Mirror, Mirror on the Wall - Who's the Most Liberal of Them All?
It's no secret that The Fix gets our fix on raw data. Politics, like baseball, has decades worth of information to slice and dice in hopes of better understanding what it going on out there.
So, you can imagine my excitement when an e-mail arrived today from National Journal that offered a glimpse of its 2006 vote ratings. These ratings are compiled annually by the magazine's congressional correspondent par excellence, Rich Cohen. They aim to use dozens of congressional votes to place each member in an ideological spectrum. The votes are split into three categories - economic, social and foreign. Each member is ranked cumulatively in these three topics.
Lawmakers are given a score from 0 to 100. Zero marks a member of Congress in absolute opposition to the most liberal or conservative member of their affiliated party. One hundred percent says that member is in lockstep. For example, a Democratic House member with an 82.5 liberal score is more liberal than 82.5 percent of the House. A Republican senator with a 36.2 conservative score is more conservative than just over one-third of the Senate.
While the full report won't be out until tomorrow, National Journal provided a glimpse at how the various members of Congress scored.
In the most surprising result, the most conservative senator in the presidential mix is not Sam Brownback of Kansas but Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. In 2006, Hagel's vote rating was 72 percent. That score compares to 70.3 percent for Brownback and 56.7 percent for Sen. John McCain of Arizona. While Hagel is the most outspoken Republican critic of the Bush administration, he generally supports the GOP line. His score reflects that.
However, since Hagel and Brownback came to the Senate in 1996, this is only the third year when Hagel rated more conservative than Brownback. The past two instances were in 2002 and 2003, when Hagel nudged Brownback by less than 1 percent each time.
By contrast, McCain continues a trend in recent years of moderation, or at least that is what the selected votes reflect. Taken by decade, McCain ranked as more conservative than more than 80 percent of the Senate in each of the years he served during the 1980s (1987-1989). During the 1990s, McCain broke 80 percent four times (1990, 1991, 1992 and 1994). Later in the decade, his score dipped considerably. He was at 68.3 percent in 1998 and 67.7 percent in 1999. This decade has seen even further slippage. McCain now ranks in the 50 percent range for the last three years, and four out of the last five years.
Interestingly, none of the three senators are particularly conservative on social issues. Brownback leads the way. His ratings show him as more conservative than 53 percent of the Senate. He's followed by Hagel at 52 percent, and McCain with 46 percent. The three are the most conservative senators on economic issues. Brownback scored a stratospheric 92 percent, Hagel at 82 percent and McCain at 64 percent.
Among the Democratic senators running for president, the results are more typical.
Barack Obama of Illinois had the most liberal voting record in 2006. He was more liberal than 86 percent of the Senate. Chris Dodd of Connecticut was close behind - achieving a mark of 84 percent more liberal. Joe Biden of Delaware rated 77.5 percent. Hillary Clinton of New York had the lowest overall liberal score in 2006, clocking in 70.2 percent.
While it's somewhat irrelevant to look at Obama's lifetime liberal rating since he only has two years under his congressional belt, the long view provides interesting context for Clinton, Dodd and Biden. Of the trio, Dodd ranks highest at 79.2 percent. Clinton follows him closely with a score of 78.8 percent during her first six years in the Senate. Biden has a lifetime liberal rating of 76.8 percent. Those ratings suggest the premise that Clinton is too moderate/conservative to win the Democratic presidential nomination may be false. She has, however, grown more moderate during her tenure as senator. Her highest liberal rankings came in 2002 and 2003, while her lowest came in 2006.
Clinton's liberal streak is most evident on social votes where her 80 percent score in 2006 ranks only behind Dodd's 93 percent. She ranks least liberal among the four Democratic senators running for president on economic (63 percent) and foreign (62 percent) issues.
National Journal's numbers have been known to pack a punch. The magazine proclaimed John Kerry of Massachusetts the most liberal senator in late February 2004. The news immediately became a prime talking point for Republicans seeking to paint Kerry as out of step with the electorate at large.
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