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New app tracks voting records and Washington’s growing partisan divide

The Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. (AP)

The growing partisan divide in Washington is nothing new, but a new app called WhipStat illustrates just how big that gap has become by tracking voting patterns in Olympia. It shows a dramatic rise in polarized voting, underscoring the disparity between what Olympia politicians are saying on the campaign trail and how they’re actually voting.

Chad Magendanz served two terms as state representative for the 5th Legislative District, and joined the Saul Spady Show on KTTH to discuss what he’s learned  from tracking voting records in Olympia in such great detail.

“I wrote a little app that went through and mined the thousands of floor votes just to analyze how people were voting on the floor, because I saw a big discrepancy between what people were saying on the campaign trail about being moderate and independent, and what was happening when it came to voting on the floor,” he said.

“I wanted to introduce some sunshine into that process and hold people accountable for their voting. Initially, I was discouraged a little bit that there weren’t more people who are truly in the middle, that we didn’t have as many moderates as we thought we had.”

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After looking at data since 2003, Magendanz says he noticed that more and more Democrats were voting with their party and Republicans were moving in that direction as well, in essence eliminating median values in the Legislature.

“It was a little concerning, especially this year when you looked and there was just nothing in the middle, no independents and arguably not even any moderates. I mean the separation was huge.”

WhipStat uses an interactive graph to chart votes by date, chamber, policy area, with bias and partisanship scores calculated for each floor vote, giving users a feel for how often Democrats and Republicans are voting along with one caucus or another.

One striking find according to Magendanz is that Democrats are now over twice as partisan as they were in 2003-2004 under Governor Gary Locke, with the whole partisan divide almost twice as wide now as it was in 2007-2008, when the Democrats had a 42 seat advantage (now they have a 26 seat advantage).

Magendanz believes that part of the reason for the partisan divide is that moderates are being pressured to take sides in a partisan system, where they can be demonized for even partially agreeing with a particular politician or position.

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“There’s a reason they call the moderates roadkill, because when you when you’re in the middle of the road as a voter, it’s easy to be made an enemy from both sides,” he said. “You’ve got to be willing to apply what I affectionately call the Reagan rule, where a person who supports your issues 80 percent of the time is an ally and a friend, not a 20 percent enemy. That’s that’s basically what keeps moderate moderates alive.”

“During the two terms that I was there we had divided control in the in the Legislature where the Republicans had an effective majority in the Senate and the Democrats had a majority in the House, and the negotiated bipartisan budgets that we came through those years were getting over 90 percent support,” he said. “If you look at the last budget that we passed this year, none of the Republicans voted for it and not even all the Democrats voted for it. So yeah, of course these budgets are going to be less appetizing to the general public because they haven’t found that common ground.”

Listen to the Saul Spady Show weekday afternoons from 6-9 a.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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