Last week voters in North Carolina chose Baptist minister Mark Walker over Phil Berger Jr. in the 6th District Republican primary runoff. Walker was arguably the more conservative of the two candidates. A new study in the Journal of Politics finds that political moderates are less likely to run for Congress. The study looked at state legislatures around the country.
"State legislative office has traditionally been viewed as the pipeline to Congressional office," says Danielle Thomsen, author of the study and a post doctoral student at Duke. "More than half the members of Congress have state legislature backgrounds."
For the study, Thomsen looked at a sample from 2000-2010. She found that ideological moderates (liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats for example) are less likely to run for higher office than those at the extremes. She also found that the disparity is more pronounced on the Republican side.
Why does this matter? Thomsen says that the current political climate is allowing for less moderates in Congress, and that moderates are less likely to run for reelection.
"There is just not a lot of space for moderates in the congressional environment anymore," she says. Thomsen points out that this is seen in the number of Blue Dog Democrats in Congress today. (Blue Dog Democrats identify themselves as moderate and conservative.)
There are only 19 Blue Dogs in Congress today. A few years ago, there were 54.
"The figures of who is sitting the middle is just declining with each election cycle," notes Thomsen.