Home > Applying Political Science, California Politics, Political Campaigns > McNerney and Gill’s Ideological Positions

McNerney and Gill’s Ideological Positions

Using publicly available data from Project Vote Smart–which itself uses publicly available candidate statements and positions–Boris Shor of the University of Chicago has created point estimates for the ideologies of all of the congressional candidates running in 2012. (You can find an explanation of the methodology as well as the full ideological distributions for each party here.)

As I have noted several times, both Jerry McNerney and Ricky Gill have made it difficult to pin their ideological positions down. McNerney is a little easier because he is a sitting member of Congress, and therefore we have voting data w e can use to figure out where he lies on the ideological spectrum. Ricky Gill, however, has intentionally dissembled at every opportunity.

In my classes and in previous posts, I have argued the it is hard to pin down McNerney because he really is a moderate. If you think about all of the Democrats in California, he is to the right of (more conservative than) almost all of them. Gill, on the other hand, is ideologically very conservative and he’s hiding [edit: downplaying] that fact in order to win election in a center-left district. In fact, by Shor’s estimates, he is to the right of the most other California Republicans. Here’s the evidence:

The 9th congressional district leans slightly Democratic. So if Gill wins–which he might–we will be replacing an someone who is center-left ideologically with someone who is on the extreme right.

Update: By Shor’s data, Gill is more conservative than 68% of all the Republican House candidates in 2012. McNerney is more liberal than just 36% of the Democratic House candidates.

Update 2: For those too lazy to click over to Shor’s site–and you really should, it’s fantastic–here’s McNerney and Gill plotted against all of the House candidates in 2012.

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  1. Jordyn Doyle
    October 31, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    This is interesting. (So not sure if this is this week’s post or not). I don’t enjoy that politicians lie or remain intentionally ambiguous. (Of course I know an honest politician is beyond rare) I mean, I just don’t understand the point of being ambiguous about your party or plans for the future (in presidential cases) because those facts will come out sooner or later through political action. Getting votes is a reason but I guess I’m just too honest to be a politician. I don’t believe things should be gained through lying.

    • Prof. Keith Smith
      November 1, 2012 at 12:18 pm

      It’s not that they are lying per se about their policy positions. It’s that they are doing as much as possible to make it difficult for voters to discern their true preferences. It’s a perfectly rational strategy to pursue as a candidate. In fact, according to some theories of representation, the individual candidate’s preferences should not matter at all.

  2. Melissa Blakemore
    November 1, 2012 at 9:34 am

    This an interesting post. The part which states, “McNerney is a little easier because he is a sitting member of Congress, and therefore we have voting data we can use to figure out where he lies on the ideological spectrum. Ricky Gill, however, has intentionally dissembled at every opportunity” just shows that we have to catch a politician in a lie just to see where they stand on a topic. It is a shame that they would get further in their political careers by lying or simply not really stating what their true opinion is. Unfortunately I am not to familiar with these candidates.

    • Prof. Keith Smith
      November 1, 2012 at 12:21 pm

      It’s not that they are lying exactly. We can draw a distinction between statements that provide little to no information and statements that provide erroneous information. Both candidates–but especially Gill–have tended toward the former while avoiding the latter.

  3. Lexa Buerer
    November 1, 2012 at 11:50 am

    I was not too familiar with these candidates or their policies early on in the campaign. I thought that going to the debate between these two candidates would give me a better idea of what their policies were, however that was not the case. I was able to notice during the debate that Gill was trying to hide the fact that he is on the far right which I guess is expected of someone who is trying to get elected in a district that has a tendency of being liberal. I understand that both of the candidates are conservative in comparison to the district which is a challenge in an election but I don’t agree with the methods they are resorting to in the attempt to win the house seat .

    • Prof. Keith Smith
      November 1, 2012 at 12:22 pm

      What is the normative basis for your disagreement? On what grounds is it problematic that the candidates are behaving this way?

  4. Jesus Hernandez
    November 1, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    It’s really disappointing in the amount of deception that goes on regarding candidates’ policies and their standing in issues. It is seen too often; abundantly present during the presidential debates. I believe that there should be some sort of policy or punishment that prevents candidates from fibbing about their beliefs.

    • Jesus Hernandez
      November 1, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      * on issues.

    • Prof. Keith Smith
      November 1, 2012 at 1:09 pm

      Really? Do we need my mom or an equivalent authority figure staring down every candidate? Would that even be effective in preventing candidates from dissembling?

      • Jesus Hernandez
        November 1, 2012 at 1:36 pm

        Please explain to me how their disguises are justified? is it representative of the voters’ ideals or merely their own? Do you think it’s just for candidates to cheat the system to reap the benefits?

