Placing Jeb in Ideological Context

Also: charting the rightward shift in the GOP.

Elephants FightingNate Silver provides the following chart of potential GOP 2016 contenders in a comparative chart:



I find this chart interesting mostly for reasons not linked to the question of the GOP nominee and more to issues about the party’s rightward shift in general.

However, I will note that this index puts Jeb much closer to his father than to his brother and, in fact, places him pretty close to recent GOP nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney.  It will be interesting to see if the GOP primary voters (and donors) are looking to go that route again.  Note that Rubio, Cruz, and Paul are score as more conservative than Jeb.

What I found more interesting about the chart was the evidence it presents about the rightward shift of the GOP.  Note the two dotted lines.  The one to the left is the average Republican score in 1979-1980 while the one to the right is for the 2013-2014 Republicans.  The distance between the two is significant.  Further, it is interesting to note that Dole, Ford, H. W. Bush, and Jeb cluster around the less conservative version of the GOP while the ones most in sync with the current GOP are Dubya, Perry, Huckabee, Cruz, Ryan, Walker, etc.

In other words:  this is just more evidence to support  that yes:  the GOP has moved rightward.

Also:  if this index is accurate, Chris Christie does not have a snowball’s chance in hell of being nominated.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. gVOR08 says:

    Ideology aside, Christie’s dead meat if Bush runs. The establishment money will go to Bush, leaving Christie, Rubio, and Romney high and dry.

  2. CSK says:

    The Republican “base” hates Jeb Bush worse than it hates Obama. Just how big this base is, I couldn’t say. They make a fair amount of noise on websites such as as Lucianne and Free Republic. It is instructive to look at those sites once in a while and see Mitt Romney described as a “socialist progressive” and Mitch McConnell as the ideological soulmate of Harry Reid.

  3. stonetools says:

    So this shows that the GOP has moved sharply rightward. Huh. I guess it’s reality time for the “both sides do it” crowd.Or maybe not, given the the ability of the BSDI crowd to deny reality.
    I’m betting that the 2016 campaign will at last see the nomination of a “real conservative” GOP presidential candidate-a Cruz, Perry,Walker, or Paul.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK: My personal opinion, based on no evidence whatsoever, is that Bush was holding off until he thought he had enough pledged money to convince the base to overlook immigration and Common Core.

    It’ll be like Romneycare. They know Romney designed the prototype for Obamacare and pushed it through. But somehow they also “know” he wouldn’t do that. It’s like there’s just a mental dead spot there. It’s weird. Motivated reasoning at it’s finest. But it can be done with enough money.

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    The “Public Issues Statement” vs “Congressional Voting Record” spread of Rand Paul is interesting.

  6. CSK says:


    I think you’re right in saying that Jeb held off till he got a sufficient number of pledges. Jeb himself might think that he can win over the base. But at this point, I can’t see that happening–at least not on the basis of what I’ve read. I’m talking about people who vow to sit out the 2016 election unless they can vote for President Cruz.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Question: How is “fund raising” more or less conservative? Is he basing this on where/whom the money is coming from? And how does he come up with their grades? Sounds kind of bogus to me.

    @CSK: It doesn’t matter who the GOP puts up. These people were not voting for anyone, they were voting against Obama (even when Obama wasn’t on the ballot). Who ever the Dems put up next will fare no better with them.

  8. Argon says:

    Where’s Romney on that chart?

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Neil Hudelson: He’s just a more accomplished liar than the rest. Credit where credit is due.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Argon: 3 below Jeb

  11. Pinky says:

    Can’t argue with a dotted line.

    These year-to-year comparisons are foolish, because the issues change over time. If you supported school prayer, you’d be called a centrist in the 1970’s and a dangerous theocrat today. What used to be an extreme gun rights stance is now considered moderate. Tax rates, welfare, health care, you name it, the national conversation has shifted, rightward or leftward. And some things shifted differentward, mostly things related to foreign policy and domestic security. There’s rarely a single conservative or liberal position on an issue, or a pure conservative or liberal position on an issue, even in a certain era.

    Now, I know that I’ve talked about the moderate versus conservative battle in the Republican primaries, but one thing I should have made clear is that there’s an element of pro wrestling about it. People can position themselves, take up characters, play babyfaces or heels. The voter can look beyond that and see what issues a candidate emphasizes, and look at the relative merits of his proposals on those issues. The one thing you can’t do is compare all candidates’ conservatism on a single-axis chart.

