Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How does your Congressmember rank?

The National Journal has published its latest ranking of Congress members, labeling them liberal or conservative based on their voting record.

Such rankings can be very problematic, in that there as many reasons to vote for or against a bill as there are people. For instance, on the recent Iraq war resolutions, both liberals and conservatives opposed them -- the conservatives because they thought the resolutions went to far, the liberals because they thought the resolutions didn't go far enough.

Everything is also complicated by the party-line nature of many votes.

The NJ's methodology addresses some of those concerns, and I generally have high regard for their efforts. But it remains a highly subjective process, so take it with a grain of salt.

That said, here are some of the findings:

SENATE
Most conservative

1. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.
2. Jim Bunning, R-Ky.
3. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz.
4. John Cornyn, R-Texas
5. Jeff Sessions, R.-Ala.

Most conservative Democrat: Ben Nelson, D-Neb., ranked 48th overall

Most liberal
1. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
2. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
3. Ted Kennedy, D.-Mass.
4. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
5. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa

Most liberal Republican: Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., ranked 43rd overall.
Most liberal serving Republican: Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, ranked 45th overall

So here's one reason to suspect that the rankings don't actually say much: I don't happen to believe that the party and ideological divide in this country is so stark that, except for two outliers (Nelson and Chafee), Senate Republicans and Democrats reliably line up at opposite ends of the spectrum. I think this either reveals a flawed methodology, or it says more about party discipline than the actual political beliefs of individual senators.

The same pattern holds true for the House, where you have to go down more than a hundred names to find a Democrat on the conservative list or a Republican on the liberal one.

The most liberal House Republican: Jim Leach, Iowa.
The most conservative House Democrat: Dan Boren, Oklahoma.
Spots separating the two: 41.

That means 392 of 435 members are part of blocs at either end of the spectrum. Those blocs get even bigger if you count Leach and Ron Paul, R-Texas, as GOP outliers. Then the size of the "muddy middle" shrinks to 21 people.

Our politics may be polarized, but that polarized? I just don't buy it.

There are also individual rankings in three areas: foreign policy, economic policy and social policy. Those rankings, being more specific, are probably more accurate, although I have my doubts considering that the composite score is drawn from the three individual scores.

My Congress members rank as follows:
Rep. Jim Ramstad: 52.3 liberal, 47.7 conservative
Sen. Mark Dayton: 81 liberal, 19 conservative
Sen. Norm Coleman: 46.2 liberal, 53.8 conservative

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