A Decade of Foreign Policy Partisanship

Day in and day out, I hear too many partisan attacks on the news. I thought it may be getting worse than ever before. Partisanship ends at the water’s edge? Laughable. Recent news on Syria, Iran, and Ukraine had me once again shaking my head at Congress – we can’t even put together a unified face for America’s most pressing international concerns.

Despite the splitting headache I get from listening to Republicans and Democrats argue with each other on a daily basis, the decade’s worth of data collected by Global Solutions Action Network reveals that the partisan divide on global issues is a phenomenon of consistency but isn’t necessarily getting worse. Over the course of 10 years, there’s been an average partisan divide of 62 points in the House and 70 points in the Senate.

Average Congressional Scores 2004-2014

The graph pictured above shows the average scores of Democrats and Republicans per year, separated by chamber of Congress. Clearly, the partisanship has been a part of U.S. foreign policy for at least a decade. Over and over again, many Democrats will vote to fund international organizations, human right law, peacekeeping missions, and more. Meanwhile, most Republicans vote for resolutions that call for action for human rights protection and other basic health prerogatives, but will not put their money where their mouth is; they typically vote to not fund the initiatives those resolutions envision to protect human rights and basic health. 

That explanation of Republican positioning on global issues helps to explain the rise and fall of the lines representing House and Senate Republican averages. In years where more votes on sense resolutions, which expend no money, where included, Republicans did slightly better. Similarly, this can help explain the Democrat lines – the rise and falls are just less prominent in comparison. In addition to the members of Congress changing year to year, the number of non-appropriations bills included per year cannot explain the sudden 2006 bump in the House Republican line. I assume the jump has to do with programs supported by the Bush Administration, and I’ll delve further into that data point in one of my upcoming posts.

Conclusively, the graph shows us a decade of partisanship. Though the divide of Congress may not being getting worse, it’s the consistency of the problem that has me distraught. The issues included in the Congressional Report Cards should not be partisan issues. It shouldn’t be a debate whether or not the U.S. can torture prisoners; we shouldn’t be arguing over funding peacekeeping missions; and, we shouldn’t view international organizations as power hungry bureaucrats.

Let’s take solace in the fact that all four lines do increase over the course of 10 years and hope that this general trajectory continues into the next.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.

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