21

From his Wikipedia page, Joe Manchin appears to be a Republican pretending to be a Democrat to get elected in a state that is solidly Republican, but has returned him since 2010. He gets huge majorities in his primaries and thin majorities in the actual election and then in the current session has basically appeared to block all significant Democrat policy, but doesn't seem to be drawing significant removal attempts from either side.

Why is Joe Manchin a Democrat when he sides so consistently on significant votes with the Republican party? Why do Democrat primary voters in his state vote for him so strongly, or even consider themselves Democrats if they consider him to align with their positions? Why does the central Democrat party continue to support him? I assume all of this has an underlaying unifying cause, but I have no idea what this might be.

14
  • 10
    Not sure what you mean by "Why is Joe Manchin?". Do you mean why he is apparently successful and popular in his state? Or do you mean why he is not more mainsteam Democratic Party? Or do you mean what motivates him secretly, if he has some hidden agenda? Or something else? What kind of answers do you expect? I think the question is currently unclear and could potentially go towards asking for internal motivations.
    – Trilarion
    May 12 at 8:37
  • 2
    I'm not going to argue the question is clear, but it fundamentally isn't because I don't understand anything about the situation. Why is Joe Manchin a democrat when he votes so consistently on significant votes with the Republican party? Why do Democrat primary voters in his state vote for him so strongly, or even consider themselves Democrats if they consider him to align with their position? Why does the central Democrat party continue to support him? I assume all of this has an underlaying unifying cause, but I have no idea what this might be.
    – Jontia
    May 12 at 8:43
  • 6
    Presumably, he still has more in common with the Democrats than with the Republicans, even though he has annoyed Democrats with some of his recent votes (or were these abstentions?). It is quite common that state representatives deviate from the party mainstream - e.g., on guns, abortion, coal, etc. - because the issues viewed differently in their state. Diversity of opinions is a feature of democracy. Finally, what do Democrats have to gain by expelling him, except revenge? - would they be better losing their majority in congress, if he becomes neutral or joins the Republican party? May 12 at 10:28
  • 8
    Could you give some data to show that he 'consistently votes against' the Democratic party? According to 538's tally of some major votes, he's only voted against ending the filibuster and voted in support of disapproving vaccine mandates. He's certainly been opposed to some proposed legislation like the Build Back Better Act which hasn't had a Senate vote, so maybe you could ask why he doesn't support specific things the way the rest of the Democratic party does?
    – Giter
    May 12 at 15:02
  • 2
    it's important to realize that manchin has, at least some, hidden/secret allies in the senate. They might not come out publicly, but he was hardly the only senator that was worried BBB would lead to even more inflation (it would have, Manchins obstinance saved the party from themselves, at least to some degree). There are also many more dem senators against removing the filibuster than the media would have you believe. Again, they rely on Manchin doing the dirty work for them.
    – eps
    May 12 at 22:32

7 Answers 7

31

Well, I guess I'd better start by saying, it's not clear that Joe Manchin DOES consistently vote against his own party.

enter image description here

BUT I suppose if you pre-suppose the conclusion, you can get plenty of explanations for why Joe Manchin consistently votes against other Democratic Party members.

You could say it's safer for a Democrat to cross party lines on legislation. Comparing Manchin and Sinema to Sasse and Romney, I'm not sure that's clearly the case.

You could say it's because he's a greedy, reactionary coal baron who cares more about his own wealth than democracy or social welfare. But that doesn't match up. If you look at how often senators voted "Democratic" (i.e. voted along with the democratic president) look at their net worth and adjust for how long they've been in office, then there's some shaky data to suggest that you're either AS likely or slightly MORE likely to be a multi-millionaire if you vote strictly along party lines.

