Monday, May 10, 2010


Pat Toomey: Conservative Hero

Is Pat Toomey too conservative for Pennsylvania?

This weekend in response to a post I made about possible Pennsylvania Senate match-ups Alan Reifman made that assertion "I think Toomey is too far to the right for Pennsylvania." When I saw Reifman's post, I was going to respond with something along the lines of "but Pennsylvanians elected Rick Santorum... twice." But before I did, I decided to contrast Santorum's and Toomey's DW-Nominate scores. These scores allow one to compare how conservative and how liberal a legislator on a -1 to 1 scale with higher positive scores indicating a more conservative record. What I found surprised me.

Using joint House and Senate scaling (to compare 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. The ideological gap between Pat Toomey and Rick Santorum is slightly larger than the gap between Santorum and Chafee. You could argue that Toomey is to Santorum as Santorum was to Chafee.

Still, I wanted to get a better idea of how conservative Toomey voting record was. To do so, I pulled the DW-Nominate score of every United States legislator (House and Senate) since 1981 (see below for why I chose this cutoff). Toomey is further to the right than the GOP caucus as a whole as seen in the percentage histogram below. Indeed, of the 1,520 legislators to receive a DW-Nominate score for their career since 1981, Toomey ranked as the 24th most conservative.

Toomey ranked more conservative than 98.4% of all United States legislators since 1981. He had a more conservative voting record than J.D Hayworth, Jim DeMint, and even Jesse Helms. Toomey did have a more "liberal" voting record than Tom Coburn and Tom Tancredo.

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 is a moderate state.

Note: The reason I use 1981 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 1981, however, the scores I use cover roughly both economic and social votes.

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