    • Prof. Keith Smith
      November 1, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      Sure, here’s one of the top of my head for the sake of argument: If I think it is more important to have another conservative voice (i.e., Gill) in the House because it will be (a) better for me personally and be (b) better for the nation as a whole, then I want him to do (almost) whatever it takes to make sure that happens. Who cares if he never comes out and directly says “I am very conservative?” If you (the voter) put in the time and effort to learn about him, you could find that out pretty easily. Frankly, to continue being somewhat flip, if you can’t be bothered to figure it out on your own, then you are not doing your job as a voter. It’s not his job to tell you all the reasons why you shouldn’t vote for him (assuming the fact that he is conservative makes you less likely to vote for him). Why do we need to put a whole regulatory structure into place just to make sure you do your job as a voter?

  5. bklunk
    November 1, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    To repeat Prof. Smith’s point: it’s not that Gill is lying about his beliefs. He wants to frame the choice between himself and McNerney in a different way. Gill would like voters to concentrate on the fact the Gill was raised in the Valley and has lived in the Valley essentially his whole life. Implicitly he is arguing that he would be a more accurate representative for that reason. Why necessarily should candidates’ positions on issues be the basis on which we decide between them?

  6. sherie salomonsson
    November 1, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    This isn’t very shocking because I am sure that we all know there is little truth to a lot of what each candidate has to to say. They all have self interests, and that is to get elected, lying or omitting the whole truth is just a reality of tools they use to get them there. I don’t think its right, I just believe it would be very hard to ever find someone that was truely and solely for the people at all times because each person wants good for themselves. Even if it means lying about their real beliefs.

    • Prof. Keith Smith
      November 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      Here: Dissembling (http://bit.ly/X4fH9B) is not lying (http://bit.ly/X4fNxQ). It is the job of candidates and their campaigns to try to win elections. They will (a) focus on whatever issues, dimensions of conflict, framing devices, and valence issues help them and (b) try to downplay those that don’t. If they don’t do this, they aren’t doing what they should do.

  7. Jesus Hernandez
    November 1, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    We vote for them for a reason, usually because they cohere to our positions. I’m not saying that we should dictate every candidate’s beliefs to our taste, that would be impossible; however, when a candidate becomes elected and acts contrary to previous presentation, something has to be done. I’m not solely focusing on these two candidates but rather on a larger scale.

    • Prof. Keith Smith
      November 1, 2012 at 2:47 pm

      Vote him out next time if he doesn’t do what you want. That’s what elections are for, no?

  8. Jesus Hernandez
    November 1, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Evidently :)

  9. Andrew Merenda
    November 1, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    This is an interesting article to say the least. I never would have thought that studies would suggest candidates’ positions do not affect how voters decide who to vote for. If these studies are correct, then what is the purpose of the attack ads, phone calls, and junk mail I have been bombarded with for a good month or more? For that reason, why would a candidate like Ricky Gill attempt to have the members of his campaign go to such great lengths to market the positions (or perceived positions) of their rival to voters?

  10. bklunk
    November 2, 2012 at 11:44 am

    A very simple way of thinking about campaigns is that a campaign tries to place possible voters in three groups: those who are inclined to vote for your candidate; those who are inclined to vote for your opponent; and those who can be persuaded to vote for one or the other. Campaigns target those who are inclined to vote for them to make as sure as they can that those people actually vote. They try at best to get the persuadables to vote for them, or at least NOT to vote for their opponent.

    But again, Gill has not tried to market his positions as much as he has tried to market the zip code of his residence. He knows that Republicans will generally vote for him, and he is trying to appeal to persuadables with the argument that they should prefer a candidate with life-long roots in the Central Valley.

  11. Monique
    November 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    I feel that this is just part of campaign/election process. Although it does suck for the voters, it is just the way things are in society and to complain about it will not change anything. Just because they are not being completely open with their views does not mean they are lying. On the flip-side if they were open about their views, I feel it would make things a lot easier and people would be more satisfied with who they elect. Although elections are built for us to remove people we are unhappy with and find people we hope will do a better job, if we new more about them and where they stand the likely hood of unsatisfactory would be slimmer than where it is now.

  12. Chris Runnels
    November 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    This is a pretty common happening at this point. There is no candidate that is completely in it for other people; they have their own interests like everyone else. Stretching the truth is nothing new for people in these positions, and if they told the whole truth there is probably no way they would be elected at all, let alone a conservative in a liberal-leaning district. I’m not sure why this is being put in the spotlight, since it seems rather normal.

    • Prof. Keith Smith
      November 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm

      You’re right that it is common and expected. I ran it because the data became available at that point and because neither candidate was staking out clear ideological positions. As a voter in the district, it was somewhat frustrating to look at the contest. The campaigns were almost entirely about valence issues (valley-ness vs. age and experience).

  1. November 10, 2012 at 9:45 am

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