Measuring Liberal/Conservative Voting Tendencies among U.S. Senators

Each year, the National Journal examines roll-call voting records for United States Congress, and groups topical voting records into three categories: economic, social, or foreign. This Rasch analysis attempted to measure liberal versus conservative voting tendencies based on 2011 voting records. Considering the House of Representatives consists of 435 members and the Senate consists of 100 members, for convenience, only U.S. Senators were investigated.

In total, 235 Senate voting records were registered in 2011. Many of these votes involved noncontroversial issues or topics that did not invoke ideological distinctions and thus, were removed from the dataset. In total, 97 votes appeared to fall along party lines and were selected as the basis for this analysis. These votes were parsed into the three aforementioned categories.

In order to analyze the data, it was necessary to first create two distinct data sets, one for senators who identified themselves as "Democrat" (n=51) and one for senators who identified themselves as "Republican" (n=47). Measures of conservative/liberal voting behaviors were discerned relative to members of one's own political party. This data parsing allowed two questions to be investigated: Among all Republican senators, who is the most/least likely to provide a conservative vote? And among all Democratic senators, who is the most/least likely to provide a liberal vote?

The National Journal data set provides counts of liberal versus conservative votes for each of the topical categories. This information alone is not useful for a Rasch analysis. However, with a rather novel recoding schema a useful data set can be prepared. For example, suppose a Republican senator placed 79 conservative votes and 16 liberal votes on foreign issues. This senator would provide a conservative vote on foreign issues at a ratio of about 5:1. Thus, simply assigning a value of 5 can serve as a useful proxy for the magnitude of conservative voting on topics of this nature. This recoding schema was repeated for every senator in both data sets until a useful data set was constructed. All data were recoded into values ranging from 1 to 9, with ratios exceeding 9 being truncated to 9.

Finally, person calibrations were produced for both Republicans and Democrats. Logits values were then rescaled onto a continuum ranging from 1-10 for easy interpretation. Results are presented in Tables 1 and 2.

Political scientists often refer to a political spectrum that ranges from the far liberal left to the far conservative right. Where one's views fall along this spectrum likely will determine the extent to which common ground can be established between individuals from opposing political parties. As demonstrated in this analysis, Rasch measurement can help empirically present one's views along this political spectrum. Senators with the highest measures are typically more polarizing in their views, whereas persons with lower measures are more likely to entertain views from the opposing party. Information gleaned from analyses such as this one can be useful for: identifying individuals with a voting record that likely will (or will not) resonate well with voters; identifying the extent to which legislators' votes are consistent with their political platforms; comparing the voting records/political views of legislators from the same state; identifying which individuals are likely to filibuster a bill if given the opportunity; predicting how various legislators will vote on a highly partisan issue; predicting the productivity of various congressional subcommittees based on its panel of members, etc.

Table 1. Conservative Voting Tendencies for Republican Senators

Senator
 
State
 
Measure
SE
 
Senator
State
Measure
SE
  Coburn
OK
 
10.00
1.88
  Heller
NV
7.81
0.36
  Johnson
WI
10.00
1.88
  Moran
KS
7.81
0.36
  Crapo
ID
8.60
0.43
  Paul
KY
7.81
0.36
  Risch
ID
8.60
0.43
  Shelby
  AL
7.81
0.36
  Inhofe
OK
 
8.49
0.39
  Coats
  IN
7.73
0.38
  Barrasso
WY
 
8.40
0.36
  Hutchison
  TX
7.73
0.38
  Burr
NC
 
8.40
0.36
  Chambliss
  GA
7.63
0.41
  DeMint
SC
8.40
0.36
  Isakson
  GA
7.63
0.41
  Enzi
WY
 
8.40
0.36
  Roberts
  KS
7.50
0.46
  McConnell
KY
 
8.40
0.36
  Hoeven
ND
7.34
0.54
  Vitter
LA
 
8.40
0.36
  Wicker
  MS
7.34
0.54
  Cornyn
TX
 
8.25
0.34
  Alexander
  TN
7.11
0.67
  McCain
AZ
 
8.25
0.34
  Portman
  OH
7.11
0.67
  Sessions
AL
 
8.25
0.34
  Johanns
  NE
6.01
1.21
  Hatch
UT
 
8.18
0.33
  Lugar
  IN
6.01
1.21
  Kyl
AZ
 
8.18
0.33
  Blunt
  MO
4.85
1.45
  Rubio
FL
8.11
0.33
  Graham
  SC
4.85
1.45
  Ayotte
NH
 
7.97
0.33
  Kirk
  IL
4.85
1.45
  Grassley
IA
 
7.97
0.33
  Cochran
  MS
3.21
1.80
  Lee
UT
 
7.89
0.34
  Murkowski
  AK
3.21
1.80
  Thune
SD
 
7.89
0.34
  Brown
  MA
1.00
2.97
  Toomey
PA
 
7.89
0.34
  Collins
  ME
1.00
2.97
  Boorman
AR
 
7.81
0.36
  Snowe
  ME
1.00
2.97
  Corker
TN
 
7.81
0.36




Table 2. Liberal Voting Tendencies for Democratic Senators

Senator
State
Measure
SE
Senator
State
Measure
SE
  Akaka
HI
10.00
2.27
  Casey
PA
7.36
0.67
  Durbin
IL
10.00
2.27
  Johnson
SD
7.36
0.67
  Gillibrand
NY
10.00
2.27
  Udall
CO
7.36
0.67
  Merkley
OR
10.00
2.27
  Blumenthal
CT
7.09
0.80
  Boxer
CA
8.83
0.74
  Carper
DE
7.09
0.80
  Brown
OH
8.83
0.74
  Hagan
NC
7.09
0.80
  Cardin
MD
8.83
0.34
  Klobuchar
MN
7.09
0.80
  Harkin
IA
8.83
0.74
  Menendez
NJ
7.09
0.80
  Milculdd
MD
8.83
0.74
  Tester
MT
7.09
0.80
  Udall
NM
8.83
0.74
  Warner
VA
7.09
0.80
  Leahy
VT
8.31
0.51
  Begich
AK
6.70
0.96
  Franken
MN
8.19
0.49
  Bennet
CO
6.70
0.96
  Lautenberg
NJ
8.19
0.49
  Cantwell
WA
6.70
0.96
  Rockefeller
WV
8.19
0.49
  Conrad
ND
6.70
0.96
  Feinstein
CA
8.07
0.48
  Kohl
NH
6.70
0.96
  Reed
RI
8.07
0.48
  Shaheen
VA.
6.70
0.96
  Whitehouse
RI
8.07
0.48
  Webb
LA
6.25
0.91
  Inouye
HI
7.96
0.49
  Landrieu
WV.
5.90
0.76
  Murray
WA
7.96
0.49
  Manchin
MO
5.90
0.76
  Reid
NV
7.96
0.49
  McCaskill
FL.
5.90
0.76
  Schumer
NY
7.96
0.49
  Nelson
MT
5.90
0.76
  Stabenow
MI
7.96
0.49
  Baucus
MI
4.72
0.84
  Wyden
OR
7.96
0.49
  Levin
NE
4.26
1.16
  Coons
DE
7.84
0.50
  Nelson
AR.
1.00
3.53
  Kent'
MA
7.55
0.58
  Pryor
NH
1.00
3.53
  Bingaman
NM
7.36
0.67




Kenneth D. Royal
University of Kentucky


Measuring Liberal/Conservative Voting Tendencies among U.S. Senators. Kenneth D. Royal … Rasch Measurement Transactions, 2012, 26:2 p. 1366-7


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