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Klobuchar is Super Effective

According to conventional wisdom, the ability to empathize with the opposing political party makes a candidate more electable, a notion I've denounced on this blog before. However, often dismissed is another fact: the ability to empathize with the opposing party makes a candidate more effective at getting things done. In this increased era of partisanship, it's important that all of these great ideas actually come to fruition. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar, an underperforming presidential candidate, is super effective.


Before I get in too deep, hello, and welcome to Chromatic Conflux. In this post, I plan to talk about effectiveness: what exactly I mean by effectiveness, why it's an important thing to think about in today's hyper-partisan climate, why it's a better metric than electability, and which presidential candidates are effective and which aren't. (Spoiler: Klobuchar is super effective and Sanders is super ineffective.)

What Effectiveness Is

Effectiveness is essentially how much stuff you get done. There's no hard-and-fast guideline for this, but you can measure it by things like how good you are at overcoming partisan gridlock and passing actual laws, if you're a lawmaker. The idea is: how effective are you at actually getting things done?

Why Effectiveness Matters

America has been becoming more and more partisan. According to this chart, the last eight elections have all been within ten percentage points, whereas in the past, only about half of elections were within ten.

Chart credit: FiveThirtyEight.

This piece by FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich states that "Here in 2018, the results of the just-concluded U.S. House eating contests tracked almost perfectly with...partisan lean." It's harder and harder for people to overcome the lean of their party.

During the last years of Barack Obama's presidency, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other powerful Republicans stonewalled the confirmation hearing of Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, along with countless other pieces of legislation. If Democrats are unable to retake either the Senate or the House of Representatives in 2020, then aside from arguably overreaching executive orders, it doesn't matter if they win the presidency, since McConnell could and likely will do this again.

Therefore, right now, it's of the utmost importance to actually work with the other party, when the rest of the country is intent on tearing them apart.

I didn't really have a choice. It's Turtle Mitch McConnell. Image credit: Encyclopedia Dramatica.

Effectiveness vs. Electability

Effectiveness and electability both underscore the importance of empathizing with the other party. So why should we favor effectiveness over electability? Electability gives us an excuse to look at optics. For instance, there is a widespread perception that women and minorities are less electable, and this gives primary voters an excuse to discriminate against them.

However, if effectiveness is used over electability, optics are irrelevant. It's about how good you are at understanding the elected officials of the other side, about how good you are at convincing them to back your proposals. And fortunately, GovTrack provides abundant data on this.

The Data

According to GovTrack, in the 115th Congress, Amy Klobuchar - wrote the 3rd-most laws, (bills that are enacted) - got bills out of committee the 2nd-most, and

- received the highest number of Republican cosponsors on bills

of any Senate Democrat.*

Senator Amy Klobuchar. Image credit: Wikipedia.

Let's look at those numbers for other Senators who are (serious) presidential candidates.

Elizabeth Warren: - wrote the 5th-most laws,

- got bills of out committee the 12th-most, and - received the 4th-highest number of Republican cosponsors on bills

of any Senate Democrat.

Bernie Sanders:

- wrote the fewest laws (none),

- got bills out of committee the least, and - received the lowest number of Republican cosponsors on bills

of any Senate Democrat, if he were a Democrat.

Kamala Harris:

- wrote the 17th-most laws,

- got bills out of committee the 24th-most, and

- received the 31st-highest number of Republican cosponsors on bills

of any Senate Democrat.

Cory Booker:

- wrote the 28th-most laws,

- got bills out of committee the 34th-most, and

- received the 20th-highest number of Republican cosponsors on bills

of any Senate Democrat.

We can see that Amy Klobuchar is the most effective by far of these Democrats. This isn't too big of a surprise, but it does highlight one of her biggest strengths–her demonstrated ability to get things done. What is a surprise is how high Elizabeth Warren is, compared to her liberalism. If we look at another metric, she is the 3rd top "leader," among Senate Democrats, tied with Klobuchar. This measures how often other Senators cosponsor their legislation. So she's definitely putting her money where her mouth is.

While Harris and Booker are midtier, we can see that Bernie Sanders is at the bottom of the pack; he just can't seem to advance his agenda. What this shows is that, as president, he would likely suffer in gridlock, whereas people like Klobuchar and Warren could work together to overcome that gridlock.

Senator Bernie Sanders. Image credit: The Washington Post.

Among the other candidates, Beto O'Rourke was in the House of Representatives up until 2018, so we look at that data. Beto O'Rourke:

- wrote the 50th-most laws,

- got bills out of committee the 109th-most, and

- received the 11th-highest number of Republican cosponsors on bills

of any House Democrat. (Keep in mind there are more House Democrats than Senate Democrats, so adjust accordingly.) This suggests that O'Rourke is somewhat effective.

Of the final candidate on the most recent debate stage, Julián Castro has never been in Congress, but his twin brother, Joaquin, serves in Congress, so we use that as a baseline. Joaquin Castro:

- wrote the fewest laws (none),

- got bills out of committee the 23rd-most, and

- received the 33rd-highest number of Republican cosponsors on bills

of any House Democrat.

Pete Buttigieg was never in Congress, but we take a look at his record as mayor of South Bend, Indiana to see what he accomplished. According to this Reuters article, "A city ravaged by the loss of industry has seen nearly $1 billion of investment. A program to tackle 1,000 vacant and abandoned homes has reduced blight, and a renovated factory building now houses tech and other companies downtown." It seems Buttigieg has been effective in turning around South Bend.

I can't find data about Joe Biden (he was in the Senate before GovTrack did data, and they don't do data on the executive branch), but his rhetoric is very much about getting things done, so I would assume that he's accomplished many things during his tenure as a senator and as Vice President.

Andrew Yang is a unique case. He seems pretty focused on his one pet issue, so I would be inclined to assume he would not be open to compromise. That said, he was a successful business owner... I'm not really sure where to put Yang.

Well, that's the debate tier of candidates. Since Tulsi Gabbard is a representative and she's easy to do, I'll throw her in too. Tulsi Gabbard:

- wrote the fewest laws (none),

- got bills out of committee the least (never), and

- recieved the 29th-highest number of Republican cosponsors of bills

of any House Democrat.

Now, it's true that being in the House comes with much less power than the Senate. But this is really bad.

Ranking the Candidates

I'm not going to include Andrew Yang in this somewhat subjective ranking of effectiveness among 2020 presidential candidates, since we all love top ten lists:

1. Amy Klobuchar

2. Elizabeth Warren

3. Joe Biden

4. Pete Buttigieg

5. Kamala Harris

6. Cory Booker

7. Beto O'Rourke

8. Julián Castro

9. Bernie Sanders

10. Tulsi Gabbard

I hope you learned something from this post about effectiveness and electability.


*Republicans have it easier on many of these metrics since they control the Senate, so I'm not including them here.


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