November's election will point the direction for the next decade. It will select all members of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate, as well as the president and vice president. It could be a referendum on the federal government's actions and behavior in the past three years — but that's not likely, as most voters don't really know what their own representatives have been doing.
Hence this project, a personal attempt to find out what all incumbent Congressmen and Senators up for re-election have done during the past few years so that voters can decide if they want to continue to support them.
It's not easy to track the votes of elected officials from individual districts. Television and radio news hit the hot news of the day and move on; they rarely mention the figures in a vote, let alone who voted which way on what. Newspapers and magazines often cover the issues in more depth, but seldom provide information on all the legislators' votes. Each Congressional representative and Senator has a personal webpage online, available by searching at http://www.house.gov or http://www.senate.gov, but some act as puff pieces only, while others provide links to voting records, position papers on issues and detailed constituent resources. Very few people have the time to track their elected officials' actions by reading the Congressional Record, which covers all bills, amendments and votes, or by reading every page posted at http://thomas.loc.gov, which also includes access to committee reports.
In addition, it can be difficult for voters to gain a sense of where a particular congressman's or senator's voting record falls within the larger group of his or her peers on specific issues. Is Congressman A's approval for tax cuts in agreement with the majority of his party? Is Senator Z going it alone in speaking out to promote the amendment to the education bill?
As a result, most often Americans vote for their Congressional Representatives and Senators without much understanding of what the incumbents have done during the previous term, unless there has been a scandal, a disaster or other crisis that brought individual officials' work into the light. Often they base their vote on advertising that may stress one or two issues rather than the broader range of the official's work.
This project uses the ratings of nonprofit organizations and lobbying groups to assess incumbents' voting records. The areas covered here include civil liberties, health care, conservation, unions, business, tax cuts, gun control and overall liberal and conservative political viewpoints. These were at the top of the list among the issues that have arisen repeatedly in Congress over the past four years for which organizations' ratings could be found.
Many nonprofit organizations and lobbying groups track Congress continually, in order to see who is supporting the issues they favor. These groups make their ratings known before elections (some have them available all year) to let knowledgeable voters find out their representatives' votes. However, because each group's attention is so tightly focused, it will evaluate based only on its own views and priorities, which creates an almost inevitable bias toward favored officials and away from those who vote against the group's priorities.
To counter this, the project includes ratings from independent organizations, associations and lobbying groups across the political spectrum from liberal to conservative, including groups whose interests vary from broad-spectrum to single-issue. Voters should be gain a truer sense of each incumbent's views by comparing the ratings from groups of different political and social viewpoints. Since all Congressional incumbents up for election are included, it should also be possible to see where each elected official's views fall within the larger groups of party and house.
- Every organization providing ratings knows its own issues better than anyone else. It will evaluate the incumbent based on as many votes as possible on its chosen issues, even small ones or votes on amendments or procedural bills that are seldom covered in the media. This provides a more thorough view of the lawmaker's votes than the casual reader might find elsewhere.
- Every organization will evaluate in a way that favors its own position.
- No one organization's ratings will provide a complete view of an incumbent. However, comparing the ratings of groups whose view of the issues are opposed should yield a more complete overview of the incumbent's position.
- Examining ratings on a cross-section of major issues should provide a snapshot of the incumbent's multi-issue position. Comparing the incumbent's ratings with those of other incumbents on the same issues should provide a sense of each lawmaker's position in relation to his or her peers and colleagues. Patterns within the aggregated information should help reveal voting blocs within the House and Senate on individual issues.
- All of these should help give voters sufficient background to decide whether they wish to retain the incumbents in office.
- Information used in the project was compiled from publicly available sources, including the j organizations' individual webpages, Project Vote Smart, the Library of Congress research site, newspaper and magazine articles.
- Ratings from all groups aren't based on the same time period. Some groups make evaluations annually, some once every two years, some at other intervals. The most recent ratings available have been used in all cases; where there are two ratings from any one evaluating group, that group updated its ratings during the project's research period.
