There has been some talk about the election results as a rejection of Republican extremism in favor of moderation, as represented by the Democratic party. Perhaps some of the incoming Democratic lawmakers are indeed moderates, but the whole extremism thing seems misplaced. A few months ago, I wrote a piece for the magazine, which I believe is not available online, taking an unscientific look at the positions of both parties. An excerpt:
Americans for Democratic Action rates House members on a scale from 0 to 100 based on how they have voted on issues important to various liberal constituencies. In 1985, when there were 253 Democrats in the House, 20 were ADA “All-Stars” — that is, they had perfect scores of 100. In 2005, when there were 202 Democrats in the House, there were 65 All-Stars. An astonishing 143 — about 71 percent of the Democratic caucus — had scores of 90 or above.
By way of comparison, in 1985, when there were 182 Republicans in the House, nine had perfect 100 conservative scores as measured by the American Conservative Union. In 2005, when there were 232 Republicans in the House, 38 of them had perfect ACU scores. A total of 126 — about 55 percent of the Republican caucus — had conservative scores of 90 or above.
The numbers are similar in today’s Senate, where 22 of 45 Democrats have received the ADA’s most liberal rating. Forty Democratic senators — about 90 percent of the Democratic caucus — have ADA ratings of 90 or above. By contrast, out of the Senate’s 55 Republicans, only twelve have received the ACU’s highest mark. A total of 34 Republicans — about 62 percent of the Republican caucus — have ACU ratings of 90 or above.
The numbers are by no means scientific, and there are some differences in the ADA and ACU ratings systems. But as rough guides to party positioning, the ratings — especially each side’s ratings of its own team — measure how well lawmakers satisfy the expectations of interest groups on the left and right. These numbers suggest that, while neither the House nor the Senate is a hotbed of centrism, Democrats in recent years have moved farther to the left than Republicans have to the right.