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Estimating Candidates’ Political Orientation in a Polarized Congress

  • Chris Tausanovitch (a1) and Christopher Warshaw (a2)

Over the past decade, a number of new measures have been developed that attempt to capture the political orientation of both incumbent and nonincumbent candidates for Congress, as well as other offices, on the same scale. These measures pose the possibility of being able to answer a host of fundamental questions about political accountability and representation. In this paper, we examine the properties of six recent measures of candidates’ political orientations in different domains. While these measures are commonly viewed as proxies for ideology, each involves very different choices, incentives, and contexts. Indeed, we show that there is only a weak relationship between these measures within party. This suggests that these measures are capturing domain-specific factors rather than just candidates’ ideology. Moreover, these measures do poorly at distinguishing between moderate and extreme roll call voting records within each party. As a result, they fall short when it comes to facilitating empirical analysis of theories of accountability and representation in Congress. Overall, our findings suggest that future research should leverage the conceptual and empirical variation across these measures and avoid assuming they are synonymous with candidates’ ideology.

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We are grateful for feedback about this project from Gregory Huber, Seth Hill, Howard Rosenthal, Adam Bonica, Walter Stone, Boris Shor, Nolan McCarty, Jon Rogowski, Pablo Barbera, Adam Ramey and participants at the 2015 American Political Science Association Conference. We are grateful to Adam Bonica, Walter Stone, Boris Shor, Nolan McCarty, Jon Rogowski, Pablo Barbera for making publicly available their measures of candidate positions. All mistakes are our own. Replication materials for all of the results in this article are provided in the online dataverse archive associated with this article (Tausanovitch and Warshaw 2016).

Contributing Editor: R. Michael Alvarez

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Political Analysis
  • ISSN: 1047-1987
  • EISSN: 1476-4989
  • URL: /core/journals/political-analysis
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