The National Journal releases its annual ranking of the most liberal and conservative congressmen -- but is it really accurate?
You might have thought award season concluded with the Oscars last Sunday, but that was only a warm-up act for National Journal magazine, which just released its annual rankings of the ideological leanings of members of Congress.
Unlike the Oscars, we won’t make you wait three dull, agonizing hours to hear the results you care about. So, without further ado, the winners are:
Most liberal senator: Washington’s Patty Murray
Most conservative senator: A four-way tie between Arizona’s Jon Kyl, Wyoming’s Michael Enzi, Nevada’s John Ensign and Wyoming’s John Barrasso
As War Room loyalists might remember, the National Journal got plenty of attention last year when they slapped the most liberal label on then-Sen. Barack Obama (John Kerry got the same rating in 2003). Alex expressed some skepticism about the rankings at the time:
[L]ooking at the start of this year’s list… we can’t help thinking of that other big annual ranking, U.S. News & World Report’s college list. And we can’t help wondering whether the National Journal’s list is just as capricious — and even, dare we say it, inaccurate — as that one.
The same thing could be asked this year. For example, the magazine ranks Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., as 37th most liberal, and gives him a 48 liberal rating on foreign policy votes, which, according to the magazine, would actually make him more conservative on the issue than Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.
As Lieberman is notoriously hawkish on foreign policy, this would seem to make the results just as questionable as those from previous years. So how did the Journal arrive at these conclusions? Salon spoke with Richard E. Cohen, one of the co-authors of the projections. He explained that the Journal based their ratings on 76 Senate votes and 78 House votes that occurred in 2008. Each vote was designated either liberal or conservative based on which side prevailed on the measure. Then, the Journal weighted each vote according to how closely the result aligned with how Senators and Congressional representatives voted on similar measures during the year.
“In some cases, there were members, including Sen. Feingold, who fit the category of what we called renegade liberals or determined liberals,” Cohen said. “In other words, a liberal who sometimes went against their own party because they felt that rank and file Democrats took a position that was more centrist or cooperative with Republicans than a few of these liberals were inclined to be. But in effect, Feingold was bucking his own party on a few votes and that’s why he lined up with conservative Republicans. They were on the same side of the issue but for different reasons.”
The Journal’s metric thus ignores a politician’s rhetoric and professed ideology on an issue or even why he or she voted for or against a bill. Glazing over such ideological differences would seem to limit the scope of the magazine’s results. Yes, sure, we all love lists and rankings and this one in particular is always fun for political junkies to discuss. But do the results actually mean anything?
Based on a select set of votes, without any consideration of the rationales for their votes, a senator like Feingold can seem a lot closer politically to someone Lieberman than he actually is. The ratings seem to be a better judge of how frequently a Congressional member votes in accordance with his or her party than the depths of their political persuasion. Which is all to say, that as with the Oscars, it’s important to remember that political rankings like this one are a highly subjective business.
Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon. More Vincent Rossmeier.
More Related Stories
- Los Angeles elects first Jewish mayor
- Peter King: There's "hypocrisy" over aid by Oklahoma senators
- Anthony Weiner announces run for NYC mayor
- Why Democrats abandoned LGBT immigrants
- On freedom of speech, Obama-Nixon comparisons are apt
- Senate panel approves immigration overhaul
- Slave descendants seek equal rights from Cherokee Nation
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Is abortion about to doom Republicans again?
- Anti-voter-fraud Tea Party group sues the IRS
- The Bachmann-inspired romance novel
- Nate Silver: Why the scandals aren't hurting Obama
- How to oust Michele Bachmann from Congress
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Who is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford?
- Colorado judge rules Abercrombie parent company violates Disabilities Act
- When America became a third-world country
- Inhofe and Coburn: Red state hypocrites
- It's Whitewater all over again
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Anyone regret slashing National Weather Service budget now?
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11