- First-term incumbents may have few ratings, as the most recent ratings for many groups were set at the end of 2003. A few incumbents who have served only for part of the term may have no ratings in most or all categories because any votes they cast occurred after the organizations' previous ratings were made. Voters whose first-term Senators or Representatives have few ratings should check their webpages at http://www.senate.gov or http://www.house.gov to look up their elected officials' webpages for further information on their views and voting records. Information on roll-call votes from 1989 to the present may also be found at Thomas's "Roll Call Votes" site.
- Some organizations, such as the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association, had no available ratings for the current term at the time this project was under research. In these cases, ratings were gathered from other organizations with similar issues and interests. Some aspects of issues may have been inadvertently neglected because of this.
- The Gun Owners of America employed a letter system rather than a numerical system in their ratings. This was the only organization that did not rate incumbents on a percentage system, and it was not possible to correlate the letter grades with numerical percentages in a reliable fashion. Therefore, this rating was not used for sorting, but it was included because the issue of availability of firearms within the United States is important to voters.
- Keywords were used to represent rating organizations rather than their acronyms, since several organizations had similar acronyms. This should reduce confusion.
- Incumbents who have chosen not to run for re-election are designated as such by *** after their names. Some may have dropped out since the conclusion of research; if there is an error, please consult the incumbent's online webpage or local office for further information. Information on incumbents not seeking re-election was retained in the study to show how constituents' views were represented during the past term. This may help voters decide whether or not to support the new candidate of the same party.
- No attempt has been made to assess the views of all challengers for all races, for lack of time and resources. Only incumbents are included in the project.
- In two districts, South Dakota-at large and the Sixth District of Kentucky, information on both the former and present incumbents is provided. The former incumbents' information is there to show the way in which the district was represented in the past, since the new incumbents have not been in office long enough for evaluation. In these situations, as with other incumbents who have not been completely evaluated, residents of their districts should check their webpages at www.house.gov, for information on their representatives' views and endorsements. It was not possible to do this for all seats that have changed occupants during the term, for lack of information.
- This study was undertaken as an independent project, unsupported by any organization. Limited time, and lack of funding have limited the scope of the project. Any errors or omissions are those of the project's author and not of the evaluating organizations.
For convenience, organizations have been placed in positions along the conventional two-dimensional political spectrum from liberal to conservative. This includes organizations who are officially unaligned with any political party; their position was estimated based on their positions on the issues they support.
Toward the liberal end of the current political spectrum are Americans for Democratic Action, the American Civil Liberties Union, and People for the American Way, which characterizes itself as progressive rather than liberal.
The conservative and neoConservative end of the spectrum are represented by the Chamber of Commerce of the United States, which traditionally has been pro-big-business with conservative leanings, the American Conservative Union, the National Tax League, and the Christian Coalition, whose rating covers the broadest range of issues. Also in this camp, but with a much more narrow focus, is the National Right to Life Committee.
Organizations that focus on specific issues but that are officially nonpartisan include the American Public Health Association, the League of Conservation Voters, The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, the National Education Association and the Gun Owners of America. Although these groups' ratings may appear to side with one political party or another, the organizations themselves have not aligned with any one party and have historically found support from members of both party on various issues. Therefore, they have been placed along the spectrum based on how well their current political views correspond to those of other organizations.
Evaluating organizations, with quotations taken directly from their websites:
- Democratic Action: Americans for Democratic Action. website: http://www.adaction.org/
"ADA is America's oldest independent liberal lobbying organization....ADA continually strives to push for democratic and progressive values and ideals in American policy."
ADA ratings cover a broad spectrum of issues from a generally liberal viewpoint. Senate incumbents are rated as of 2003, but House incumbents are rated for 2002 and 2003.
- ACLU: American Civil Liberties Union. website: http://www.aclu.org/
"The ACLU is our nation's guardian of liberty. We work daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Our job is to conserve America's original civic values - the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."
In this study, the ratings are for 2002 but include votes on issues from 2001 as well, as the organization publishes its ratings once for every two-year Congress. ACLU ratings are concerned with civil liberties; a high rating indicates the incumbent has cast votes favorable to preserving or expanding civil rights and civil liberties; a low rating indicates that the incumbent has voted to restrict or abolish civil rights or civil liberties.
