by Paul Gronke
October 30, 2004
President Bush is referring to the National Journal, which identified John Kerry as the most liberal Senator in the country. Another interest group, the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), also says that Kerry is very liberal. Kerry received 93 points out of 100, while Ted Kennedy received a paltry 88. Clearly, John Kerry is an out of touch liberal, just as the President says.
A recent study by Stanford and Princeton political scientists uncovers the truth behind these claims. Because Kerry was absent for nearly 60 percent of the 62 votes analyzed by the National Journal, his liberalism score is meaningless. Then the scholars go one step further. Based on his own public positions on these 62 bills, President Bush is just as conservative as Kerry is liberal. These votes simply don't tell us much about the two candidates.
What about the ADA? Don't they also say Kerry is more liberal than Kennedy? For 2003 yes, but what citizens need to know is that the average Democratic ADA rating for the last ten years has been 89 and the average Republican score has been 16. Kerry is neither wildly liberal nor staunchly conservative.
How do these rankings work anyway? The ADA chooses just twenty bills each year that it believes were important during a congressional session. This doesn't mean these bills tell us who is liberal or who is conservative. They only tell us who voted most often on issues that the ADA cares about.
Other interest groups -- the American Conservative Union, the AFL-CIO, the Chamber of Commerce, the NRA -- produce their own ratings. Unless you know exactly what bills the groups chose, these ratings are just as misleading.
Luckily, anyone with access to the Internet can find out for themselves just how liberal or conservative any Senator or House are. Political scientist Keith Poole's "Voteview" website (http://voteview.uh.edu) uses all roll call votes to rank order every member of Congress throughout US history. If you want to know the most liberal House member in 1825 or the most conservative Senator in 1922, Dr. Poole is your man.
And when you look at all the roll call votes that John Kerry has cast, he is anything but a wild-eyed liberal. Based on Poole's evidence, Kerry was the 23rd most liberal Democratic Senator in the 108th Congress, more conservative than Ted Kennedy, Russ Feingold, John Corzine, and even John Edwards. The next most conservative Senator? Joe Lieberman, the "conservative alternative" in this year's Democratic primary. John Kerry falls smack in the middle of the Democratic Party, exactly where you'd expect a party nominee to be.
There are hundreds of roll call votes in every Congress. John Kerry has cast over six thousand roll call votes in his career. With a sharp pencil and a partisan tilt, you can paint any member of Congress as a bleeding heart liberal or a rock solid conservative.
Rather than listen to the partisan posturing of political operatives, voters are far better off listening to the speeches, reading the news coverage, and researching the candidates' records themselves. Websites like Voteview, Project Vote Smart, and Factcheck.org can help you decide who is liberal, who is conservative, and who will be your choice as the next president of the United States.
Note: Paul Gronke is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.