The Party Line
4:45 pm
Fri December 14, 2012

Haley Can Look To U.S. House Members For DeMint Brand Of Conservatism

Since Jim DeMint’s surprise announcement that he was leaving office to head the Heritage Foundation, many observers have noted that one of the most conservative voices is leaving the U.S. Senate.

In fact, Gov. Nikki Haley indicated that she would be appointing “a person who has the same philosophy of government that Jim DeMint and I share.”

If Governor Haley intends to appoint a like-minded conservative to fill the spot, she would be hard-pressed to find someone as conservative as DeMint.

In using a commonly accepted measurement of economic conservatism, DeMint was second in being the most economically conservative Republican in the U.S. Senate; Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn ranked first. 

To gain a sense as to where the senators from the two Carolinas fall in the most recent set of complete rankings, I graphed the entire Senate membership based on their voting patterns on economic issues.

The more to the left one fell on the spectrum (meaning the more votes a senator cast for government involvement in economic issues in comparison to his/her colleagues), the more “liberal” one was, while the more to the right one fell on the spectrum, the more “conservative” one was.

The graph below shows the entire Senate rankings for the 111th Congress.  As Senator Coburn represents the most conservative senator on economic issues, Senator Bernie Sanders (an independent from Vermont who describes himself as a “democratic socialist”) is on the opposite end as the most liberal member.

For the other three senators from the Carolinas, North Carolina’s Richard Burr is slightly right-of-center of the Republicans’ median senator, while South Carolina’s other senator, Lindsay Graham, is closest to his party’s median.

Kay Hagan, the lone Democrat from the Carolinas in the upper chamber, is well to the right of her party’s median, with a ranking that puts her within the “moderate” range that is often associated with scores between -0.25 and 0.25.

What is surprising about the past few Senate rankings is that there is a clear differentiation between Democrats and Republicans. There is no Democratic senator who is more conservative than any Republican senator, and vice versa. 

And in fact, the two most “moderate” senators in the upper chamber as of the 111th Congress were Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine. Nelson retired in 2010, and Snowe is retiring.

Some may believe it difficult to find a more conservative senator than DeMint, but if you look at the rankings of the South Carolina House delegation from the 111th Congress, you will find that most of the Republicans typically lined up further to the right of the party’s median.