Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

Please Support the MyDD Fundraiser Today

As you very well might have seen by this point, National Journal has ranked Barack Obama as the most liberal Senator in 2007 using a somewhat quizzical methodology. Think you've heard a similar story before? Perhaps it's because the publication did the same thing four years ago to John Kerry. Here's the lede from the folks at NJ (who I don't generally have a beef with and in fact really enjoy reading material from, whether through the Hotline or elsewhere):

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was the most liberal senator in 2007, according to National Journal's 27th annual vote ratings. The insurgent presidential candidate shifted further to the left last year in the run-up to the primaries, after ranking as the 16th- and 10th-most-liberal during his first two years in the Senate.

Leaving aside a debate over whether it's good or not for a presidential candidate to be labeled as the most liberal member of the United States Senate (or the most conservative, for that matter) -- that's really a debate for another post -- was Obama really the most consistently liberal member of the Senate last year? It depends on how you count votes.

Like other presidential candidates coming out of the Senate, Obama missed a lot of votes in 2007 -- one-third of those tallied by NJ, in fact, according to partner site First Read. If you only count those roll call votes, Obama indeed was the most liberal Senator. Similarly, Joe Biden, who presumably also missed quite a few votes last year, ranked as the third most liberal member of the chamber despite the fact that he has generally found himself to be in the center of his party (he was just to the right of the median Democrat in 2006 when he missed far fewer votes, according to NJ rankings).

But when you look at the whole picture, as I believe you should, it's hard not to come to the conclusion that ranking a member who missed a significant number of votes in order to run for President solely on those votes that he or she made (rather than all of the votes being counted for the overall metric) is fuzzy math (as someone once put it...). And this isn't the first time that NJ has engaged in such gaming of the numbers, either.

In 2004, the publication released numbers on Kerry showing him to have been the most liberal member of the Senate during the previous year despite the fact that he, too, had missed a large portion of votes in question (in that case, over half). As a result of the embarrassment and headaches that ensued from publishing numbers that weren't truly reflective of Kerry's voting record -- and having those numbers be bandied about during the 2004 general election -- NJ decided to tighten up its standards. But it did not go far enough (though it did go far enough to get John McCain's votes not to be scrutinized, interestingly enough).

If you play games with numbers enough, you can come up with just about any result. And it seems like this is just what NJ did again this year even though it purported to try not to after 2004. What makes matters worse, the publication released these numbers a full month before it historically releases these numbers -- and only released them on the presidential candidates.

It could be that Obama would have ranked as the most liberal Senator in 2007 (from 16th in 2005 and 10th in 2006), and Biden the third and Hillary Clinton (who missed close to one-fifth of votes) the 16th had they voted on every roll call before the Senate in 2007 (or at least a significantly larger portion of the votes). But that's something we can't know because they were all out on the hustings running for President. And as a result, at least in my view, it makes it at least a bit irresponsible to nonetheless label Obama as the most liberal member of the Senate in 2007.

Tags: National Journal, Vote Rankings (all tags)



Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

My problem with this ranking is that it fails to note that Obama is both the most liberal and conservative at the same time.  Similarly, he also lacks sufficient Washington experience and is the establishment candidate simultaneously.  

But that's just me.  :)

by HSTruman 2008-01-31 10:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

He's also the "black candidate" yet not "black enough"--indeed, he's not as "black" as Bill Clinton.

by DPW 2008-01-31 10:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

I forgot that one -- thanks.  :)  Which, incidentally, will be the basis for all of his wins and losses at the same time and make and break his campagin.  

by HSTruman 2008-01-31 10:59AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

Yes, Barack Obama is transcendent, he is all things to all people.

by souvarine 2008-01-31 11:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

Hey, I'm just suggesting you pick a line of attack.  Either one, really.  Just pick one and go with it.  

Come on, ya have to laugh at this stuff sometimes don't you?  I mean, the GOP is going to label anyone to the left of Ghenngis Kahn a "liberal."  That's just what the playbook says to do.  Who even cares at this point.  

by HSTruman 2008-01-31 11:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

He is taller, shorter, fatter, and thinner than Hillary Clinton.  Fact.

by rfahey22 2008-01-31 11:32AM | 0 recs
I don't know where the hell Obama stands..... he liberal or a conservative Dem?

If he was the most liberal Democrat, than I would be supporting him!

I'm supporting Clinton because I think she's going to be a much better President AND because I think she is really more progressive than Obama seems to be, based on his awful campaign rhetoric.

Weird - is Obama trying in the campaign to make everyone think he is actually more conservative than he really is?