- AFSCME: American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. website: http://www.afscme.org/
"AFSCME is the nation's largest and fastest growing public service employees union. We are 1.4 million members strong and are made up of people who serve the public every day in all areas of government, health, education and other services, both public and private."
AFSCME 2002 ratings are based on a sample of roll-call votes from 2001-2002, and concentrate on issues of interest to unions, such as collective bargaining, minimum wage, worker safety and benefits.
- Ppl. for Amer. Way: People for the American Way. website: http://www.pfaw.org/pfaw/general/
"People for the American Way is an energetic advocate for the values and institutions that sustain a diverse democratic society....PFAW works in close collaboration with other leading state and national progressive organizations.
A high rating indicates voting in favor of free public education, civil rights and liberties, religious freedom, an independent judiciary, civic participation and constitutional liberties during 2003.
- Conservation: League of Conservation Voters. website: http://www.lcv.org/
"The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is the political voice of the national environmental movement and the only organization devoted full-time to shaping a pro-environment Congress and White House."
LCV 2002 ratings are based on votes on energy, and natural resources issues such as conservation, preservation of national parks, renewable and alternative energy, and protection of environmental quality.
- Public Health : American Public Health Association. website: http://www.apha.org/
"APHA is concerned with a broad set of issues affecting personal and environmental health, including federal and state funding for health programs, pollution control, programs and policies related to chronic and infectious diseases, a smoke-free society, and professional education in public health."
A high rating from APHA indicates that the incumbent voted in favor of bills promoting public health, particularly in the above issue areas, during 2003.
- Family/Repro. Health '99-'03: National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. website: http://www.nfprha.org/
"The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), founded in 1971, is a non-profit membership organization established to assure access to voluntary, comprehensive and culturally sensitive family planning and reproductive health care services and to support reproductive freedom for all."
A high rating indicates voting in favor of personal choice in reproductive matters, improved reproductive health care for women, and allied issues, during the four-year period from 1999 through 2003.
- Education-'03: National Education Association. website: http://www.nea.org/
"NEA has a long, proud history as the nation's leading organization committed to advancing the cause of public education."
A high rating indicates voting in support of free public education; a low rating indicates voting for restrictions on or against funding for public education.
- Ch. of Commerce: Chamber of Commerce of the United States. website: http://www.uschamber.com (this appears to be inactive) The Online Chamber of Commerce site: http://online-chamber.com/
The Chamber of Commerce of the US represents local, state and regional chambers of commerce, also trade and professional organizations. It rates legislators favorably who vote to promote free trade and business. This rating was included to provide a sense of incumbents' support of business and industry.
- Right to Life: National Right to Life Committee. website: http://www.nrlc.org/
"The ultimate goal of the National Right to Life Committee is to restore legal protection to innocent human life. The primary interest of the National Right to Life Committee and its members has been the abortion controversy; however, it is also concerned with related matters of medical ethics which relate to the right to life issues of euthanasia and infanticide."
A high rating indicates voting against abortion or choice in reproductive matters, and similar issues during 2002. This rating probably does not include the organization's reaction to issues concerning stem-cell research, as much of the discussion of that issue has occurred since then.
- Conservative Union: American Conservative Union. website: http://www.conservative.org/
"The American Conservative Union is the nation's oldest conservative lobbying organization. ACU's purpose is to effectively communicate and advance the goals and principles of conservatism through one multi-issue, umbrella organization."
The ACU ratings for 2002 indicate how closely members of Congress align themselves with (neo)conservative values on foreign policy, social and budget issues.
- Gun Owners: Gun Owners of America. website: http://www.gunowners.org/
"The only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington."
A high rating indicates voting in support of unrestricted gun ownership, and pro-firearms issues.
- Tax Limits: National Tax Limitation Committee. website: http://www.limittaxes.org/default.asp
"The National Tax Limitation Committee is a nonprofit, public interest group ... dedicated to constitutionally limiting taxes, spending and the size and growth of government."
A high rating from the NTLC indicates that the incumbent voted for tax cuts or smaller government.
