An Update on the Presidential Square Wave (July 2015)

Below we plot the first dimension DW-NOMINATE Common Space scores—which are now updated weekly—of the presidents in the post-war period, which we refer to as the “presidential square wave” due to its shape. An ideological score is estimated for each president throughout the entirety of their tenure in office by scaling their “votes” on a subset of roll call on which they announce a position (measured using CQ Presidential Support Votes). Negative DW-NOMINATE scores indicate greater liberalism and positive scores indicate greater conservatism. The presidential scores are directly comparable across time and with members of Congress.

These presidential DW-NOMINATE scores are estimated using all available CQ presidential support roll calls through 2013. CQ does not issue all of its presidential support roll calls until the print version of its congressional roll call guide comes out, and so only a fraction of the 2015 votes are available.

President Obama fits the spatial model estimated by DW-NOMINATE extremely well, with over 95% of his “votes” correctly classified. Obama has moved slightly back towards the center (-0.343) from the last presidential square wave. He is now the second most moderate Democratic president of the post-war era, coming in just to the left of LBJ (-0.337). President Eisenhower is the most moderate president (0.293) of the post-war era.

Our results differ from those of organizations like InsideGov and OnTheIssues, which code presidential issue statements on liberal-conservative scales and place Obama much further left. We suspect that our method, which uses declared presidential positions on roll calls before Congress to place both sets of actors in the same ideological space, accounts for widespread (though not universal) Republican support on votes concerning judicial appointments, national security, and trade.

Among members of the 114th Congress, President Obama is ideologically closest to Representatives David Price (D-NC) [-0.34], Ted Lieu (D-CA) [-0.339], Bill Keating (D-MA) [-0.345], and Adam Schiff (D-CA) [-0.345] in the House; and Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) [-0.344], Ben Cardin (D-MD) [-0.333], and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) [-0.353] in the Senate.

Note: and the Voteview Blog were hacked and destroyed in early March, which resulted in the loss of most of the old blog posts. We will be continually restoring and updating some of the old posts. Please send an email if there is a specific post that you would like to see restored. Thanks.

Click image to enlarge

Ideological Locations of the 2016 Presidential Contenders

Below we plot the ideological positions of the 2016 presidential contenders who have served in Congress at some point in their political careers. We use weekly Common Space DW-NOMINATE scores, which are compiled based on the entirety of legislators’ roll call voting records and comparable between House and Senate, as our measures of ideological position. The distribution of scores for House and Senate Democrats and Republicans in the current (114th) Congress are also shown with smoothed histograms.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is certainly in the left-wing of the Democratic Party and to the left of former Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), but is not the most liberal member of the 114th Senate. That distinction belongs to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) (though the most liberal member of the entire 114th Congress is Rep. Barbara Lee [D-CA]). Former Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) is well to the right of Sanders and Clinton, and would be among the most moderate Democrats in the current Congress were he still serving.

Among the Republican contenders, Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have nearly identical ideological scores that place them on the most rightward edge of their party. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) is among the more conservative members of his party, but noticeably to the left of Cruz and Paul. Former Reps. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) and John Kasich (R-OH) have ideological scores that place them on the moderate side of their party (at least in the 114th Congress).

Click image to enlarge

An Update on House and Senate Polarization

Below are graphs of the House and Senate means from 1879 through 10 July 2015. We computed the means from our Weekly CS DW-NOMINATE Scores.

In a previous post we showed that polarization is asymmetric and due to the Republican Party moving sharply to the Right after 1976. Several people sent us e-mails asking if this was due to the realignment of the South (the 11 States of the Confederacy plus Kentucky and Oklahoma [the definition used by Congressional Quarterly]) into the Republican Party. The answer is No. In the House and Senate graphs below we show Northern and Southern Republicans along with Northern and Southern Democrats. In the House the Northern and Southern Republicans moved in tandem during the entire post WWII period:

Click image to enlarge

In the Senate we only show Southern Republicans after 1961 because there were so few Republicans from the South before then. The Southern Republican Senators are more Conservative than the Northerners but beginning in the mid to late 1990s the two wings begin to converge. In contrast, the remaining Southern Democratic Senators are a bit more Conservative than their Northern counterparts.

Click image to enlarge

In terms of Party Polarization it is at a Post-Reconstruction high in both Chambers. The House Republicans are slightly less Conservative in the 115th but the House Democrats are slightly more Liberal. Hence, this produced a small uptick in polarization (so far) in the 115th House. In the Senate the increase in polarization is due to both Parties moving away from the Center. However, it bears repeating, overall, the increase in polarization in both chambers is primarily due to the Republican Party moving to the Right.

Click image to enlarge