The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Quantifying ideology

As a skim through recent utterances here will confirm, I've experienced a modest coup de foudre for quantitative methods in general, and the product of Poole and Rosenthal, Voteview and DW-NOMINATE in particular.

Scepticism cannot long be barred, however. I'm moved to ask to what extent the computation of the liberal-conservative axis which these fine products offer is a genuine representation of reality or an artefact of fancy-pants maths that I can't understand.

For instance, in Poole's 2003 paper Changing Minds? Not in Congress! (PDF) one reads (p3)
In contemporary American politics the knowledge that a politician opposes raising the minimum wage makes it virtually certain that the politician favors a balanced budget, opposes unfunded federal mandates to the states, opposes universal health care, favors ending the entitlement status of welfare, opposes affirmative action, and so on. In short, a conservative and almost certainly a Republican.

The two items that scream out from that list are favors a balanced budget and opposes affirmative action!

The extreme profligacy of the Bush administration since 2001 could not have happened without the support of conservative Republicans in Congress. And the impact of conservative opposition in Congress to affirmative action since 2001 (or 1964, in fact) has been imperceptible.

The numerical representation of politics feels modern and (whatever the equivalent is of) hip and cool. All the easier to get carried away.

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