You could say that it's because West Virginians voted for Trump in 2020. And it's true that if you look at a scatter plot of voting records, Manchin is definitely an outlier.

enter image description here

So is he an outlier on his voting record too? Well, West Virginia is one of five states with both a Democratic and a Republican senator. Of the five, 2 voted with Biden 98% of the time (along with 17 non-split state senators). 1 (Manchin) voted with Biden 95% of the time (along with 12 non-split state senators), and 2 voted with Biden 93% of the time (along with Bernie Sanders). So is that our smoking gun? I don't know. Seems pretty shaky to me.

So...maybe we should circle back to the beginning. Maybe Joe Manchin DOESN'T consistently vote against his party. Maybe if he IS affected by Republican intolerance or greed or the demands of constituents, the effect is so small that you can only see it if you believe it's there from the outset.

8
  • 7
    Thanks for a little bit of voice of reason on this! May 12 at 20:29
  • 10
    The raw vote record is potentially misleading. It obviously does not include legislation that gets blocked or gutted via obstructionism. The Build Back Better bill being the most obvious recent example. Good data challenge though. Something to think about at least.
    – Jontia
    May 12 at 20:45
  • 3
    Very interesting data, I agree the premise is worth examining. Perhaps worth noting that recently (since last August), Manchin has been on a streak of voting contrary to Democrats, opposing Biden's position in 6 of 9 votes. Among senators still in Congress, he was also the Democratic senator who most frequently voted for the Republican position during Trump's tenure, which I'm sure contributes to how he is perceived (projects.fivethirtyeight.com/congress-trump-score). May 12 at 20:59
  • 11
    This seems an excellent point. He strongly tends to vote along party lines... except on bills that are highly contentious and highly partisan, where he tends to vote to maintain the status quo.
    – Valorum
    May 12 at 21:17
  • 4
    Okay. Looks like among all controversial votes listed on 538 ("controversial" meaning "for" and "against" are within 10 votes of each other), Manchin's "Siding with Democrats" record goes from 95.5% down to 83.3%. If you push "controversial" down to a difference of 5 votes, it's 80%.
    – esquisilo
    May 12 at 22:02
23

West Virginia voted 68.62% for Trump in 2020.

Ask yourself if anyone running against the Republicans in this state can afford to be very progressive-leaning within the Democratic party?

Also ask yourself (and without disagreeing with Carduus' analysis of the kingmaker power his position gives him): if you believe that West Virginians need to have access to a choice of policies during congressional elections and you are, in your own convictions, left-of-state-Republicans but right-of-USA-wide-Democrats, is running against the state Republicans on a Democratic ticket something that is somehow dishonest and against your principles?

Susan Collins, as a Republican in Maine (53.09% for Biden in 2020), has a similar position (and Dems are happy playing the bipartisan card with her).

The US used to have more cross-the-aisle politicians who were capable of bipartisanship to get things done and for all the Ted Cruzes and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezes whining otherwise, I can't see that as bad thing, not with the level of legislative gridlock.


There is also another way to understand the question, which is what I understood at first, which "why is Manchin not kicked out?":

The case for exiling Manchin and Sinema from the Democratic Party

Ask yourself these questions: would the Dems be served better for running a "purer" Dem in W Virginia and likely loosing? Would the Dems be better off booting Manchin and dealing with him as an Independent? Would Manchin be liable to lose to a Rep if running as an independent without Dem support and with possibly a Dem opponent? I.e. what's the gain, at the country level, to the Dems from chucking him out?


If this question is motivated by his vote on the Federal abortion bill, consider that 58% of West Virginians want to restrict abortion, one of the USA's highest proportions.

Finally, look at an answer questioning the explicit assumption in this question's title, whether Manchin does in fact vote "a lot" against Dems.

