipartisan cooperation. A group of twelve senators – six Republicans and six senators who caucus with Democrats – played a critical role in the last week, working to find a compromise to reopen the government and avert a default on the national debt. As the dust of the shutdown settles, it is worth asking why, even in today’s contentious political climate, moderates are able to drive the debate and be a force for compromise in the Senate, while the House remains mired in polarized dysfunction.
The explanation becomes apparent when looking at the states that the members of the group of twelve represent. Seven of the twelve, including the group’s leaders, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), represent states that were won by the opposing party’s candidate in the 2012 presidential election. “Crossover legislators” like these have electoral incentives to work across party lines and engage in crossover voting, as their reelection is dependent on gaining the support of voters of both parties. It is no wonder that many of the 22 Senators who fall into this category are among the most consistently moderate voices in the chamber.
Crossover representatives are much rarer in the House. Just 26 (6%) of current representatives come from a district where the opposing party’s presidential candidate performed better than he did nationwide in 2012, down from 116 (27%) in 1992.