9 GOP senators are more conservative than socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders is liberal

Vote View’s analysis of the 112th Congress and projections of the 113th Congress are out, and there are a few interesting things in the results.

As has been pointed out before, GOP extremism in the Congress doesn’t have a Democratic analog.

While Democrats have kinda moved to the left over the years; Republicans have lurched to the right.

What’s more, polarization is expected to increase slightly over the next two years as compared with the last two.

Some examples of just how conservative the Republicans are compared to the Democrats:

  • In the 112th Congress, Nancy Pelosi was as liberal as John Culberson (who?) was conservative.
  • What’s more, you have to add Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Henry Waxman together to get a liberal counterpart to Ron Paul’s conservatism.

It’s okay to be extreme in the Senate, but only if you’re a Republican.

tea party

Tea Party rally (Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.com)

Senators are generally expected to be more moderate than House members due to their broader, and therefore more ideologically diverse, constituencies. In the 112th Congress, this was true only for those in the Democratic caucus.

The most liberal member of the Senate, Bernie Sanders, was more conservative than 38 members of the House. Furthermore, nine Republican senators were more conservative than Sanders was liberal. By contrast, only three members of the House were more conservative than Rand Paul (one was Ron Paul, go figure) and no representative came close to being as liberal as Paul was conservative.

Some additional findings…

Shelley Moore Capito is toast.

She is the most liberal Republican to hail from a state carried by Mitt Romney, and Romney won West Virginia by a lot. Heaven help her in a Republican primary for that state’s Senate seat.

Republicans Ron Johnson and Pat Toomey hopefully are toast, too.

Two of the six Senators with DW-Nominate scores more polarized than ±.600 (all Republicans), Johnson and Toomey, both hail from states that Barack Obama carried by more than five points in the past election, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, respectively. Neither are up for re-election until 2016, but if they don’t move to the left they will be far too conservative for the states they represent by the time they’re up for re-election.

South Carolina is completely nuts.

As I pointed out recently, Republican Joe “You Lie” Wilson was the second-most-liberal congressman from the state in the last term. He and Democrat Jim Clyburn are the only South Carolina congressmen who weren’t among the top 20 most conservative House members overall.

A lot of these are things we already knew (though the Bernie Sanders comparison was surprising), but it’s nice to be able to quantify them. The next time your friend is complaining about dysfunction and partisanship in Washington, be ready to throw some hard numbers at them showing why it really is the Republicans’ doing.


Jon Green is a senior Political Science major and Public Policy concentrator at Kenyon College. He is also the co-editor in chief of the Kenyon Observer, the school's student-run political journal. Jon worked as a field organizer for Tom Perriello in 2010 and recently returned to AMERICAblog from the Obama campaign, where he was a Deputy Regional Field Director based in Hampton, Virginia. He writes on a variety of topics but pays particularly close attention to elections, political psychology and the use of social media. Jon on Google+, and his .

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  • Houndentenor

    I don’t see where Democrats have moved to the left. Okay on gay rights. That’s about it. That may be a hot-button issue at the moment, but it’s one of a great many issues that face our country, on which most of them show the Democrats moving to the right, not the left.

  • http://police-state-watch.blogspot.com/ JTWilliams

    You unknowingly make the point of the right-wingers- What you call moderate is actually quite liberal, by any understanding of political philosophy. Moderate, in the modern sense, is absolutely not a compliment! It just means you go along with whatever the powers-that-be are pushing down our throats at any given time. The truth is, America IS socialist, and has been for many decades. But it has also been a soft form of fascism (a leftist mindset, in an economic sense).

    You’re article is incredibly bizarre, as there isn’t even a visible method by which to quantify your assertions. We’re screwed because Americans are so incredibly ignorant, and because media-types mostly seek to reassert their own worldviews rather than find the truth

  • A reader in Colorado

    Okay. Thanks for clarifying. And if you’re saying that Democrats compromise more, I might get that.

    Overall I’m not a big fan of using voting records, gender, districts of origin and statistics to mathematically imply someone is liberal or conservative since ultimately it all boils down to personal opinion in the end.

    For example, classifying Nancy Pelosi as a liberal at all is, to me, highly misleading. She’s a shill for the financial services “industry” and that’s not liberal. At every turn, she’s worked to shield the rich and powerful from accountability, and has been instrumental in providing cover for assaults on the social safety net. Is she “liberal” at all? Oh, well, maybe. But what matters more are the results achieved, and not votes made.

