Harry Enten | May 11, 2010
Topics: Pennsylvania , Senate
Is Pat Toomey too conservative for Pennsylvania?
This weekend in response to a post I wrote about possible Pennsylvania Senate match-ups Alan Reifman asserted that Toomey "is too far to the right for Pennsylvania." When I saw Reifman's post, I was going to respond "but Pennsylvanians elected Rick Santorum... twice." But before I did, I decided to contrast Santorum's and Toomey's DW-Nominate scores. DW-Nominate scores classify House and Senate members as liberal or conservative based on all their roll call votes than can be identified as liberal or conservative. These scores allow one to compare how rightward or leftward legislators are on a single dimension -1 to 1 scale with higher positive scores indicating a more conservative record*. What I found surprised me.
Using joint House and Senate scaling (which treat the House and Senate a single body to compare scores across chambers), we find that Pat Toomey (.718) had a considerably more conservative voting record than Rick Santorum (.349). To put that number into context, Lincoln Chafee (the ultimate liberal Republican and now independent) had a DW-Nominate score of .002 and Republican Arlen Specter had a score of .067. Republican Specter was slightly to the right of Chafee; Santorum was considerably right of Chafee; and, Toomey was much further right.
Still, I wanted to get a better idea of how conservative Toomey voting record was. So, I pulled the DW-Nominate score of every United States legislator (House and Senate) since 1995**. Toomey is on the rightward edge of even the GOP caucus as seen in the percentage histogram below, while his possible Democratic opponents in the 2010 Pennsylvania Senate contest are actually slightly more centrist than their party as a whole. Indeed, of the 1,004 legislators to receive a DW-Nominate score for their career since 1995, Toomey ranked as the 22nd most conservative.
Toomey ranked more conservative than 97.9% of all United States legislators since 1995. He had a more conservative voting record than J.D Hayworth, Jim DeMint, and was about as conservative as Jesse Helms. Only Tom Coburn and Tom Tancredo scored further to the right.
To put it into prospective, Pat Toomey would most likely be the second most conservative Republican in the United States Senate, which would be quite an accomplishment considering Pennsylvania has supported every Democratic Presidential candidate since 1992 (and Obama won it by 10%).
**The reason I use 1995 as the cutoff is because prior to the 1980's a legislator's liberal-conservative record was also highly correlated with a second dimension of DW-Nominate scores. Since the 1980's, however, the scores I use correlate highly with a legislator's overall record vote. Also, many conservative Democrats, who left the Congress after 1994, made Congress less polarized. In an effort to correctly contextualize each legislator's record discussed here, I decided to use 1995 as my starting point for scores.