7
  • 19
    It should also be noted that having everyone in party be expected to vote along party lines isn't a good thing. A big reason why we have the problems we currently do is because people are expected to vote certain ways or they are not a member of the party regardless of which way is best for the people they represent.
    – Joe W
    May 12 at 18:54
  • 1
    @joew A big reason we have the problems we currently do is because the GOP can almost invariably be counted on to vote in lockstep, with only the occasional one or two "principled dissents" when they're confident their majority is secure.
    – Shadur
    May 14 at 9:41
  • 2
    @Shadur And I am saying that is one of the big problems right now, people either vote with the party instead of with their voter or get punished by the party for it.
    – Joe W
    May 14 at 14:55
  • @JoeW Coming from Europe and living in a European political system I say that expecting party members to vote according to party line is a good thing because that's basically how our systems work. However, we don't have things like a Senate filibuster and even in split governments things can still be gotten done.
    – Jan
    May 18 at 15:43
  • @Jan When you vote are you voting for a person or a party? In the US we are voting for a person which in my mind changes the responsibility that they have.
    – Joe W
    May 18 at 19:24
7

Even if Joe Manchin's track record wasn't very much in line with other Democrats (as shown by other answers), he could still remain a member of the Democrat party if he wanted. As explained in Do the Democratic/Republican parties have any control over their membership and primary voters, both the Republican and the Democratic party have little control over who participates in their primaries. So in theory, even Donald Trump could run in a Democratic primary and if the voters support him, he'd have a "D" next to his name in the next election.

As to why Joe Manchin might sometimes choose to vote against his own party, keep in mind that West Virginia is a heavily conservative state. Its one of the most anti-abortion states in the country, for example. And since Senators are elected state-wide, he can't rely on an urban districts alone to propel him into power. So in accordance with the Median Voter Theorem Manchin does his best to throw a bone to his voter base from time to time. To some extent he can keep his cake and eat it too - constantly be in the news for voting against his party, while at the same time he gets to vote for Biden's agenda 95% of the time. Your very post is a great illustration of the illusion he's created about his persona as a supposed "Republican Democrat"

4

Republicans as a rule have strong incentives not to cross party lines on any legislation: their party heads can strip them of committee assignments and any position of power within the legislature.

But Manchin's position as the tiebreaking Democrat gives him a great deal of power. If the Democrats want to pass anything in the current 48 Democrats, 50 Republicans, 2 Independents-who-vote-with-the-Dems split, they essentially need his permission. He wins a lot of pork for his state due to this power, which makes him both fabulously wealthy from corporate sponsorships and tremendously popular with his constituents.

2
  • 5
    Can you back up his winning a lot of pork for his state? As I recall he has been consistently unwilling to change his vote on anything in exchange for extra money, etc. for his state. He was (in)famously an obstruction to Obamacare, even when offered bunches of handouts, exceptions, and aid for his state, which desperately needed it. His entire schtick is being an old school uncompromising bipartisan politician. He certainly has wealth that undercuts some of that, but my understanding is that his state gets very little pork due to him. May 12 at 19:29
  • -1, this answer is pure talking points.
    – eps
    May 12 at 22:51
4

Everyone likes to present political parties as a unified front. But each Senator represents his or her own state, not the entire party. You have to be able, at some point, to go home and get voters to send you back.

Joe Manchin is very much a big spender in the mold of his predecessor, the infamous Robert Byrd. If you're not aware, a lot of West Virginia infrastructure is named after him. Manchin is a Democrat somewhat for the same reason: money for the state. The March 2021 stimulus is a prime example of Manchin very much favoring government spending. From Manchin's own website

West Virginia alone will receive approximately $140 million for broadband expansion, $152 million for emergency rental assistance, and $1.34 billion for our schools and childcare facilities. Every city, town, village and county in the state will receive funding to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and support essential frontline workers. A vast majority of West Virginians will also receive $1,400 stimulus checks. We were also able to extend unemployment benefits through the end of August and protect those receiving unemployment benefits and making less than $150,000 from being hit with an unexpected tax bill next year. This relief bill will help West Virginia rebuild after this incredibly difficult year.

