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.

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