  12. humanoid.panda says:

    Something about that graph looks silly: no way Christie is significantly to the left of Ford..

  13. humanoid.panda says:


    It’ll be like Romneycare. They know Romney designed the prototype for Obamacare and pushed it through. But somehow they also “know” he wouldn’t do that.

    The big difference is that Romney condemned Obamacare, vocally and often, while mumbling something about states rights and taxes when defending Romneycare.

    There is no such leeway on “amnesty”.

  14. humanoid.panda says:

    @Pinky: Every single word Pinky says here is true.

  15. Pinky says:

    @humanoid.panda: I know, right? Oh, you just mean my last comment – well, I’ll take that at least.

  16. @Pinky: Actually, the nature of the DW-Nominate scores, which at the legislative measure, are constructed in a way that the precise issues are not, well, the issue (but reflect voting patterns–more at the link).

    The donor database would have more to do with the ideological identification of the group or donor, even if the issues changed over time.

    I suppose the “On the Issues” score may have some of the characteristics of which you speak, but if one looks at the list of issues they track, I am not so sure.

    A couple of specific points:

    If you supported school prayer, you’d be called a centrist in the 1970’s and a dangerous theocrat today

    Given that school prayer was declared unconstitutional in the 1960s, and became a major issue for the “moral majority” and the like the late 70s into the 1980s, I am not so sure of that assertion.

    . There’s rarely a single conservative or liberal position on an issue, or a pure conservative or liberal position on an issue, even in a certain era.

    Abortion? Income taxes? Civil rights? The welfare state?

    There are clearly identifiable left/right position on a host of issues.

  17. Ron Beasley says:

    I don’t see Jeb standing a chance at winning the primary. The teahardists will get their nominee in 2016 who will be massacred in the general election which is probably what the Republican party needs.

  18. Pinky says:

    We have “public issue statements”, “Congressional voting record”, and “fundraising”. The first category is based on statements from It’s a nice site, I use it sometimes, but it’s not systematic. Congressional voting records apply only to what comes up for vote each term. More than half of the people in the chart don’t have a Congressional voting record. If you’re simplifying a 1600-page bill to a “yes” or “no” vote (and I didn’t look up the methodology, so I don’t know if that’s what they’re doing), then this calculation will only give you a measure of partisanship, not of ideology. As for fundraising, again, I haven’t studied the methodology, but given the number of industries that spread money around to both parties, and the difficulty in determining the politics of the individual donor, I’m guessing the results are pretty unscientific as well.

  19. @Pinky: ” I’m guessing the results are pretty unscientific as well.”

    Fair enough.

    Although you have to admit that guessing in a blog comment section is even less scientific than anything presented in the chart.

  20. Pinky says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Even fivethirtyeight concedes that their model doesn’t work for libertarians.

  21. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Yeah, but no one was citing me as scientific. I didn’t do a pretty chart that could fool someone, and I didn’t write an article based on a pretty chart. I admit it when I’m speculating.

  22. C. Clavin says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    That’s funny…gotta remember that for later on.

  23. Pinky says:

    Let’s look at Scott Walker, whose dots were sufficient for you to determine that he’s significantly to the right of the GOP of old. He has no Congressional voting record. His ontheissues score was determined by weighting things like this, on abortion:

    •I’m proudly pro-life, but focus on fiscal issues. (Dec 2013)
    •Protect life from conception to natural death. (Nov 2010)
    •Opposes federal abortion funding. (Aug 2010)

    And then there’s a list of his campaign contributors. That’s what you’re using to determine where he ranks ideologically? I take it back; my blather is every bit as scientific as this study.

  24. Davebo says:


    Your just being contrarian.

    I didn’t bother to look at the methodology but my guess is its results are unscientific

  25. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Davebo: Sometimes, being contrarian is what’s called for.

  26. Kylopod says:

    In other words: this is just more evidence to support that yes: the GOP has moved rightward.

    Here’s another bit of evidence. When Reagan challenged Ford for the GOP nomination in 1976, Ford attempted to appease the conservative wing of his party by dumping his current vice president, Nelson Rockefeller, in favor of someone else. And who was this new candidate to represent the Reagan wing? Bob frickin’ Dole. Yes, this “moderate,” “Old School” Republican was in fact seen at the time as occupying the GOP’s right flank.

