How does DW-Nominate determine whether a specific member of Congress or vote is liberal or conservative?

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The Politicus
Aug 19, 2015 09:33 PM 0 Answers
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The statistical methodology DW-Nominate is frequently seen as a more objective way of determining how liberal or conservative politicians are based on their voting record. Here's a few of many examples of such analysis.

I've never been able to fully grasp how this process works. One above article describes the process as:

Unlike the scoring done by interest groups, DW-NOMINATE doesn't rely on subjective determinations of what constitutes a liberal vote or a conservative vote--it sorts members of a population according to how similar each member's choices are to those of other members of the population. Two senators who vote the same way 90 percent of the time will be much closer to each other than two senators who only vote the same way 10 percent of the time.

But I get lost as to how this is used to generate an all out ranking of members of Congress on a scale from most liberal to most conservative. For example, if a senator votes extensively for hawkish foreign policy and for regulations in the economy, will he look more conservative in DW Nominate than an isolationist who always votes against regulation? And of course there are more issues of disagreement than just those two.

How is the DW-NOMINATE analysis used to rank members of Congress on a single liberal vs conservative scale? Is there a way to understand which specific votes/issues are driving the score of an individual member of Congress in one way or another?

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  • August 19, 2015