Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

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.

Corresponding author
* Email:
Hide All

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

Hide All
Douglas J. Ahler , Jack Citrin , and Gabriel S. Lenz . 2016. Do open primaries improve representation? An experimental test of California’s 2012 top-two primary. Legislative Studies Quarterly 41(2):237268.

John H. Aldrich , and Richard D. McKelvey . 1977. A method of scaling with applications to the 1968 and 1972 Presidential elections. The American Political Science Review 71(1):111130.

Stephen Ansolabehere , James M. Snyder Jr, and Charles Stewart . 2001. Candidate positioning in US House elections. American Journal of Political Science 45(1):136159.

Sarah F. Anzia , and Molly C. Jackman . 2013. Legislative organization and the second face of power: evidence from US State Legislatures. The Journal of Politics 75(01):210224.

Pablo Barberá . 2015. Birds of the same feather tweet together: Bayesian ideal point estimation using Twitter data. Political Analysis 23(1):7691.

Duncan Black . 1948. On the rationale of group decision-making. The Journal of Political Economy 56(1):2334.

Robert Bond , and Solomon Messing . 2015. Quantifying social medias? Political space: estimating ideology from publicly revealed preferences on facebook. American Political Science Review 109(01):6278.

Adam Bonica . 2013b. Ideology and interests in the political marketplace. American Journal of Political Science 57(2):294311.

Adam Bonica . 2014. Mapping the Ideological Marketplace. American Journal of Political Science 58(2):367386.

Adam Bonica , Chen Jowei , and Johnson Tim . 2015. Senate gate-keeping, Presidential staffing of inferior offices, and the ideological composition of appointments to the public bureaucracy. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 10(1):540.

Brandice Canes-Wrone , David W. Brady , and John F. Cogan . 2002. Out of step, out of office: electoral accountability and house members’ voting. American Political Science Review 96(1):127140.

Joshua Clinton , Simon Jackman , and Douglas Rivers . 2004. The statistical analysis of roll call data. American Political Science Review 98(2):355370.

Lindsey Cormack . 2016. Extremity in congress: communications versus votes. Legislative Studies Quarterly 41(3):575603.

Michael J. Ensley 2009. Individual campaign contributions and candidate ideology. Public Choice 138(1–2):221238.

Andrew Gelman , and Gary King . 1990. Estimating incumbency advantage without bias. American Journal of Political Science 34(4):11421164.

James G. Gimpel , Frances E. Lee , and Joshua Kaminski . 2006. The political geography of campaign contributions in American politics. Journal of Politics 68(3):626639.

James G. Gimpel , Frances E. Lee , and Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz . 2008. The check is in the mail: interdistrict funding flows in congressional elections. American Journal of Political Science 52(2):373394.

Justin Grimmer . 2013. Representational style in congress: what legislators say and why it matters . New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Andrew B. Hall 2015. What happens when extremists win primaries? American Political Science Review 109(01):1842.

Christopher Hare , David A. Armstrong , Ryan Bakker , Royce Carroll , and Keith T. Poole . 2015. Using Bayesian Aldrich–McKelvey scaling to study citizens’ ideological preferences and perceptions. American Journal of Political Science 59(3):759774.

Seth Hill , and Greg Huber . 2017. Representativeness and motivations of contemporary contributors to political campaigns: results from merged survey and administrative records. Political Behavior 39(1):329.

Alexander V. Hirsch 2011. Theory driven bias in ideal point estimates—a Monte Carlo study. Political Analysis 19(1):87102.

Stephen A. Jessee 2012. Ideology and spatial voting in American elections . New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Danielle A. Joesten , and Walter J. Stone . 2014. Reassessing proximity voting: expertise, party, and choice in congressional elections. The Journal of Politics 76(3):740753.

David S. Lee , Enrico Moretti , and Matthew J. Butler . 2004. Do voters affect or elect policies? Evidence from the US House. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 119(3):807859.

Frances E. Lee 2008. Agreeing to disagree: agenda content and senate partisanship, 1981–2004. Legislative Studies Quarterly 33(2):199222.

Frances E. Lee 2009. Beyond ideology: politics, principles, and partisanship in the US Senate . Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Cherie D. Maestas , Matthew K. Buttice , and Walter J. Stone . 2014. Extracting wisdom from experts and small crowds: strategies for improving informant-based measures of political concepts. Political Analysis 22(3):354373.

Brendan Pablo Montagnes , and Jon C. Rogowski . 2014. Testing core predictions of spatial models: platform moderation and challenger success. Political Science Research and Methods 3(3):619640.

Keith T. Poole 2000. Nonparametric unfolding of binary choice data. Political Analysis 8(3):211237.

Adam Ramey . 2016. Vox populi, vox dei? Crowdsourced ideal point estimation. Journal of Politics 78(1):281295.

Jon C. Rogowski , and Stephanie Langella . 2014. Primary systems and candidate ideology evidence from federal and state legislative elections. American Politics Research 43(5):846871.

Boris Shor , and Nolan McCarty . 2011. The ideological mapping of American legislatures. American Political Science Review 105(03):530551.

Elizabeth N. Simas 2013. Proximity voting in the 2010 US House elections. Electoral Studies 32(4):708717.

Walter J Stone , and Elizabeth N Simas . 2010. Candidate valence and ideological positions in US House elections. American Journal of Political Science 54(2):371388.

Thomas Stratmann . 2000. Congressional voting over legislative careers: shifting positions and changing constraints. American Political Science Review 94(03):665676.

Wendy K. Tam Cho , and James G. Gimpel . 2007. Prospecting for (campaign) gold. American Journal of Political Science 51(2):255268.

Danielle M. Thomsen 2014. Ideological moderates won’t run: How party fit matters for partisan polarization in congress. The Journal of Politics 76(03):786797.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Political Analysis
  • ISSN: 1047-1987
  • EISSN: 1476-4989
  • URL: /core/journals/political-analysis
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary Materials

Tausanovitch and Warshaw supplementary material

 Unknown (68 KB)
68 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 7
Total number of PDF views: 93 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 468 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 26th April 2017 - 18th October 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.