McCain: The Measure of a Maverick

by Henry on October 22, 2008

Charles Doriean has written a new and topical paper with Scott Page seeking to measure the maverickyness of John McCain as a senator. They’ve asked me to publish it on CT – the PDF version is “here”:http://www.henryfarrell.net/mccain_maverick.pdf and a Flash embedded version is beneath the fold. In the authors’ description:

A maverick, … can be defined as someone who surprises us by voting against their party as often as they do, given their ideology. To determine whether a senator is a maverick (and how much of a maverick they are,) all we need to do is figure out how often we expect that senator to support their party, and then see how often they actually do support their party. The difference between the expectation and the reality can be called a “maverick measure.”

Under this definition, John McCain is very definitely a maverick. Indeed, he’s the seventh most mavericky Senator since 1877. However, he isn’t the most mavericky Senator in recent history; that honour goes to Lincoln Chafee, who comes in at number three. Also, McCain-ites who want to embrace this result should note that it is based on the same kind of measures of ideology (DW-Nominate scores) that have been “used to show”:http://voteview.ucsd.edu/Clinton_and_Obama.htm that Barack Obama, _contra_ the _National Journal_ and Republican mythology, is not (for better or worse) the most liberal Senator by a significant stretch.

Cross-posted at “The Monkey Cage”:http://www.themonkeycage.org

{ 21 comments }

1

HH 10.22.08 at 4:08 pm

Daily comment allowance exceeded.

2

anon 10.22.08 at 4:45 pm

I think you might mean the National Review, not the National Journal.

3

Righteous Bubba 10.22.08 at 5:07 pm

A maverick, then, can be defined as someone who surprises us by voting against their party as often as they do, given their ideology.

Why then use the word “maverick” instead of “erratic” or “loose cannon” or (my own bias) “tone-deaf”? I’ve always had the suspicion that McCain just does not understand what he is doing and how it plays and that his circumstances were fortunate enough that he got away with it. The national spotlight has now revealed not bold independence but impulsive ignorance.

4

MarkUp 10.22.08 at 5:43 pm

McMaverick was, as J J Walker might say:

And I was contrary to ordinary [whiney brat]
Even as a child [which I often still act like]
Fast freights made me wonder [why I became a pilot]
The full moon still drives me wild [howl, yeah I got the beat]
And stories do come true [if you marry Right]
You just got to live your life in episodes [aka throw a tantrum]
With one eye on a lady [and the blonde in the corner]
And one eye still on that open road [lest your own bus runeth you over]

Of course it is possible to vote against your team with a strategery that doesn’t coincide with those who cast the same vote.

5

Dan Kervick 10.22.08 at 5:44 pm

When this election is over, political scientists will spend years analyzing why a Republican senator with some genuine mavericky credentials, with a record of moderate crossover votes to which he can appeal, running in a chilly national bear market for Republicans at the end of a failed Republican presidency, nevertheless decided to eschew capturing the center and instead ran to the right! It’s astonishing.

Right now, the McCain campaign is trying to convince Americans that a tax policy that raises taxes on the top 5% in order to cut taxes on the rest of us is an evil Marxist monstrosity. They seem to be saying, “America, you don’t want a tax cut like this because it is a Socialist tax cut! You should decline, on anti-government, laissez faire, social Darwinist principal, any tax cut that doesn’t not also cut taxes for Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Steven Speilberg.” They have gone barking mad.

I suppose we will see this sort of phenomenon whenever we have a political collapse of a party’s agenda following a few years of electoral success for that party. Fattened on victories and weighed down by stubborn emotional commitments, the expectations of the party “base” suddenly find themselves shifted grossly out of line with what the majority of the country, and the practical recognition among the base voters of the need to re-orient those expectations and move toward the new center lags heavily behind the more rapid movement of non-base voters.

6

Henry 10.22.08 at 6:28 pm

I think you might mean the National Review, not the National Journal.

Nope. “Quod scripsi, scripsi”:http://nj.nationaljournal.com/voteratings/

7

Watson Aname 10.22.08 at 6:37 pm

nevertheless decided to eschew capturing the center and instead ran to the right! It’s astonishing. …

Well, you have to admit that’s some Maverick thinking, right there.

8

MQ 10.22.08 at 6:51 pm

This is a nice academic piece, but it’s not informative for voters. It unnecessarily confuses and obfuscates the basic issues in terms of the politics, through the transform from the simple “party unity score” to the “maverick” score. In a year when Republican policies are unpopular, McCain is using the maverick label to signal that he will not follow traditional Bush-ite conservative policies. In other words, that he’s willing to be a moderate. But what this paper is saying that is that *for a guy who is a hard right conservative*, McCain is unusually willing to occasionally depart from the orthodoxy. When you put those two things together McCain is not that unusually likely to deviate from conservative orthodoxy, he’s been far from the most unconventional Republican Senator over the last two Congresses. That is what voters want to know, the extra hocus-pocus with the “maverick” score is just going to confuse them.

political scientists will spend years analyzing why a Republican senator with some genuine mavericky credentials….nevertheless decided to eschew capturing the center and instead ran to the right! It’s astonishing.

No it’s not. McCain was forced to the right in order to get the nomination, and then he was stuck with the Bush tax policy. Since the nomination he’s been trying as hard as he possibly can to separate himself from Bush and the right-wing legacy of the past eight years. Actually been running a pretty smart campaign that way. At the same time, he’s throwing everything at the wall and seeing if it will stick, including the old cutting-taxes appeals.

9

c.l. ball 10.22.08 at 7:45 pm

I’ve never been able to get my head around how DW-NOMINATE sets the “ideal point” for the legislator. This would be crucial in the case of “mavericks” as those whose actual vote diverges unexpectedly from the their ideological “ideal position”

10

geo 10.22.08 at 9:13 pm

11

lemuel pitkin 10.22.08 at 9:21 pm

Henry-

What the paper does is regress legislators’ proportion of votes with their party on their DW-NOMINATE score and then call the error term their “maverick score”, correct?

