The Political Positions of Obama

This was one of my favorite fivethirtyeight entries, an assessment of the political positons of President-Elect Barack Obama.


The chart was surprisingly hard to find, as it’s no longer included in the fivethirtyeight archive.

A subsequent piece comparing Obama to Democrats in Congress was interesting.

By contrast, there has been no consistent pattern among Democratic presidents. Mr. Obama, according to the system, rates as being slightly more conservative than Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy, but slightly more liberal than Lyndon B. Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman — although all of the scores among Democratic presidents are close and generally within the system’s margin of sampling error.

Another finding is that the Democratic presidents, including Mr. Obama, have often adopted a different strategy than Republicans. Whereas Democratic presidents usually have scores fairly close (but just slightly to the left of) the median Democratic member of Congress, Republican presidents — with the very clear exception of Eisenhower — articulate legislative positions that are equivalent to those held by one of the most conservative members of their party.

I would disagree, largely because the center has shifted so much, some of FDR, Truman and LBJ’s views would be considered abhorrent.

Another interesting post was one which suggested Michelle Bachmann had a 12 percent chance of winning the Republican party’s nomination in 2012.

My view is that if Ms. Bachmann’s polling settles into the mid-teens, she will have elevated herself from being a wild card to being a legitimate contender for the Republican nomination. In fact, there is probably some upside in the numbers: her name recognition is not yet universal (62 percent of Republicans could identify her in the most recent round of Gallup polls), and as it grows, she may gain support from low-information voters who had previously expressed a preference for well-known politicians like Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich.

Of course, her candidacy has its issues. One is that she is a member of the House of Representatives, and members of the House don’t have a very good track record in primary campaigns. I don’t think this is a major drawback. My analysis suggests that while governors perform better than members of Congress there is little difference between how senators and members of the House perform, relative to their polling. And Ms. Bachmann has essentially been a nationalized figure for several years; she is the leader of the Tea Party Caucus, and her re-election campaigns have drawn tens of millions of dollars in contributions, tantamount to what a Senate or gubernatorial candidate would normally receive.

The more significant barrier is that Republicans might be worried about her chances in a general election. Ms. Bachmann’s voting record, according to the objective system DW-Nominate, is roughly as far from the middle of the electorate as George McGovern’s was in 1972 — and her red-meat rhetoric does nothing to disguise those positions. If Ms. Bachmann won Iowa, there would be an effort to rally around some more moderate alternative, most likely the candidate who wins New Hampshire.

Ah, hindsight.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at
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1 Response to The Political Positions of Obama

  1. Tbh the chart is pretty subjective – there’s positions way to the left of “raise the minimum wage a bit” for example and “double foreign aid” isn’t a progressive vs centre-right thing – smart GOPers know the value of aid as a means of projecting soft power. There’s also the issue of what he says he wants vs what he actually does…

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