Hoyer Versus Murtha: A Quantitative Perspective

Ed Kilgore says Steny Hoyer should no more be purged from the congressional leadership than Howard Dean should be dumped as DNC Chair. I must confess that my instinctive sympathies lie with Hoyer's opponent, John Murtha. Ed also comments that, Murtha's recent strong anti-war stance aside, he's "been a bit to the right of Jimmy Dean Sausage on a host of issues over the years." Worth looking into, I would say. One interesting perspective on such questions is Keith Poole's DW Nominate dataset which eliminates the subjectivity inherent in interest-group rankings in favor of a "best fit" quantitative analysis of all congressional votes. Here's what I found.

In the 109th House of Representatives, Steny Hoyer was in a five-way tie (along with Reps. Harman, Israel, Kind, and McCarthy) for position 143 on the 1-438 scale, where higher numbers are further to the right. Murtha, by contrast, took position 185 -- only eighteen House Democrats were to Murtha's right. In the 108th House Murtha was in a three-way tie for position 135 (with Reps. Tauscher and Cardin) while Murtha was tied with Rep. Ortiz for position 176.5 -- this time 32 Democrats were to Murtha's right. In the 107th House, Hoyer took position 140 while Murtha was in position 197; 16 Democrats were to Murtha's right but to the left of all the Republicans, then there was Jim Traficant who was to the right of 28 of the Republicans.

After that, the formatting of the data gets more complicated so I stopped doing the analysis. The general pattern, however, seems reasonably clear. In terms of the DW Nominate dataset, Murtha is consistently to Hoyer's right. Hoyer is pretty consistently to the right of the median Democrat, in with a bloc of people you might characterize as northern moderates. Murtha is further to the right than this bloc, in with a group composed mostly of southerners.

Obviously, this isn't the only perspective one might want to adopt and, certainly, this kind of quantitative metric fails (by design) to note that some votes are more important than others and also that voting records don't capture everything relevant about ideology. It does seem to be the case, however, that there's no clear reason to regard Murtha as more progressive than Hoyer. A lot of intra-caucus politics, at the end of the day, have more to do with hard-to-disentangle personal ties rather than ideology -- Murtha and Pelosi have been close for a long time while Hoyer and Pelosi have been rivals. For example, the candidate for Whip associated with Hoyer and Rahm Emanuel, Diana DeGette is, as best I can tell, a raging liberal by pretty much any standard .