Digging Into Thom Tillis's Favorite Attack Stat
Throughout the campaign for US Senate you’ve heard this line again and again from Speaker Thom Tillis:
"Senator Hagan has voted with President Obama 96 percent of the time. She’s served as a rubber stamp to President Obama’s failed policies."
Tonight when Hagan and Tillis meet for their third and final debate, you’re almost guaranteed to hear that statistic again. We were wondering why this has become the go-to attack for Tillis, so Tom Bullock to join Morning Edition host Marshall Terry for our Thursday political chat.
Marshall Terry: First, let’s fact check this number. Has Senator Hagan voted with the President 96 percent of the time?
Tom Bullock: Kind of. The number comes from Congressional Quarterly, a very reputable political magazine. Their analysis of Hagan votes show that, for her first five years in office, 95 percent of the time she voted for bills that President Obama also supported. But that’s just the first five years and the President only took positions on about 37 percent of the bills before the Senate, so it’s a partial picture overall. And over Hagan’s last year that number has dropped significantly. In fact, Congressional Quarterly lists Hagan as the fifth least supportive Democrat when it comes to the White House agenda.
MT: Is it uncommon for Senators to vote with the President in their party this often?
TB: Not really. Especially when you consider just how polarized both major parties have become. Voting in lockstep with or lockstep against a sitting president, depending on which party you’re in, has become more and more common over the last 10 years. You see that with the GOP when George Bush was President and you see that now with Democrats.
MT: So why has this become such a go-to attack for Speaker Tillis?
TB: Well, first, it’s a big number that can stick in people’s minds. But there’s also a political phenomena in the sixth year of a presidency. Sitting presidents often see their popularity drop and voters start getting what has been referred to as "the six-year itch." This is how political scientist Michael Bitzer of Cawtaba College explains it:
"What the opposition party will always do is try to tie any incumbent candidate who is in the President’s party to the President. It’s kind of a reverse coattails effect. What they’re doing is trying to drag down their opponent with the President’s poor approval ratings."
This is true for President Obama now. It was true for President Bush in 2006 when the Democrats took a similar tack.
MT: In Tuesday’s debate, moderator George Stephanopolous said just about everyone believes Washington is broken. He then asked this question of Thom Tillis. Let's listen to that exchange.
MT: Tillis didn’t say where he would go against his party on any issue. A bit of a gaffe there?
TB: That matters on your political views. For independents and those looking for bipartisanship, that will likely hurt come November. But midterm elections are often about getting your base out. That’s why Michael Bitzer believes this was about the best answer Tillis could give.
"What we are seeing now is much more ideological toeing the line within the Republican Party. There can be no real variations. And one of the issues Thom Tillis had to confront in the May Primary was is he a true Republican. Is he someone the tea party can support?"
TB: But the question may have helped Kay Hagan out since she was able to answer it as well.
"I disagree with the President. I think we need to build the Keystone Pipeline. Trade deals, I have voted against trade deals because I think they have sent too many North Carolina jobs overseas. And I voted against my own Party's budget because it had too deep of cuts to our military."
TB: That gave her the chance to show some daylight between herself and President Obama, which hurts the "votes with Obama 96 percent of the time" attack overall.
MT: Thanks, Tom.
TB: Thank you.