    That’s the case with virtually all the so-called “moderate Republicans” today. They are all people who, in the pre-Reagan era, would have been unblinkingly described as hardcore conservatives. People throw around the word “Rockefeller Republican” as if anything like it still exists today, when in fact it is as obsolete as bell-bottoms and conservatives who care more about deficit reduction than lower tax rates. The whole battle between so-called moderates and conservatives today takes place on a canvas that little over a generation ago was considered 100% right-wing, and so maybe it’s not surprising that the definitions may seem a little strange when viewed from a distance: what can you say when someone is defined as a “moderate” for opposing the use of government shutdowns in favor of debt-ceiling antics?

  27. Argon says:

    Dang. I can’t read today. Thanks!

  28. gVOR08 says:

    @Pinky: At the link Silver provides some explanation of methodology. Doesn’t explain how he rates public statements. The “CFscores” on fundraising is new to me. Voting record is rated with DW-Nominate. Not my field and I have no idea how the statistics work, but it’s been in use for years and I believe is well accepted, including as a tool to compare ideology over time. I don’t think anyone would claim that the tool can say Ford was exactly two points to the right of Dole, but Silver’s pretty good at this stuff and I’d certainly take this as a better approximation than, ‘Yeah, but Rubio’s a squish on immigration.’ sort of arguments.

  29. Pinky says:

    @gVOR08: Presumably, since he links to he’s using their system for rating public statements. Take a look at their site and tell me why anyone should have confidence in their data.

  30. Pinky says:

    @Kylopod: You might be able to make the argument that Dole occupied the party’s right wing if he’d healed the party’s divide. He didn’t. Even then, you’d need to provide proof that he didn’t change over time. Also, the government’s been shut down 18 times since the Ford years by people of all ideological stripes.

  31. Kylopod says:


    You might be able to make the argument that Dole occupied the party’s right wing if he’d healed the party’s divide.

    I didn’t make any argument. I simply pointed out that in 1976, when Dole was selected as Ford’s running mate, he was commonly viewed as occupying the party’s right flank. That is a statement of fact, not opinion. Whether this consensus view was correct or not is a matter of opinion. But it’s a fact that it was the consensus view in that period. It can be seen clearly by looking at documents at the time. Glancing through a newspaper archive shows many examples. Here are a couple:

    “Though he has a generally conservative voting record, he isn’t known as an ideologue who would alienate the party’s moderates. More important, Mr. Dole’s conservatism and record as a GOP wheelhorse have made him acceptable to most Republicans to the right of Mr. Ford…. Soon after Mr. Ford beat Ronald Reagan on a close call for the presidential nomination Wednesday night, there was angry talk of a convention revolt that would draft Mr. Reagan for the ticket’s second spot, no matter whom the President wanted. But Mr. Reagan kept saying no, and just to be safe, Mr. Ford arranged for Sen. Paul Laxalt, Mr. Reagan’s campaign manager, to put his blessing on the Dole announcement ceremony. The Nevada Senator said he “couldn’t be more delighted” about the selection of Sen. Dole.” (Wall Street Journal, Aug. 20, 1976)

    “In a 27-minute post-midnight conference with his defeated rival, Mr. Ford asked Mr. Reagan to comment on a list of six Vice-Presidential prospects, and sources close to both men agreed that the former California Governor spoke most warmingly of Senator Dole…. How much Mr. Reagan had influenced the choice was known only to the President, but Mr. Reagan’s preference had seemed unmistakably clear. However, since Mr, Ford is a very knowledgeable man about the temper of the Republican Party he already knew that, while Mr. Dole’s choice was not widely expected, it was a good one to console much of the disaffected Right Wing.” (New York Times, Aug. 20, 1976)

  32. Tony W says:

    I would love to see a similar chart for Democrats. “Socialist” screams aside, I would bet you see a similar move to the political right as true liberals have largely lost their voice in important areas such as labor solidarity, economic rewards distribution and marginal top tax rates.

  33. Pinky says:

    @Tony W: But look at how the party has shifted leftward on social issues.

  34. Grewgills says:


    So this shows that the GOP has moved sharply rightward. Huh. I guess it’s reality time for the “both sides do it”

    This actually is, both sides have moved to the right on all but a few culture war issues.

