Still the Same? Revealed Preferences and Ideological Self-Perception Among Former Members of Congress

AuthorAdam J. Ramey,Jonathan D. Klingler,Gary E. Hollibaugh
Published date01 November 2022
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2022, Vol. 50(6) 781791
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X221106425
Still the Same? Revealed Preferences and
Ideological Self-Perception Among Former
Members of Congress
Adam J. Ramey
, Jonathan D. Klingler
, and Gary E. Hollibaugh, Jr
For years, countless scholars have posited the role of constituency and party pressure on legislatorsroll call voting records.
Indeed, though popular estimates of legislatorspreferences often come from roll call data (e.g., DW-NOMINATE scores), most
scholars are careful to note that these are not necessarily measures of ideology per se but rather of legislatorsrevealed
preferencesthat is, they ref‌lect both legislatorsideological commitments as well as the inf‌luence of party and constituency. In
this paper, we offer fairly robust evidence that existing measures of legislator behavior may be closer to their preferences than
once thought. Using a novel survey of former members of the House of Representatives, we leverage the severing of the
electoral connection and lack of institutional party pressure to show that legislatorspreferences as measured by existing
methods closely mirror their own perceptions of themselves.
congress, ideology, ideal points, elite surveys
Measuring elite ideology is a fundamentally diff‌icult
practice, yet is key to much modern political science re-
search on political institutions. In practice, at least within the
context of the United States Congress, doing so typically
relies on third-party observations from constituents (Aldrich
& McKelvey, 1977;Hollibaugh et al., 2013;Ramey, 2016)
or experts (Joesten & Stone, 2014;Maestas et al., 2014),
campaign f‌inance records (Bonica, 2013,2018,2019), as-
sumptions about preferences based on observed behavior
such as voting (Poole & Rosenthal, 1997), cosponsorship
an et al., 2009), or other indirect methods. In contrast,
direct surveys of members of Congress are exceedingly rare,
though one exception is the Political Courage Test (formerly
the National Political Awareness Test [NPAT]) distributed
by Vote Smart (formerly Project Vote Smart), which asks
candidates to rate their positions on a host of ideological
issues (Ansolabehere et al., 2001); however, in surveying
candidates for off‌ice, such measures are potentially prone to
social desirabiltiy bias or selective responsiveness from
those seeking to downplay controversial views.
Regardless of the source, when constructing ideological
measures, scholars must contend with numerous factors af-
fecting their reliability, including differential item response on
surveys (Aldrich & McKelvey,1977), the diff‌iculty of using roll
calls when the legislative agenda is subject to strong control
(Clinton & Meirowitz, 2001), committee gatekeeping (Snyder,
1992), the distorting effects of press releases and legislators
public behavior (Grimmer, et al., 2014), and general uncertainty
(and incorrect assumptions) about the underlying data-
generating process (Desposato et al., 2011).
Additionally, the resulting measurementshowever they
might be generatedare often criticized by scholars and public
intellectuals. For example, during the 2004 presidential election,
the National Journal rated Democratic candidate John Kerry as
the most liberalsenator in 2003 based on their analysis of 62
key votes. However, as Clinton and Jackman (2004) noted, this
was largely because Kerrys campaign took him away from the
Senate for all but the most consequential votes, thus making him
appear far more liberal than he might have otherwise appeared
had he been present for all votes. Another recent ex ample is
DW-NOMINATEs placement of the Squad(four relatively
young Democratic congresswomen of colorAlexandria
Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota,
Political Science, New York University, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Department of Political Science, University of Mississippi, University, MS,
Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Pittsburgh,
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Gary E. Hollibaugh, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs,
University of Pittsburgh, 230 South Bouquet Street, 3802 Wesley W,
Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15260, USA.

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