  • A reader in Colorado

    LOL. Oh, don’t be like that, John. Plenty of things many people say to me on your site matter to me. And if it didn’t matter, I wouldn’t comment.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    You’re arguing with Grumpy McGrumpskin. Nothing you say, or prove, will matter. Just fyi.

  • Jon Green

    I think we’re getting tangled in our own language re: polarization. Between a chunk of really conservative Southern Democrats leaving the party and the Democrats that remain voting more as a bloc/compromising less their DW-Nominate has drifted left. That’s really all I meant. You and Becca are both right in saying it would be silly to compare American Democrats with German Greens.

    Aside from that one contentious line, though, the rest ok? It’d be a shame if one unclear line ruined the whole thing.

  • Naja pallida

    After the election Dean was out there selling the Affordable Care Act like his life depended on it… and he sure didn’t get much for his efforts. I’m not even really sure why they didn’t want him on board, but it seemed to be more personal rather than political.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    And by the way….welcome author!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Vermonters are very loyal. I remember when Bernie would actually respond to personal letters. I completely agree with the last two sentences. I would also point how that Obama dumped Dean after Dean won the election for him. Obama has marginalized his left wing at every turn.

  • A reader in Colorado

    He has destroyed the progressive movement by making a fool out of it.

    And what Obama has done for the working poor is created a system of useless profit bearing insurance and a command to buy profit bearing insurance.

    We don’t have decent insurance or even catastrophic insurance under what Obama created.

    We have, for the working poor, crap insurance with astronomically high deductibles and copays demanded through the private insurance system, creating a system of insurance that people making more than the federal poverty level both cannot afford, and cannot afford to use at all.

    In other words, no decent insurance, no catastrophic insurance. Nothing. A command to pay insurance companies for a checkup at best. The seven thousand dollar checkup.

    What this is, effectively, is a system that causes people who work for peanuts at fast food restaurants and at places like Walmart, to subsidize the upper middle class. That basically makes the poor pay for less poor to get better health care.

    It does this by commanding low class workers to get insurance they cannot use because of the extreme deductibles and copays or pay a fine. They cannot afford the insurance. They cannot afford the copays, they cannot afford the deductibles. So they are fined and get nothing.

    This, then, is funnelled into a corporate system which can wriggle out in any number of ways, most by cutting the number of worker hours and allowing corporates to keep people out of the system by cutting their hours.

    Then this money, from fines and unusable insurance, is then funnelled into the laughingly named health care system, to pay for upper middle class people to get mammograms and surgeries, while lower class people making 7.50 an hour at walmart are let die, because the subsidies and everything else are deliberately calculated to make it so that for those people any kind of health care is out of reach.

    This is the health care system, proposed first by the Heritage Foundation, Obama signed onto.

    What Obama did wasn’t to cover Americans. He created a catastrophe.

  • A reader in Colorado

    Why is it accepted in a form applicable to the absolute statement “the Democrats have kinda moved left”?

  • A reader in Colorado

    If you agree with Becca, how can you say that Democrats have moved left?

  • A reader in Colorado

    Explain to me please exactly how DW Nominate scores amount to evidence of conservatism or liberalism. Because I see no evidence here.

    I realize you’re a political science major, so help me out, because what I read is that the DW rankings indicated how liberal or conservative a person based on the district they came from and how they are expected to vote.

    I am reading through a whole lot of results here, but what I am not getting is first causes. Perhaps you could explain this.

    And it is not enough here to have you say “it’s the accepted measure in the political science community.”

    That is an argument from authority. What I am hoping for is a common sense explanation of how the liberal versus conservative scores are derived in the first place by this measure. I am reading and not finding. Maybe you could clarify.

    Simple votes on issues before the Congress, even when paired with gender and district of origin, would be no evidence at all of conservatism or liberalism, especially in the here and now with Congressional tactics.

  • obamaislbj

    Why is obama getting so much hate on here, i understand he isn’t perfect but he has done more for the progressive movement thenn any dem since FDR, Health reform was a joke for the past 60 years and the ‘”dino” obama was the only person who had the balls to push through a plan and spend all of his political will to do so. He even said he was willing to lose re election to do it. did any other of the progressives get it done. ted kennedy, clinton, carter no it took the black guy who was willing to take so much heat for the other side to do it. he’ll probably get assasinated for it eventually but he did it for the progressive movement. and the idea in the 1990′s was not for comprehensive coverage for all americans instead it was for catastrophic coverage. In other words the mandate you would buy would give you shit insurance, not decent insurance. Seriously as long as obama stands up for social security he will have done more for the progressive movement than anyone else in 40 years. Rememeber clinton, cut regulations, didn’t pass mush of value in his term and then criticiize obama. personally i’m center left and against some of his policies like health reform (but on social security he should stand up harder)