I truly find his campaign, thus far, to have verged on neo-liberal (right wing Dem) demagoguery, and distortions of Hillary's position and character.

by enthusiast 2008-01-31 11:03AM | 0 recs
Re: I don't know where the hell Obama stands.....

Given that all three of our candidates are running on the most progressive platform of any Democrat in decades, I think it's safe to say none of them are "conservative."  Not that it matters anyway.  The GOP ran ads saying Ben Nelson was "liberal."    

As for where Obama stands, take a look at his website.  All his positions are out there, for better or for worse.  

by HSTruman 2008-01-31 11:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

Oh give me a break. The national journal is such a joke.

HOW ON EARTH is Dodd not more liberal than Obama?

by Pender 2008-01-31 10:21AM | 0 recs
Already a GOP talking point

The RNC wasted no time pouncing on this.  But Matt Stoller will be happy.

How does Obama respond?  Run and hide?  That's only good for my cat.  He needs to embrace his embrace of progressive ideals and values.

by mikelow1885 2008-01-31 10:31AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

Amusingly, I've heard one Obama supporter after another trumpet the NJ rankings as the "gold standard."

In my view, the major problem with the unity schtick is that we get all the disadvantages of running a liberal candidate without any of the advantages.

by Steve M 2008-01-31 10:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

Well, one advantage.  He's more liberal than Clinton.

by Drummond 2008-01-31 10:41AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

How is that an advantage for the general election?

by Steve M 2008-01-31 10:48AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

In a year like this, we should go all out for a candidate like Obama.  We do not need to waste this incredible opportunity on another Clinton.  

by Toddwell 2008-01-31 11:07AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

Exactly my point.  Running a candidate who relies on the unity schtick is not all-out.  If he wins, we won't have a mandate for a liberal ideology because he didn't run on one.

by Steve M 2008-01-31 11:12AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

Getting a mandate for a liberal agenda would require us picking up 20 seats in the House and getting close to 60 seats in the Senate.  The only one who can deliver this is Obama.  The Clinton's won't.  They don't care about downballot races.  

by Toddwell 2008-01-31 11:20AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

You seem to be arguing that message is irrelevant.  That's not my view.

by Steve M 2008-01-31 11:23AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

It's not.  But it's an advantage once he's in.

by Drummond 2008-01-31 04:18PM | 0 recs
I think Hillary is more liberal/progressive

than Obama.

Obama's campaign makes me think, nauseatingly, of Joe Lieberman's 2004 campaign.

by enthusiast 2008-01-31 11:05AM | 0 recs
Re: I think Hillary is more liberal/progressive

On what tangible issue do you base it on?

by Drummond 2008-01-31 04:18PM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

You could flip that around of course and argue that we get all the advantages of the candidate that is most well-liked by indies who is nonetheless the most liberal.  Sure, it hasn't happened in the past but there's a first time for everything.

Whatever, whoever runs will be labeled a pinko communist to the left of Karl Marx.  The test will be whether they can deal with that line of attack.  Whatever else, Clinton is -- as her supporters like to note -- making sure Obama knows how to deal with "vetting."  

by HSTruman 2008-01-31 11:01AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

The question is whether indies like him because he is a liberal, or because they don't think of him as a liberal.

One thing the GOP is really good at is not letting you run as a stealth candidate.  I haven't seen much of an indication in this campaign as to how Obama intends to stick up for ideologically liberal positions.

by Steve M 2008-01-31 11:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

Well, you and I have covered this ground before.  I think this quote, taken from the Nation's endorsement of Obama, reflects my view pretty well:

"In its totality, though, Obama's rhetoric tells a story of politics that is distinct from both the one told by Beltway devotees of bipartisanship and comity and from the progressive activists' story of a ceaseless battle between the forces of progress and those of reaction. If it differs from what I like to hear, it is also unfailingly targeted at building the coalition that is the raison d'être of Obama's candidacy. Consider this passage from Obama's stump speech:

`I've learned in my life that you can stand firm in your principles while still reaching out to those who might not always agree with you. And although the Republican operatives in Washington might not be interested in hearing what we have to say, I think Republican and independent voters outside of Washington are. That's the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have in this election.'

Obama makes a distinction between bad-faith, implacable enemies (lobbyists, entrenched interests, "operatives") and good-faith ideological opponents (Republicans, independents and conservatives of good conscience). He wants to court the latter and use their support to vanquish the former. This may be improbable, but it crucially allows former Republicans (Obama Republicans?) to cross over without guilt or self-loathing. They are not asked to renounce, only to join." yes/2

by HSTruman 2008-01-31 11:16AM | 0 recs
A strange coincidence?

