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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

My colleague Boris Shor has performed some analysis (jointly with Nolan McCarty) on the ideological positions of state legislators. The estimates are based on state legislative voting, which might make you wonder how you could possibly compare legislators in one state with those in another. The trick is that some state representatives (for example, Barack Obama) also end up in Congress. There are enough of these overlap cases that you can put legislators from all 50 states on a common scale.

Boris and Nolan most recently applied their method to compare Deirdre Scozzofava, a state assemblywoman running on the Republican ticket in special election in New York’s 23rd congressoinal district. Boris writes:

Scozzafava has been assailed from the right for being far too liberal. For example, the libertarian Wall Street Journal this morning wrote, “Democrats want to portray this race as a familiar moderate-conservative GOP split, but the real issue is why Ms. Scozzafava is a Republican at all. She has voted for so many tax increases that the Democrat is attacking her as a tax raiser. She supported the Obama stimulus, and she favors “card check” to make union organizing easier, or at least she did until a recent flip-flop. . .” The conservative National Review writes: “In spite of its having gone for Obama in 2008, the district’s history suggests that it is basically conservative; Ms. Scozzafava is basically not. Boy, is she not. . . .”

Actually, though, Boris and Nolan find Scozzafava to be pretty much in the exact center on a national scale:

Her ideological “common space” score is 0.02. These scores, similar but far superior to interest group ratings, put state legislators around the country on the same scale with each other, as well as with members of Congress.

Being in the center nationally puts Scozzafava to the right in New York:

Scozzafava’s score puts her in the 58th percentile of her party, which makes her slightly more conservative than the average Republican legislator in Albany, so she’s a conservative in her [state] party.

Here’s Boris’s graph showing the estimated positions of Democratic and Republican legislators in all 50 states in the past decade:

The Republican Party appears to be particularly liberal in Massacusetts, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Oregon, Illinois, and Delaware (although not, as has been much remarked, in California). (The gray lines on the graph show the average ideologies ofcongressional Democrats and Republicans in approximately the same time period.)

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