Shocker of shockers: even Republicans like money. But the proposed major Democratic stimulus after that sparked fears of inflation with Manchin

What I have made clear to the President and Democratic leaders is that spending trillions more on new and expanded government programs, when we can’t even pay for the essential social programs, like Social Security and Medicare, is the definition of fiscal insanity. Suggesting that spending trillions more will not have an impact on inflation ignores the everyday reality that America’s families continue pay an unavoidable inflation tax. Proposing a historic expansion of social programs while ignoring the fact we are not in a recession and that millions of jobs remain open will only feed a dysfunction that could weaken our economic recovery. This is the shared reality we all now face, and it is this reality that must shape the future decisions that we, as elected leaders, must make.

Manchin was right (Apr 2022 numbers hit 8.3%). And Manchin clearly knows his own state (Apr 2022 survey)

57% of West Virginia voters approve of Manchin’s job performance, up from 40% during the first quarter of 2021.

And

While Manchin has made up ground on the right, he’s angered West Virginia Democrats, 54% of whom now disapprove of him, up from 32% around this time last year. However, he’s also made large gains with independents over that time frame, with an approval rating rising from 31% to 50%.

In other words, Manchin is a rare bird in politics: a member of one political party who draws enough support from the other party to win elections. In fact, he can afford to anger his own party within his home state. Remember, Joe Manchin is all but obliged to vote for Democrats to control the Senate (meaning that if he were removed, the Senate would flip 51-49 for Republicans). Former Clinton strategist James Carville notes why the Democrats need Manchin

“Understand that Joe Manchin is a Roman Catholic Democrat in a state in which not a single county has voted Democrat [for president] since 2008,” Carville said.

“Politics is about choices and he’s up for re-election in 2024. If Manchin runs for re-election, I’ll do everything I can to help him because it’s either going to be Joe Manchin or Marsha Blackburn. It ain’t Joe Manchin or Ed Markey.”

Blackburn is a hard-right Republican from Tennessee, Markey a progressive Democrat from Massachusetts.

In short, you'd rather have someone who at least identifies with your party and carries some of positions, than to nominate some who will carry all of your positions... but can't win. There is no other Democrat in West Virginia who is even remotely popular enough to win a statewide election in a state that is currently considered R+23.

2
  • From your own numbers Manchin is more popular among Republicans in his home state than Democrats. Your answer explains why he gets elected despite being a Democrat. It doesn't make it any clearer to my why he is a Democrat. If you vote like a Republican, are approved of by Republicans and endorse Republicans, why not be a Republican?
    – Jontia
    May 16 at 17:52
  • @Jontia And if you believe your party is making some poor choices you disagree with, do you buck them on some issues and keep your seat, or let the other party beat you in the general election for being out of sync with the electorate? Joe Manchin clearly agrees with his party more than he disagrees. Even James Carville wants to keep him because he agrees more than he disagrees.
    – Machavity
    May 16 at 19:14
0

Short answer: it's an internal game of good cop-bad cop.

Long answer: Party politics is used as an obfuscation technique to cover up the policies in play. Both parties have effectively the same modus operandi and conform to the same parameters when creating policy. Both parties receive money from the same donors, industries such as finance and banking, military contractors, property developers, FF companies etc.

These industries wouldn't donate to any party that wouldn't push policies that favored them. As a result, the two parties must find a way of generating the appearance of conflict to hide the actual parity of their policies.

For Republicans, this approach is fearmongering and scapegoating to whip up their base into a frenzy about a non-issue that nobody really cares about. In decades past, this would be desegregation, civil rights, gay marriage, and now more recently which bathrooms people can and can't use. Since they always pick losing battles, they always have something new to complain about every few years.

For Democrats, the technique is to browbeat most rational people into thinking that the only way to prevent the lunatic Republicans from taking everybody back to the 1800s is to vote for them. This is seen every election cycle ("vote for us or you'll lose access to abortion").