- Chr. Coalition: The Christian Coalition of America. website: http://cc.org/
"The Christian Coalition was founded in 1989 by Dr. Pat Robertson to give Christians a voice in government."
This study includes Christian Coalition ratings for 2002 and 2003, on issues that promote a largely evangelistic Protestant Christian conservative viewpoint in government.
In Senate business this term, the Christian Coalition has been: in favor of President Bush's tax cuts, against expanding the Patient Bill of Rights, against campaign finance reform, in favor of confirming John Ashcroft as attorney general, against equal rights for homosexual Americans, against providing funds to prosecute hate crimes,against providing funds for abortion services for US military personnel and their families stationed overseas, against cooperation with the planned International Criminal Court, in favor of allowing President Bush the authority to negotiate trade agreements, in favor of authorizing the use of US military force against Iraq, against allowing union membership or collective bargaining among employees of the Department of Homeland Security.
In the House this term, the Christian Coalition has been: in favor of President Bush's tax cuts, against expanding the Patient Bill of Rights, against campaign finance reform, in favor of oil and gas drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve, supporting federal funding for faith-based charities, against equal rights for homosexual Americans, against so-called partial-birth abortion, in favor of letting commercial airplane pilots carry firearms and use force during a fight, in favor of allowing President Bush the authority to negotiate trade agreements, against providing funding for the planned International Criminal Court, in favor of authorizing the use of US military force against Iraq, against allowing union membership among employees of the Department of Homeland Security.
A note on ratings: a "0" rating is a rating of 0% out of 100%. An x in the box indicates the candidate was not rated by this organization.
General background information was compiled on all incumbents, as a way to provide more context for considering their ratings. This includes information on the incumbent's geographic location, party, experience in government and popularity within the local district. It also includes the incumbent's religious affiliation and military service, if any. In a time of war, when religious matters are debated in Congress, it is reasonable to think that lawmakers' religious beliefs and prior military service might have some bearing upon their votes.
- State or state/district: The geographic location whose population the incumbent represents.
- Party: Political party, including Democrat (D), Republican (R), Democrat-Farm-Labor (DFL) and Independent (I).
- RR in state GOP: This is an estimate of the strength of the Religious Right in that state's Republican Party over the past decade, 1994-2004. It encompasses changes in the political climate within a state which may affect incumbents of any party. Ratings on this are strong, moderate or weak, with a suffix indicating movement (up for growth, down for decline, nc for no change.) A rating of strong-up indicates that the influence of the Religious Right was moderate ten years ago but has grown so that it is now strong. A rating of strong-upup indicates that the Religious Right is so influential that a formerly weak influence has grown to strong. A rating of moderate-down would indicate that the influence has declined from strong over the past ten years. Any rating with -nc indicates no change. This information was abstracted from "Spreading Out and Digging In; Christian Conservatives and State Republican Parties," by Kimberly H. Conger & John C. Green, at theTheocracy Watch Campaigns & Elections site.
- % vote 1998 or % vote 2002: The percentage of the vote with which the incumbent was elected last time. This indicates historic support for the incumbent. Incumbent Senators up for election were last elected in 1998; incumbent Congressional representatives were last elected in 2002. Incumbents who last ran unopposed are indicated as such. In one case the percentage of the vote for an interim election is included, with sp.el. to indicate that it was a special election.
- Terms: The number of terms the incumbent has served in this elected position. This helps show voter satisfaction with the incumbent's work over time and support from the incumbent's party at the state level. It may also be seen as an indication of political power within the government, as more experienced incumbents gain access to more influential committees and committee leadership.
- Religious affiliation: Official known involvement in a community of faith or religious body. It does not indicate strength of involvement or religious practice. Involvement in any other religious or quasi-religious organizations, within the incumbent's denomination or elsewhere, are not included here.
- Military service. The incumbent's service in any branch of the U.S. military, including specific term of service, with 'no' indicating no service. USAF is Air Force, Army is US Army, Navy is US Navy, USMC is US Marines, Coast Guard is US Coast Guard. Nat'l Guard service is specified by state where possible, as is service in Reserve units. If an incumbent served on active duty during wartime, the war is indicated with letters: V for Vietnam, K for Korea, WWII for World War II, PG for Persian Gulf. Service in the Peace Corps is also indicated in this column. OCS stands for Officer Candidate School.