  35. Grewgills says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Abortion? Income taxes? Civil rights? The welfare state?

    Abortion has remained a contentious largely left/right split for most of the time represented on that chart.

    Increasing or decreasing entitlements at any given time is seen as left/right, but the actual level that is considered appropriate has varied quite a bit.

    On taxes, someone arguing for a top marginal rate of 75% under Eisenhower would be taking a right wing position, today it is regularly argued that raising it 3% to less than half of that is tantamount to socialism. There is a sizable political shift to the right here.

    What is meant by civil rights has changed by a LOT over the time represented in this chart. What are rightly see today as legitimate civil rights concerns were not even on the charts in Reagan’s time, much less Goldwater’s. There is a considerably societal shift to the left here.

    Is someone that wants to eliminate income taxes, but is fine with abortion and marriage equality right wing or left wing? What about someone that wants a strong social safety net and the taxes to pay for it, but is against abortion and marriage equality?

    What I think the chart measures well is increasing partisanship.

  36. Grewgills says:

    How is Sarah Palin less conservative in her public statements than the average of either time shown with only Chris Christie and Jon Huntsman to the left of her?

  37. @Grewgills: That one did strike me as odd.

  38. @Grewgills: Ultimately, I agree that left/right is an insufficient spectrum and yes, time matters in the definitions.

    I agree with this:

    What I think the chart measures well is increasing partisanship.

    Yes, although that suggests, with two parties, increased polarization which does require poles.

    Regardless of all the discussion above, it does strike me that the chart, with a few quibbles, does not strike me as especially out of line with reality in terms of the relative ideological positions of the politicians in question.

  39. Tony W says:

    @Pinky: Good point, there has been a tiny bit of progress on social fronts. That said, liberals may have largely won the mindshare on civil rights, but that has hardened opposition on the bigoted right. It is again fashionable among many of my conservative acquaintances to be boldly racist and homophobic. The vitriol directed at our president is strong evidence. The War on Christmas is really the War on WASPs inability to completely control the dialogue.

    TLDR: Social progress == ideological hardening on the right.

  40. Pinky says:

    @Tony W: The important thing, for analytical purposes, is to recognize that it does constitute a shift leftward. We tend to overlook the things we agree with as people just being smart. That may or may not be the case. What has definitely happened is a leftward shift on social issues within the Democratic Party.

  41. Kylopod says:

    @Pinky: I think in this discussion it’s important to keep in mind what we mean by a shift leftward or rightward, and the time-frames we’re talking about. For example, in 1972 a Democrat who favored keeping abortion illegal would not have been odd, but all that means is that the partisan sorting on this issue hadn’t emerged yet. After Roe, many Democrats started voting Republican over this issue, and vice versa. Before it became a national issue, it would have been meaningless to describe people’s positions on it as “left” or “right.” So it’s not a case of the Democratic Party moving leftward, it’s a case of the concepts of left and right incorporating new issues as they arise.

    Now, I agree that looking broadly at the 20th century, it would appear that both parties in many ways have shifted leftward. No president of either party is going to repeal Social Security, Medicare, or the Civil Rights Act anytime soon, even though conservatives opposed all those laws when they were first passed. Taking the broad view, the 20th century has seen a tremendous expansion in the welfare state and civil rights laws. Conservatives have stood in the way of these reforms but have not ultimately succeeded in stopping them, much less ending them. Even if we restrict our discussion to the last 50 years, the Democratic Party definitely moved leftward in one sense: it lost the South, which had long been by far the most conservative segment of the party.

    But when people talk about the Democratic Party’s rightward turn, they’re looking at a smaller time-frame. They’re talking about the period since the 1970s, particularly the rise of the DLC and Bill Clinton. Stung by the defeat of Mondale and Dukakis, Dems moved rightward on a whole host of issues, including deregulation, taxes, deficit reduction, free trade, health-care reform, welfare, and criminal justice. By the standards of almost any other democracy the Dems would be considered a conservative party. Even after Obamacare we’re still practically the only advanced nation on the planet that doesn’t guarantee health-care coverage to all its citizens, our welfare state is much, much smaller and less generous than in other first-world countries, and we’re near the top in income inequality–all thanks to the conservatism of both our national parties.