That’s interesting, but I’m not sure it can be interpretted as they do.

In effect, what they are doing is lining up legislators in order of their DW-NOMINATE (conventionally understood as left-right) scores and then in order of the proportion of votes thehy cast with Democrats and Republicans. The ones whose postions on thet wo lsits are farthest apart, they call mavericks.

A divergence between the two scores *could* indicate a maverick in the sense of someone less subject to party pressure. But it could just as easily indicate someone who places a particualrly high salience on issues that do not fall along left-right lines as captured in DW-NOMINATE. In fact, it looks to me like what they are calling the “maverick score” is largely just a relabelling of the second (or higher) dimension of DW-NOMINATE. They note in a footnote that “McCain is notable for being having a very high score on DW-NOMINATE’s second dimension” but fail to take the logical next step.

12

John Quiggin 10.23.08 at 12:26 am

What Lemuel said.

13

derrida derider 10.23.08 at 12:34 am

I agree with Dan Kervick. McCain’s strategy is bewilderingly bad – he needed to tell the Repub base to go and do the other thing (as he has often done in the past) because that’s not where the votes are this election.

IMO Obama was quite beatable (Hillary had to stuff up big time in the primaries to lose to him). But McCain’s “honest, experienced and his own man” stance has been fatally undermined by his pandering to his party.

14

a 10.23.08 at 5:28 am

I’m sure McCain is all mavericky. As is his running mate, Tina Fey.

15

ogmb 10.23.08 at 11:01 am

First of all, good call on the DW-Nominate scores. It’s amazing how much academic output (and in extension, punditry) relies on methodologically unsound and intentionally biased interest group scores. Second, bad call on the party unity scores. They’re poorly conceived and if the idea is to graph partisanship (the propensity to vote with one’s party) over ideology (the propensity to vote in accordance with one’s position on the ideological spectrum), there are better measures out there. I created one for my dissertation that measures the cost of disagreeing with one’s own party (i.e. if my party is unified against a unified opposing party, my “maverick” vote is more costly than if both party caucuses are split). Third, I don’t think “unusually low partisanship given ideological position” alone is sufficient to characterize “maverick” voting. That could just be erratic voting, and imho “maverick” voting also requires a consistent ideological position that is not mapped on a unidimensional ideology spectrum. In fact Poole & Rosenthal, the inventors of DW-Nominate, have done that on their website (http://www.voteview.com) and found that McCain is in the center of the Republican caucus on their first and on the fringe on their second policy dimension. Fourth, the finding that Chaffee was the #1 maverick sets off an alarm that the authors might not have corrected for moderate bias (a moderate has many more possibilities to deviate from the party line than someone close to the party center). And fifth, I would argue that low leadership support is a stronger indicator of maverickness than low party unity support, and McCain does quite poorly on that account in that his support of GWB is almost unwavering does this mean we have to consider GWB a maverick too?). Good work though, and certainly a topic that’s worth a closer look.

16

ogmb 10.23.08 at 11:15 am

When this election is over, political scientists will spend years analyzing why a Republican senator with some genuine mavericky credentials, with a record of moderate crossover votes to which he can appeal, running in a chilly national bear market for Republicans at the end of a failed Republican presidency, nevertheless decided to eschew capturing the center and instead ran to the right! It’s astonishing.

I don’t think that’s much of a riddle. One of the few symmetry-breaking characteristics of the American electorate is that conservatives value loyalty (vs. liberals who value voice). McCain’s carefully crafted maverick image has alienated him from the conservative base, aka the 27%-ers (or 24%-ers now as GWB’s approval ratings have broken the Keyes threshold and are headed to for the Nixon horizon), because of a perceived lack of loyalty. He could have tried to move closer to the center with a Lieberman VP nomination, but moderate votes are notoriously expensive and fickle. So he clearly made a pitch to bring the 24%-ers in the fold and simply underestimated how much that would alienate his core support, mostly the original Republican majority that has turned away from Bush over the last four years.

17

joseph duemer 10.23.08 at 1:17 pm

I suppose everybody knows this, but a maverick was originally, in cowboy parlance, a lost cow.

18

emjaybee 10.23.08 at 5:39 pm

Joseph, Samuel Maverick was (allegedly) the name of a rancher who refused to follow standard practice and brand his cattle—some say so that he could claim any unbranded cow was his. “Mavericks” came to refer to unbranded cattle not part of a given herd, and eventually to people outside of the mainstream.

19

J Thomas 10.23.08 at 11:42 pm

That is, lost cows. No telling where they belong.

20

Cryptic Ned 10.24.08 at 12:12 am

Please, please, the word for the quality or state of being a maverick isn’t “maverickyness”, it’s mavericity. The mavericious maverick possessed great mavericity.

21

Michael Turner 10.24.08 at 7:04 am

According to Wikipedia (yeah, right, he says, having just fixed where it said in “Japanese asset bubble” that Krugman favored “hyperinflation” as the cure for the ensuing slump), “[Samuel] Maverick’s failure to brand his cattle had little to do with independent mindedness, but reflected his lack of interest in ranching.”

Remember that, the next time you read that McCain has been “branded a maverick”. Samuel Maverick was a classic free-rider — he didn’t pay to get his cattle branded, but had his cattle distinguished anyway by their lack of a brand.

Wikipedia goes on to say that Samuel Maverick was “the grandfather of U.S. Congressman Maury Maverick, who coined the term gobbledygook (1944).” How this got shortened to “gook” and applied to people McCain bombed, it doesn’t say.

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