Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HOW LIBERAL IS JOHN KERRY?....Is John Kerry really the most liberal Democrat in the Senate? Dan Drezner points today to an op-ed by Northwestern political science professor Jeffery A. Jenkins that suggests he isn't even close.

Using methodology developed by Keith Poole of the University of Houston, he compares Kerry to past Democratic presidents and gets the following rank order:

  1. John F. Kennedy (most liberal)

  2. Bill Clinton

  3. Jimmy Carter

  4. John Kerry

  5. Lyndon Johnson (most conservative)

So Kerry is well toward the middle compared to past Democratic presidents. How about George Bush?

  1. Ronald Reagan (most conservative)

  2. George W. Bush

  3. George Bush Sr.

  4. Richard Nixon

  5. Dwight Eisenhower

  6. Gerald Ford (most liberal)

Bush is the second most extreme Republican president since World War II.

In the case of Kerry, however, we really don't have to make guesses compared to past presidents. Poole has used his methodology to rank all senators in the 108th Congress based on their roll calls, and the results are here: out of 49 Democratic senators (including Jim Jeffords), Kerry is ranked 23rd. For better or worse, he's right smack in the middle.

POSTSCRIPT: Want to know how your congressperson ranks? Poole ranks House members here.

And in case you're curious, Poole's method (called Optimal Classification) doesn't depend on knowing anything at all about the content of the bills that legislators vote on. His program simply orders them based on how often their votes agree with each other, and essentially shuffles various orderings until it finds the one that's most consistent. It's actually a pretty good method that avoids endless arguments about whether particular bills are "liberal" or "conservative" and just how liberal or conservative they are. Interesting stuff.

Kevin Drum 12:34 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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