  • obamaislbj

    Why is obama getting so much hate on here, i understand he isn’t perfect but he has done more for the progressive movement thenn any dem since FDR, Health reform was a joke for the past 60 years and the ‘”dino” obama was the only person who had the balls to push through a plan and spend all of his political will to do so. He even said he was willing to lose re election to do it. did any other of the progressives get it done. ted kennedy, clinton, carter no it took the black guy who was willing to take so much heat for the other side to do it. he’ll probably get assasinated for it eventually but he did it for the progressive movement. and the idea in the 1990′s was not for comprehensive coverage for all americans instead it was for catastrophic coverage. In other words the mandate you would buy would give you shit insurance, not decent insurance. Seriously as long as obama stands up for social security he will have done more for the progressive movement than anyone else in 40 years. Rememeber clinton, cut regulations, didn’t pass mush of value in his term and then criticiize obama. personally i’m center left and against some of his policies like health reform (but on social security he should stand up harder)

  • Jon Green

    no no i absolutely agree with you. i’ve even written on a similar point before:

    http://americablog.com/2012/03/please-stop-laughing-at-the-gop-presidential-candidates.html

  • Jon Green

    sorry, speaking in third person there was silly. here’s the link I used if you want to take a look (embedded in “as has been pointed out before”): http://voteview.com/blog/?p=494

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I think it’s a perfectly valid measure of quantization and polarization — but unfortunately, as I remarked below, it’s still a relative measure. Since the 1980s, the defined center of American politics has ratcheted steadily to the right, towards conservative policies.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Are the Dems to the left, politically, of the GOP? Absolutely. But those DW-Nominate scores are entirely relative and does not attempt to analyze the content of the positions taken by current politicians versus what went before. The measurements of ideology are relative to the aggregate perceived center — even if that center has moved from where it used to be.

    Example? In the 1960s, the Democrats passed Medicare and many elements of the Great Society programs. In 2010, they passed a health insurance reform bill essentially identical to what was passed and signed into state law by a Republican governor six years previously. A liberal-left policy would have been a massive expansion of Medicare — full buy-in for anyone who wanted it and lowered eligibility.

    In 2010, 63% of Republicans polled said they believed Obama was a socialist. He is essentially a neo-liberal conservative corporatist — yet he’s accused of being to the left of LBJ and FDR, which is patently absurd.

    It’s like saying you define 5 as the center on a 1-10 scale, and let’s say Dems used to be 2.5. Now the scale runs from 5 to 15, and now Dem positions are 7 — which puts them further from the NEW center (10), but it doesn’t mean they’re more liberal than they were a generation or two ago. They’re now supporting positions even Reagan wouldn’t touch.

    This is also math.

  • Jon Green

    author here: I hyperlinked to my evidence; I used DW-Nominate scores to determine all relationships and rankings – it’s the accepted metric for quantifying ideology and polarization in the political science community.

  • A reader in Colorado

    LOL.

  • Papa Bear

    At least it ain’t got much rat in it…

  • A reader in Colorado

    Spam

  • http://bit.ly/SYj39M << Work at home, $15/h, link

    A good intention but fixed and resolute – bent on
    high and holy ends, we shall find means to them on every side and at
    every moment;

  • A reader in Colorado

    While Democrats have kinda moved to the left over the years; Republicans have lurched to the right.

    Sorry, I’m not having it. Beyond that, it’s a blind assertion made without evidence.

    Where does it come from? I’m talking to the article author here.

    And there is a kind of extremism in the Democratic Party. I’d call it an extremism to find the non-existent center, no matter how ludicrous or insane it is to go with some middle position between the deliberate insanity of the Republicans and the passive right wing insanity of some Democrats.

  • Naja pallida

    Except both Dean and Sanders agree with Pelosi and Reid’s conniving far more than they disagree. Despite, in theory, their political philosophies should be quite oppositional. Don’t get me wrong, I’d jump on board with Bernie Sanders long before I’d ever support someone like Harry Reid, but it seems to me that he should be standing up and pointing out the absurdity of it all a lot more often. And making use of the powers granted individual Senators to make a difference. Especially when it comes to holding the Democrats to account for siding with the Republicans against the American people.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    This pile-on Bernie is so typical of Demos with their heads up their compromising, slashing SS and Medicare a***s.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Let’s turn that around. “We can’t let the good be the enemy of the perfect.” Why not the perfect? If you had know Bernie or Howard Dean in Vermont you might be less hostile. Your description, I think, is more appropriately applied to Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    As always you nailed it. I simply believe there doesn’t exist a meaningful or effective left anymore. When it does appear, it is usually in isolation ( Bernie Sanders) or in academic ivory towers. I will probably carry my Marxist, socialist ID to my grave as an endangered species.