- Table 1: Senate Incumbents Overview, 2004 — an omnibus table, showing all data available for each incumbent Senator, arranged alphabetically by state. Includes only those Senators whose term of office expires in 2004.
- Table 2: House Incumbents Overview, 2004 — an omnibus table, showing all data available for each incumbent Representative, arranged alphabetically by state.
All other tables here are derived from these first two tables.
- Table 3: Senate Incumbents Background, 2004 — background information only, including state, party,
percent of vote in last election, number of terms, religious affiliation and military service,
arranged alphabetically by state.
Includes only those Senators whose term of office expires in 2004.
- Table 4: Senate Incumbents Ratings by State, 2004 — all ratings on Incumbent Senators,
arranged alphabetically by state.
Includes only those Senators whose term of office expires in 2004.
- Table 5: Senate Incumbents' ratings sorted by Christian Coalition '03 approval rating. — As the Christian Coalition is the organization with the broadest range of issues, it was employed as the primary sort category. Secondary sorting was done by
Tax Limits, Conservative Union and Right to Life approval ratings.
This method of sorting shows the strongest divisions between incumbents on the issues, revealing a nearly uniform alignment of Republicans — and some Democrats — across the issues according to far-Right, neoConservative lines.
Includes only those Senators whose term of office expires in 2004.
- Table 6: Senate Incumbents' ratings on health-care, education and civil liberties issues.
This includes public health issues such as immunizations and general health care of all sorts as well as women's health issues — and may reflect the incumbent's activity in relation to the local district or state as much as to the country. The ratings on education and civil liberties reflect more national issues, such as the No Child Left Behind Act and the Patriot Act, among many other things.
Includes only those Senators whose term of office expires in 2004.
- Table 7: House Incumbents' background, 2004 — background information only, including state, party, percent of vote in last election, number of terms, religious affiliation and military service.
As in Table 3, this includes state, party, percent of vote in last election, number of terms, religious affiliation and military service, arranged alphabetically by state.
- Table 8: House Incumbents Ratings by State, 2004 — all ratings from organizations each incumbent Representative, arranged alphabetically by state.
- Table 9: House Incumbents' ratings sorted by Christian Coalition '03 approval rate.
This shows clearly the divisions between the parties and across the issues.
- Table 10: House Incumbents' Ratings sorted by Christian Coalition '03 Approval rate, with some background information.
This table adds to the content of Table 9 the information on the strength of the Religious Right in the state Republican party, the number of terms the incumbent has served and the percentage of the vote received in the last election.
- Table 11: House Incumbents' ratings on civil liberties and education.
Because of the size of the table, this and Table 12 were separated to make them more easily understood. These ratings generally reflect voting on national issues concerning Constitutional rights and civil liberties and national education issues such as school vouchers (which take money from public schools) and the No Child Left Behind Act (which set requirements for schools to follow that were not accompanied by sufficient funding to complete the work.)
- Table 12: House Incumbents' ratings on health care issues.
Health care issues considered include immunizations, general health care issues of all sorts as well as women's health care, privacy and choice issues.
- Table 13: Incumbent members of the Congressional Black Caucus, by terms and percentage of vote in 2002.
This is the best-known of the many Congressional caucuses, and is included for that reason.
- Table 14: Incumbents who received <56% of the vote in the last election, by party, strength of Religious Right in the local GOP, and percentage of vote.
This table is an attempt to consider which incumbent seats up for election are most at risk of turnover to the other party, based
on the percentage of the vote gained last time, the strength of the Religious Right in the Republican Party (a plus for Republicans, but a
detriment to Democrats), and the number of terms served. Many other factors are concerned that are not included here, such as
the difficulty of the race last time. A first-term Democrat who defeated a longterm Republican to gain the seat and who has
done well in representing his constituents should not be at as high a risk. This chart also does not take into account any
measure of the strength or capability of the challengers for any seat. The lower the percentage of the vote
during the last election, the more the incumbent must campaign to make sure his or her name is in the
voter's mind when casting the ballot. And first-term lawmakers from regionally prominent families may have
less difficulty in achieving name recognition than equally worthy but less familiar newcomers.
