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Study Ranks Dems on Left-Right Continuum

The National Journal's 2006 congressional vote ratings provide a tool for measuring the political leanings of House and Senate Dems. A panel of the magazine's editors and reporters selected 84 Senate votes and 103 House votes in 2006 designating "yes" or "no" voters as "liberal" or "conservative." The percentile rankings of the members help identify the most liberal and conservative members.

According to the rankings, the five most liberal Democratic senators, along with their respective percentile scores in the total Senate are: Dick Durbin (IL) 95.2; Barbara Boxer (CA) 95; Ted Kennedy (MA) 93.7; Leahy (VT) 92.5; and Tom Harkin (IA) 92. The five most conservative Democratic Senators are: Ben Nelson (NB) 45.3; Mary Landrieu (LA) 57.5; Mark Pryor (AR) 59.5; Bill Nelson FL) 62.3; Blanch Lincoln 62.3. Based on these scores, the numerical average for Dems would be a rating of 70.2, which only one U.S. Senator hit on the nose -- Hillary Clinton (NY). However, this measure is somewhat distorted by Ben Nelson's score -- 8 Republicans ranked higher on the liberalism scale than did Nelson. Subtracting Nelson and Durbin as the highest and lowest-ranking, the new numerical average score for the ideological center of the Senate Dems is 76.25, and the closest Dem Senator is Diane Feinstein with a 76.5 liberalism rating. Independent Senator Lieberman (CT), who caucuses with Dems, scored a more liberal rating, 67.5, than 8 Dem Senators.

In the House, the five most liberal Dem members were: Diane Watson (CA) 97.7; George Miller (CA) 96.5; Raul Grijalva (AZ) 96.2; Hilda Solis (CA) 96.0; and tied for 5th with a 95.5 score were Sam Farr (CA), Barbara Lee (CA), Lynn Woolsey (CA) and Edward Markey (MA). Interestingly, seven of the top ten Dem House liberals were Californians. The five most conservative Dem House members were: Dan Boren (OK) 50.8; Jim Marshall (GA) 50; Gene Taylor (MS) 50; and tied at 49 were Collin Peterson (MN) and Henry Cuellar (TX). The numerical average for House Dems was 69.25, and the closest Dem House members to that score were Brian Higgins 69.2 and Norman Dicks (WA), Brian Baird (WA) and Joe Baca (CA) all with 69.3 "liberal" ratings.

The National Journal study also breaks down votes into economic, social and foreign policy votes with numerical ratings for members of congress based in each category. For a fuller picture of political leanings of congressional Dems, other organizations, including the Americans for Democratic Action, also provide ratings, which calculate evaluations based on some of the same and some different votes.