Rating confusion: Is Obama a liberal?

McCain and other Republicans cite a National Journal rating to claim that Obama is the Senate's No. 1 liberal. But other measurements tell a different story.

Actually, there's some truth to both claims. The political magazine National Journal rated Obama the most liberal senator for 2007, while Congressional Quarterly calculated that Obama voted with Bush 40 to 50 percent over the past two years.

McCain's seemingly contradictory claims illustrate the limitations of congressional ratings. Although they can provide a quick snapshot of someone's voting record, the ratings have many shortcomings, political ... Full Story »

Posted by Kaizar Campwala

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Fabrice Florin
3.8
by Fabrice Florin - Oct. 1, 2008

Excellent overview of how different organizations like National Journal or Congressional Quarterly calculate political ratings for members of Congress, to determine whether they lean left or right. This report is very informative, based on factual evidence from multiple sources, and helps provide useful context about an important topic that's not been covered very well by the news media.

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Andrew Van Camp
2.9
by Andrew Van Camp - Oct. 1, 2008

Bill Adair provides a generally coherent tour of the ins and outs of branding politicians as liberal or conservative via a number of groups. Further information that might have been helpful would be to indicate the spread in a particular rating system between first and last. If Obama or Mc Cain ranked tenth instead of first, yet there isn’t a dimes worth of difference between first and twenty first, then being tenth doesn’t mean much. A few more sentences devoted to flushing out what liberal - conservative social, economic and foreign policy positions are would also improve the article. The nation’s voters need clear concepts repeated in this regard to avoid the ills of the propaganda machines.

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Jack Dinkmeyer
4.0
by Jack Dinkmeyer - Oct. 1, 2008

Another "Is-he-or-isn't-he" article so popular in the Silly Season. Except this one contains some valuable information. Americans like their politics distilled down to their simplest forms. If Obama is liberal, he’s my hero; but if McCain is conservative, he’s a black hearted scoundrel. It’s all so emotionally simple. Just repeat the stereotypes, and all that difficult thinking is saved. Thomas Mann, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute states, "This is a case where statistics can do more harm than good.”

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Dale Penn
4.1
by Dale Penn - Oct. 1, 2008

Here is a good reference article for anyone inclined to take as gospel any statistical analysis presented as news. The statistics can be skewed, the analysis can be skewed and therefore the story can be skewed. This is very good journalism as it may cause reviewers and readers to reconsider how much weight the put on evidence provided via polls or statistics.

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Jim Lang
4.6
by Jim Lang - Oct. 1, 2008

Objective attempt to put political ratings in perspective. Well sourced and fair but not all that revealing if one has been paying attention.

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Fred Gatlin
3.9
by Fred Gatlin - Oct. 1, 2008

A good story about rating of members of congress. It is very hard to learn a member's position. Regardless who tries to rate they have a position which limits there qualification, plus many do not try to rate fairly.

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Jeff Clark
4.9
by Jeff Clark - Oct. 1, 2008

As other reviewers have said, this is an excellent, informative article. It raises but does not answer an important question: How is it that an allegedly nonpartisan "news source," National Journal, branded Kerry and Obama as more "liberal" than Feingold, Kennedy, Boxer, and the socialist Sanders? Such labeling tells us little about the Senators and much more about the Journal's perceived need to stay in the shmoozy Washington media game by providing "news" that can be fodder for attacks.

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Denise Clendening
4.6
by Denise Clendening - Oct. 1, 2008

Another informative story from PolitiFact full of facts and great links on what ratings mean and how they are calculated. This page will be very helpful in responding to talking points and interpreting what the ratings mean. It was interesting to read how many votes Obama missed last year (33 out of 99) due to campaigning and McCain missed so many that the magazine that gave Obama the liberal rating could not give McCain an overall rating. Great resource.

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Harv Roth
4.0
by Harv Roth - Oct. 1, 2008

With comparisons, interviews and relevant facts it unravels the politcal ratings business. I believe it gave some good insite into a sometimes skewed ratings system.

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Meg Stefanac
4.8
by Meg Stefanac - Oct. 1, 2008

This was a HIGHLY informative article backed up with facts and explanations. I absolutely learned something from reading it.

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Tanya J. Maurer
3.8
by Tanya J. Maurer - Oct. 1, 2008

The article makes several good points, and does well in cautioning voters about biases and statistical peculiarities in ratings of candidates along scales of "liberal" and "conservative." The article fails to dissect the evolution of the definitions of "liberal" and "conservative," nor the demonizing connotations that have been attached to the terms in political attacks. There are only a handful of liberals in the senate, and only a couple conservatives. The democrats have become centralists since clinton. The republicans have evolved into regressives and abondoned almost everything that constitutes the term "conservative." So not only the rating schemes are questionable, but the terminology and scales are antiquated and not discriptive.

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Kaizar Campwala
4.5
by Kaizar Campwala - Oct. 1, 2008
See Full Review » (1 answer)
Roy Streit
4.8
by Roy Streit - Oct. 1, 2008

Knowing about the NRO and knowing it changed its criteria every time it has ranked a candidate, I thought it was not exposed enough.

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Norman Rogers
1.0
by Norman Rogers - Oct. 1, 2008

I was waiting for the conclusion. Is Obama a liberal? The question is never answered. Maybe he's a secret conservative and as soon as he's elected he will cut taxes on rich people to zero amd give big tax breaks to the oil companies. probably he'll invite investment bankers to sleep in the Lincoln bedroom.

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Roland F. Hirsch
4.1
by Roland F. Hirsch - Oct. 1, 2008

This news analysis has considerable journalistic merit. It distinguishes between ratings based upon party affiliation and those based on philosophical positions, such as liberal or conservative (however the authors ignore the fact that these are not opposites but orthogonal to each, measuring different things). The authors also do not point out that President Bush is not a conservative but a moderate, and thus Senator Obama should have supported half of the President's positions in any objective measuring scale.

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Tom Grey
3.6
by Tom Grey - Oct. 1, 2008

Because the label "most liberal" is so important, though it probably shouldn't be, whether Obama is the most, or the 10th most "liberal" is an issue. The story notes how defining liberal votes or not is subjective, and how most rating agencies choose only a selection of "important votes" -- lobby groups for threatening purposes. It warns of a coming Rep attack against "tax and spend liberals", yet offers absolutely no evidence that liberals are anything else.

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David P Remy
4.0
by David P Remy - Oct. 1, 2008

Focused, well documented, expressive of the subject. Allows the reader to think through the discussion.

See Full Review » (6 answers)
Jim Hodapp
4.2
by Jim Hodapp - Oct. 1, 2008

An excellent assessment of different groups that try to rate politicians on an ideology scale.

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