  • Naja pallida

    By international “socialist state” standards, even Bernie Sanders is barely off center. I don’t see him spending a lot of time trying to push the Democrats to a more left solution. He’ll complain loudly on talking head shows, but when it comes right down to the vote, he’s almost always right with them and making excuses why they can’t “let perfect be the enemy of good”.

  • Stev84

    Pretty much what I meant. The Democrats are really moderate conservatives or centrists, while the Republicans are a far-right nationalist party these days. Similar to the British BNP for example.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    My main point is that those running the Democratic party — the DNC, their usual leaders, etc. — are all centrist-conservatives, and when controversial issues are negotiated, they always break further to the right to satisfy the rightist Dem-Cons. The GOP, on the other hand, has expelled nearly all of their moderates, and whenever they come up with their party’s official positions, they also break towards the right.

    The GOP caters to the most conservative elements of its base. The Dems cater to their own more conservative elements as well. What’s left out is anything resembling a leftist or liberal position.

  • Stev84

    The Democrats have a more liberal wing, but in an international context they are a center-right party. Many – but not all – of their positions would be held by moderate conservatives elsewhere. It’s always silly when they are called socialists, because in no way are they democratic socialists in the European sense.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Politics is more complicated than a mere dichotomy can express. Left vs Right. Liberal vs Conservative. I also cannot fathom how the conclusion is that the Dems have moved ‘sorta’ to the left makes sense. In recent decades, Dems have adopted numerous positions that used to be held by moderate-to-center-right Republicans.

    Who eliminated “Welfare as we know it”? Bill Clinton. Who passed job-exporting free trade agreements? Same guy, Clinton and the Dem-dominated Congress of the early 90s. Who passed a health insurance reform bill that used to be the GOP proposal? Obama and the Dems. The list goes on: Raising the Medicare eligibility age. Expanding oil and gas drilling. More free trade agreements. More executive powers. Austerity and cuts when stimulus is called for.

    The only category where the Dems could be thought to be somewhat more liberal than they were is in some social areas, notably LGBT issues, but even that has been incremental and timid. Have they stood up firmly for women’s rights, immigration reform, people over corporations, union rights, voting rights, prosecuting gov’t and business corruption, gov’t solutions over for-profit privatization? Not at all.

    The very definition of left vs right has shifted from what it was in the 60s and 70s, back when it was assumed that many of the solutions to big problems going un-addressed was to come up with a gov’t program of some kind to deal with them. (Not saying that is always the most ideal solution; just pointing out what the traditional definitions of liberalism used to entail.)

    This is just my opinion as someone who has lived through this last half century, but the “left” now occupies territory that was held by the GOP in the 80s and early 90s, whereas the GOP “right” has indeed gone way over into crazy-land. And here’s the thing: The Dems who control and steer their party are the center-right conservatives, with the genuine liberal-leftists marginalized and ignored. The left-liberal solution to the current fiscal situation would be to soak the rich and talk about tax rate increases above and beyond a return to Clinton-era levels, coupled with stimulus and expansion of programs to help the poor. The current actual Dem proposals are all from the conservatives and the neo-liberal (which isn’t actually liberal) corporatists.

    Meanwhile, the GOP agenda is controlled not by their moderate or center-left contingent, but by the most extreme members of their own party. Over there, it’s their moderates who are marginalized and ignored.

    Dems tolerate overt betrayals in critical votes. GOPers primary theirs and replace them with even more extreme candidates. Dem response to losing an election cycle is to lurch to the right; the GOP response to the same is to lurch to the right.

    I don’t remember who exactly came up with the metaphor of the ratcheting of political discourse, where at best thing stay where they are, but every time things go to the conservative-right, that then soon becomes the new normal. The new definition of ‘center.’ I will agree though that I don’t think I’ve ever seen a gov’t and political parties more polarized than they are now. The simple fact that Congress won’t even accept the necessity to raise the debt ceiling to cover spending they themselves allocate and budget is evidence enough of that.

  • Stev84

    xkcd recently had a great comic about that:
    http://xkcd.com/1127/

    Click on it to embiggen and then go to the upper left. See how the bright red moderate conservatives have been almost extinguished since the 1980s and how of them are dark red ultra-conservatives now. Compare with the 1940s and 50s. This is even worse in the House, no doubt because of the Tea Party.

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