Scozzafava is a Conservative Republican (by New York State standards)

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.)

6 thoughts on “Scozzafava is a Conservative Republican (by New York State standards)

  1. Wow, no wonder we can't get anything done in california. The parisian divide is greater than in any other state. This kind of model would be a great way to investigate whether the jungle primary reduces partisanship, and make the legislatures more representative of the population.

    A particularly nice use of box plots too.

  2. Am I allowed to complain about the graph? for those of us outside the US, it's hell to work out which states and parties you're talking about. For this post, could you have ordered by Republican position?

  3. Ian: Yeah, I usually hate boxplots but this one is actually pretty good!

    Bob: I'm not sure how the states are ordered. Also, feel free to complain directly to Boris about the graph!

  4. I think this is brilliant. Essentially the entire political spectrum of thought in Rhode Island fits in the gap between D's and R's in California.

    Btw, the order is from most conservative to most liberal state legislatures. There aren't very many D's in Utah, hence the actual median when you pool both parties isn't far from the median for R's. Nebraska's legislature is nominally non-partisan, hence the blank line in the graph above, but overall, it fits between Oklahoma and Arizona.

  5. As per William's (razor-sharp) comment, it would have been nice if the boxes had been weighted by the number of Rs and Ds — or even if the color intensity had been used to show this. In addition, the median line he alludes to might have been included.

  6. I would like to see the divergence between parties and within parties plotted against the size of the state, and the population of the state.

    Looking at Rhode Island and California, I wonder if the problem in California is that it is just too big, or at least too diverse.

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