Hmmm, in 2004, John Kerry becomes the presumptive Dem nominee, and the National Journal comes out with its vote rankings which just by mere chance happen to show that John Kerry is the "most liberal" member of the senate. Bush and Cheney's attack dogs seize on it and try to scare people by running around shouting "BOO! Scary liberals!" Conservatives had already laid the groundwork by a decades long campaign of slander hijacking the meaning of the word "liberal". John Kerry managed to lose the election to the worst president we have ever had.

Fast-forward four years. Barack Obama looks like he might be the Dem nominee. National Journal comes out with its vote rankings which, by some strange coincidence, once again show our would-be nominee to be the "most liberal" member of the Senate, and, whaddaya know, they fail to rank John McCain. Republican attack dogs (Karl Rove) seize on it, running around shouting "Liberal! Liberal!". Hopefully, the effectiveness of this kind of scare-mongering has worn off by now, but I don't know. There are a lot of stupid people out there.

They say they don't look at how the Senators voted in picking and choosing which votes to use to calculate the ranking. But by some strange coincidence, the Dem nominee for president, two election cycles in a row, comes out as the "most liberal" member of the senate, handing GOP smear-merchants a talking point to scare low-info voters away from a great Dem candidate.  

Fuck National Journal. I for one think it's great if Obama really is the most liberal member of the Senate, but their methodology sucks, and the fact that the "most liberal" Senator just happens to be the likely Dem presidential nominee two cycles in a row is way too convenient. No, this result is bunk. I suspect the votes were chosen with a desired outcome in mind, and the "non-partisan" National Journal knows exactly what it's doing.

by ajpuckett 2008-01-31 10:42AM | 0 recs
Re: A strange coincidence?

And even if they really had a legitimate methodology and did not have a pre-existing preference for the outcome, why waste time on such a superficial "study" anyway. This kind of crap just isn't helpful.

by ajpuckett 2008-01-31 11:15AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

Most liberal?  I'd pretty much go with Bernie Sanders on that one.  Either that or Democratic Socialists aren't what they used to be...

by eric the red 2008-01-31 10:47AM | 0 recs
this is what

obama supporters had better get used to.

I can't believe they let this out so early.

I wonder if they think Obama has already won the dem nomination?

by yellowdem1129 2008-01-31 11:02AM | 0 recs

I sent their editor and the writers whom one is Richard Cohen of Washington Post a pretty nasty letter.  If you go to the article you can send them emails and tell them a thing or two.  Instead of talking about the issues, they are still working with the same liberal and conservative tags and trying to categorize and label.  What a bunch of Karl Rove loving A' holes.

by georgeg1011 2008-01-31 11:18AM | 0 recs

Hillary missed one fifth of the votes?

Well that would skew the ranking, I wonder how it would skew it in relation the Obama missing ONE THIRD of those votes.

Boy talk about the author's point of view it's kinda like MSNBC is these days.

by del 2008-01-31 11:46AM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

I've been trying to conjure up the Republican ads on "most liberal...."  My point: Trying to play all things against the middle can come back to you in many forms.  For instance, for a candidate who claims broad ideological spectrum appeal, what happens when a document suggests that the candidate may skew very much to one side?  Does the candidate run away from the "most liberal" label or does the candidate embrace it?  What, then, does that do to the would-be new friends to the right of center?  When so-called "progressive" bloggers adopt the phraseology and talking points of the right to skewer another liberal candidate have they created a healthy or unhealthy alliance with the right? (The last question is not meant to be snarky.  It is meant to point out a potential longlasting cleavage that has been created by the oft times self-righteous language of the anti-Hillary forces, both right and left.)  I suspect that most people will ignore the NJ report to avoid a personal confrontation with whether they publicly embrace or run from a liberal label.  Now, we want to deny the source or argue that Obama just missed a lot of votes.  Of course, to "just miss a lot of votes" is not the strongest argument for your constituency.  

by christinep 2008-01-31 12:48PM | 0 recs
Re: Barack Obama and Vote Rankings

I think a lot of the comments here are entirely missing the point. I can't argue whether or not Obama was the most liberal Senator based on the information, and neither can anyone else.  The simple fact is, this is scientifically reliable information.  To call it fuzzy math would be very generous, I think.

If we really want a ranking of who's the most liberal and who isn't, you have to use some common criteria, and NJ didn't do that. You can't compare voting records where some candidates missed 10 votes and others missed 50 - the result is ridiculous.

For this to mean anything at all, you would have to use only those records where everyone voted, or something close to that standard. In most years, you could probably use all of the votes as a base and be fine, but when Senators missed 1/5 to 1/3 of the votes, this is meaningless.

by Denny Crane 2008-01-31 02:23PM | 0 recs


Advertise Blogads