The result is what's commonly called the "culture war", except there is no actual culture involved. Both sides are largely manufactured. A majority of people support right to choose, universal healthcare, ending foreign wars, freedom of expression, etc. They have to be convinced that the rift is far greater than it is, which is where people like Manchin come in. By pointing at people like Manchin, Dems can say "damn, we'd love to get anything done, but he keeps getting in the way. Oh, kick him out and run someone else? But then a Republican might get his seat!" Manchin creates the spectacle of political disunity, which keeps the culture war going and keeps everyone distracted while Dems and Reps keep pushing for neoliberal and neoconservative policies.

Tldr : Politics is a spectacle and Manchin is just one of this season's stars of the show.

5
  • This would benefit from some sourcing because all I see is a lot of popular talking points ("they" are all the same, politicians all suck), without, well, ... much supporting polls, studies, articles by reputable publications, etc... No DV, but mostly because you are new here. Welcome aboard. May 15 at 17:43
  • My (personal) beef with this is that I consider disaffection and cynicism from the political class as a whole to be a significant contributor to why people in otherwise fairly well run countries pick useless and toxic populist outliers who promise to "shake things up". So there is a real cost to buying into this kinda worldview, especially the last sentence in your answer. Things like A majority of people support right to choose, universal healthcare ... pls cite sources because majorities in some US states do not seem to be supporting either (whether they should is another thing). May 15 at 17:45
  • Sure, one example would be the abortion ban in TX : texastribune.org/2022/05/04/texas-abortion-ut-poll most people support right to choose, but the state gov't has effectively banned it. nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/11/… is another example where politicians do not reflect their voters opinions. The political class is representative not of the voting class but of the corporate class (decades of corporate tax cuts, neoconservative austerity policies, free-trade agreements, etc)
    – Mdd M
    May 16 at 15:31
  • No, Texans back restricting abortions 50% (vs 45% pro-choice) according to Pew Research poll so that's hardly a great example May 16 at 22:13
  • even w/ that poll it says "restricted in *most*/all circumstances", so this doesn't cover what the actual laws do which is de-facto criminalize all circumstances pewresearch.org/religion/religious-landscape-study/state/texas/…
    – Mdd M
    May 20 at 14:22
-6

It is normal, even expected, for party members to represent a diversity of interests that lead to inter-party disagreements. Instead of asking why Manchin differs from other Democrats, we should be asking why there is no disagreement within Republican circles. What Manchin does is (democratically) healthy; what the Republicans do is not.

I hate to say it again, but everyone ought to read Federalist 10, slowly and carefully. The destructive potential of unified factions should never be underestimated.

4
  • 4
    An embarrassingly small number of Republicans voted for impeachment, but they did, nonetheless. Probably "no disagreement" should be qualified. May 12 at 20:23
  • @AzorAhai-him-: There's an exception to every norm. The repubs factually represent a coordinated and constrained voting bloc (faction) far in excess of anything we see in the Dems. Check the congressional voting record if you don't believe me. May 12 at 20:51
  • 1
    @TedWrigley Maybe I am misreading the plot here, but that's not obviously what projects.fivethirtyeight.com/biden-congress-votes linked to in @ esquisilo's answer shows. "Chacun voit midi a sa porte" ,Everyone sees things their own way./Everyone looks out for their proper interests., as we French would say. In fact, I read that plot as saying the exact opposite of your claim. May 12 at 21:05
  • 1
    it's not the 50s to 90s anymore. right now the parties are incredibly well "sorted" on ideological and policy lines. The days of liberal republicans and conservative dems is long gone. Politics is what it is, there is no "normal" amount of position diversity or level or how much in-fighting there should be. The founders were products of their time, the idea they reacted to the issues of their day. Their thoughts on the topics of the time are interesting but have absolutely 0 relevance to a world that is as alien to them as ancient egypt is to us.
    – eps
    May 12 at 22:39

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .