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West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is increasingly drawing the ire of progressive Democrats. With the slimmest of majorities in the Senate, Democrats need every vote and Manchin’s unwillingness to bend on issues such as filibuster reform is getting in the way of the party’s legislative priorities.
But as I noted earlier this year, Democrats are lucky they even have a Democratic senator representing West Virginia. Furthermore, a look at the Senate math and public polling suggests Manchin is not alone in his views of the filibuster.
It can’t be said enough how Republican leaning West Virginia is. President Joe Biden won 29.7% of the vote against Donald Trump in the 2020 election. That was somehow an improvement over Hillary Clinton’s 26% of the vote in 2016. Clinton’s was the worst performance for a Democratic presidential candidate since West Virginia became a state. Biden’s was the second worst.
No other Democrat in Congress represents a district or state as Republican leaning as Manchin. In fact, no other Democrat represents a district or state where Biden won less than 40% of the vote, let alone less than 30%.
Manchin is the only Democrat who holds any office elected statewide in West Virginia. The Democratic candidate for the other Senate seat (very progressive Paula Jean Swearengin) got a mere 27% of the vote in 2020, a lower share than even Biden.
If Manchin wasn’t a senator from West Virginia, both Senate seats would highly likely be held by Republicans. This would likely mean replacing someone who voted with Trump 50% of the time (as Manchin did) with someone who voted with Trump more than 90% of the vote (as the average Republican in Congress from West Virginia did).
Moreover, there are very few nominations, amendments or motions in the Senate on which Manchin went against the party and was the deciding vote. Manchin’s usually with the party when Democrats need him to win a vote. He goes against the party most frequently when the outcome of a Senate vote isn’t in doubt.
When it comes to the filibuster in particular, Manchin’s views seem to be very much in the mainstream. I say “seem” because a lot of Americans aren’t that familiar with the filibuster, and their views on it can differ depending how exactly the question is asked.
Still, consider what Monmouth University found earlier this year. When Americans were asked whether they’d want a filibuster threshold in the Senate to be below, at or above 60 votes, just 32% wanted it lowered below 60 votes. The vast majority either wanted it to stay at 60 (46%) or raised above 60 (16%).
Even among Democrats, just 55% wanted the filibuster lowered below 60 votes. There was a substantial minority (38%) who wanted it kept the same (26%) or raised (12%).
On a different question, a mere 30% of Democrats want to get rid of the filibuster completely.
Manchin’s feelings may not be the most popular on Twitter, but they represent at least a substantial portion of Democrats in the electorate.
Now, I should point out that the public is more tightly divided when it comes to legislation regarding election rules and voting rights. It’s on this topic, of course, that a number of Democrats are willing to ditch the filibuster.
When asked whether they supported or opposed use of the filibuster on this type of legislation, Americans were split 46% to 46%. Note, this question didn’t ask whether the filibuster should be eliminated if it was used on an election form bill. Just whether it should be allowed.
Again, though, Manchin’s view is mainstream. Focusing on Democrats, Manchin’s among the 32% who supported allowing the filibuster on an election reform bill.
Some of those Democrats are Manchin’s colleagues in the Senate.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema from the swing state of Arizona is opposed to ditching the filibuster. Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, both of New Hampshire, don’t seem to be on board at this point, either.
These senators don’t get brought up anywhere near as much as Manchin because they’re not as front and center about going against the base. It’s good politics for Manchin in West Virginia to be seen opposing something the Democratic base desperately wants.
The bottom line is that not only does Manchin give the Democrats the majority, but he provides cover for a number of moderates who are more than happy for him to take the heat.