A lot of GOP senators — particularly these from states that backed Hillary Clinton in 2016 — are in aggressive reelection fights in 2020, together with Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine. In their marketing campaign pitches, these senators have been presenting themselves as moderates worthy of representing average states, utilizing phrases and phrases like “bipartisan,” “building consensus” and “both sides of the aisle.”
But simply how average are Gardner and Collins anyway?
That query is surprisingly troublesome to reply, because it actually will depend on what senatorial habits is being examined. That is, somebody like Gardner can each vote with President Trump on practically all main points and nonetheless be one of many three most bipartisan members of the Senate. The identical is true of Collins. At the danger of getting just a little bit wonky, I need to dig into three of essentially the most generally used metrics for measuring a senator’s ideology to point out you ways every of them may be spun.
Let’s first begin with a metric that FiveThirtyEight has developed, the Trump rating, or how typically a senator or consultant votes in step with what Trump needs. According to this metric, Collins has voted with Trump 67 % of the time up to now three and a half years, whereas Gardner has finished so 89 % of the time. This is without doubt one of the simpler metrics to know, and when you don’t like Trump, somebody who does what he needs two occasions out of three — or 9 occasions out of ten — doesn’t sound so nice.
But what do these scores truly inform us?
For starters, the president just isn’t a member of the Senate. So one limitation of this metric is that it will possibly’t decide whether or not a senator agrees with the president until the president pronounces his preferences on a invoice. And that’s a reasonably large caveat, as a result of most of the time, presidents don’t publicly state an opinion on particular person payments. What’s extra, the payments the White House does weigh in on aren’t a random pattern of all payments that attain the Senate flooring. Typically, the president helps payments which can be a precedence for him or for his get together — in different phrases, they’re often payments his get together largely agrees on. And payments the president doesn’t like typically don’t attain the Senate flooring for a vote anyway, since Republicans management the chamber.
That means we’d count on settlement with the president to be fairly excessive amongst members of his get together. And because the chart under reveals, most Republican senators agree with Trump more often than not; all however 4 vote with Trump at the least 80 % of the time. Even somebody like Sen. Mitt Romney, who voted to take away the president from workplace only a few months in the past, nonetheless votes with Trump 81 % of the time. Collins’s 67 % is the bottom Trump rating amongst GOP senators. Gardner’s 89 % is slightly below the median rating of 92.
But is how typically a senator votes with Trump measure of his or her total ideology? Only type of. On the one hand, the measure does appear to do an OK job of figuring out extra average Republicans like Collins or Sen. Lisa Murkowski, however however, it isn’t superb at figuring out different ideological splits within the get together. Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee, for instance, have one thing of a libertarian bent, however their Trump scores are much like these of Collins and Murkowski, who’re moderates.
We learn about these shortcomings because of one in every of political science’s most generally accepted measures of legislator ideology: DW-Nominate scores, that are compiled for every member of Congress from each roll name vote solid in a legislative session. Of course, these scores aren’t excellent both, as they’re closely influenced by which payments truly get to the ground and which don’t, however they’re nonetheless helpful for serving to us distinguish conservatives from liberals from moderates.
For occasion, if we evaluate Republican senators’ Trump scores to their DW-Nominate scores, we discover that just about all Republicans again Trump’s agenda to some extent, so there isn’t a lot distinction between the 2 scores for many GOP senators. However, DW-Nominate reveals us that there are two forms of Republicans who buck the mainstream of the get together: relative moderates like Collins and libertarian conservatives like Paul.
But this nonetheless doesn’t inform us very a lot about senators’ claims to bipartisanship, or how somebody like Gardner — who’s a mainstream conservative in response to each his Trump rating and his DW-Nominate rating — may be known as one of many chamber’s most bipartisan senators. This is the place our third metric for understanding senators’ habits is available in: The Bipartisan Index, calculated by the Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, tells us how typically a senator cosponsors a invoice with a member of the opposite get together. Notably, this index isn’t primarily based on a senator’s voting file.
That doesn’t imply the metric isn’t influenced by a senator’s moderation or conservativism, although. I plotted GOP senators’ bipartisan index scores in opposition to their DW-Nominate scores within the chart under, and though I did discover a robust relationship between extra average members co-sponsoring extra cross-party payments (see Collins, who by and enormous leads on this metric), that wasn’t true of each Republican: Senators like Gardner and Rob Portman cosponsored payments throughout get together strains extra typically than their voting file would recommend.
Gardner, for example, has co-sponsored a invoice by Sen. Elizabeth Warren that goals to shield veterans who work within the marijuana trade (clearly essential to Gardner’s Colorado constituents as marijuana is authorized there) in addition to plenty of payments authored by his fellow Coloradan, Sen. Michael Bennet, this session. He’s even joined Collins and lots of others in co-sponsoring Democratic Sen. Ed Markey’s invoice to make Juneteenth a nationwide vacation.
But how a lot does this metric actually converse to Gardner’s or Collins’s bipartisan observe file? Many of those co-sponsorships are largely symbolic: Most Democrat-authored payments should not going anyplace within the Republican-controlled Senate proper now, and Gardner and Collins know that. So senators danger little or no by attaching their names to such measures, they usually get to say bipartisan data no matter their precise voting habits. In the case of Gardner and Collins, they most likely hope these gestures throughout the aisle will assist them of their reelection battles.
To be clear, although, when senators like Collins or Gardner say they’ve a powerful file of being average or bipartisan whereas critics say they nonetheless often vote with Trump, neither group is fallacious. They’re simply analyzing completely different points of lawmakers’ habits. And as you’ve hopefully realized from this text, there are fairly just a few methods to measure ideology.