- Table 15: Incumbents who served in the military or the Peace Corps at any time, by Christian Coalition rating.
This table, designed to test whether military service affects an incumbent's conservatism or liberalism, shows a broad range of positions from liberal through conservative on the issues. Although no direct correlation appears between military service and either conservatism or liberalism, someone with a greater familiarity with the military might be able to find correlations between various types of service and various political positions; that is beyond the scope of this project.
Some of these tables are unavoidably large. They can be downloaded and opened in a spreadsheet as follows: Choose a table and click on File → Save As or Save Page As and give it an appropriate file name.) All current spreadsheets can open HTML files (extension .htm or .html) directly,with no need for conversion. Microsoft Excel can open files directly from the Web; go to Data → Get External Data → New Web Query, and put in the address of the table.
- Middle ground? What middle ground? Polarization between parties within the two chambers is nearly complete, with few if any moderates remaining to provide swing votes.
- How strong is the influence of the Religious Right within the current incumbent House Republicans? Very strong.
All of the first-term incumbent Republicans had high ratings from the Christian Coalition, even if they had no other ratings. This included 30 with 100% approval, six with ratings from 90 to 100%, and three with ratings from 80 to 90%. No first-term Republican had less than 80 percent approval from the Christian Coalition. The fact that no first-term incumbents in that party had lower ratings argues for a great deal of assistance from the Christian Coalition and other neoConservative groups in the elections at the local and regional level as well as the national. This also argues for growth in the level of influence of the Religious Right at the local level, as this level of Christian Coalition approval does not extend as deeply among second-term House Republicans. Only eight second-term Representatives had 100% approval; 12 were rated in the 90s, four in the 80s and another four were rate from 76% to 46%. Another interpretation of this might be that Representatives were feeling more comfortable in their second term with voting in other ways than the Coalition approved. Those second-term Representatives who were rated below 90% came, with one exception, from states where the Religious Right's influence on the Republican Party was moderate or weak, so that they may have been elected by a broader base including voters of other parties, which might lead them to represent more diverse interests in their votes.
This same pattern appears among Representatives who have served more terms. Six of twenty third-term Republican Congressmen received 100% ratings, three more were in the 90s, four in the 80s, and six were below that with the lowest rating of 61%, and those with lower ratings represented districts in states with either moderate Religious Right influence or no change in the level of influence over the past decade.
Fourth-term House Republicans had overall higher ratings from the Christian Coalition, with six at 100%, ten at 90% or above, and three more above 76%. In this class of Representatives, who were first elected in 1996 at the same time as the re-election of President Bill Clinton, the Republican opposition to Clinton and his views was extremely strong, so that Republicans running for election in that year might have felt they had to position themselves far to the right to be elected; the fact that they are still rated as voting so closely in step with the Religious Right says a great deal about their steadfastness and their priorities. Most also received strong support from their constituents.
Fifth-term Republican Representatives, and those who have been in the House longer, repeat the more distributed pattern.
- Eight Senate incumbents are not seeking re-election; a ninth seat will be open if John Kerry wins the presidency. Twenty-six House incumbents' seats will be open as well. The Senate has a Republican majority of 51 seats to the Democrats' 49 seats, but with 19 Democratic seats open and only 14 Republican seats, the Democrats will have to work harder to gain two seats and retake control. In the House, where 229 Republicans hold the majority and 206 Democrats the minority and all the seats are open, Democrats would have to take 12 more seats to gain a majority, more for the sake of security. It's not as likely as a changeover in the Senate, where one or two seats makes all the difference, but it could happen. In an election year, anything can happen, depending on the public's view of the wisdom or folly of the incumbents and their challengers. If the Republicans continue to hold the House but the Democrats regain the Senate, the next term is likely to be even more contentious than the last one, regardless of whoever wins the race for president.