Recently the American Conservative Union released their ratings for members of Congress for 2017, and my God the Democratic Party has never looked more liberal. For 2017, the ACU found that the Senate’s average score for Democrats was an amazingly low 1% with the highest scorer being Joe Manchin (W.V.) with a mere 8%. The lowest Republican scorer was Susan Collins (Me.) with a 48% and the GOP average Senate score being 80%. The highest Democratic scorer in the House, with an average of 5% liberal average score, was Collin Peterson (Minn.) with a 26%. The average Republican House score was 82%, with the lowest scorers being Reps. John Faso (N.Y.) and Frank LoBiondo (N.J.) at 37%. Even compared to ten years ago the Democrats look much more liberal, but let’s go back a bit further for the purpose of shock value…to the year 1977. Star Wars was released, France was still performing executions via guillotine, disco was all the rage, and long lines to get gas were a thing thanks to price controls. It so happens that the parties were also a bit different.
A long time ago in a galaxy right, right here, the average conservative score for a House Democrat was 27%. You read that correctly…the average score was higher in 1977 than the highest score in 2017. The highest scoring Democrat was Larry McDonald of Georgia with 100%! Although he was quite an aberration being the most non-Democratic Democrat of all time, the runner-ups for most conservative Democrat in the House were:
Dave Satterfield (Va.) – 95%
Harold Runnels (N.M.) – 95%
Dan Daniel (Va.) – 92%
Richard Ichord (Mo.) – 92%
Omar Burleson (Tex.) – 92%
Sonny Montgomery (Miss.) – 91%
Not only did the Democrats have a perfect scorer, they had six ultra-conservative runner-ups. In the Senate, there were Democrats and Independent Harry Byrd Jr. of Virginia, who caucused with the Democrats. The highest scorer in that chamber was James Allen (Ala.) with an 89%, and the average was 23%. That average is 15 points higher than the highest Democratic score in the Senate in 2017. His runner-ups included Harry Byrd Jr. (Va.) with 82% and John Stennis (Miss.) with 72%.
The GOP’s average in 1977 was a 79%, so not that much different from today…but their lowest scorer was Charles Whalen (Ohio) with a mere 10%. The runner-ups?
Millicent Fenwick (N.J.) – 24%
Silvio Conte (Mass.) – 24%
Pete McCloskey (Calif.) – 33%
Newton Steers (Md.) – 33%
Margaret Heckler (Mass.) – 34%
Stewart McKinney (Conn.) – 38%
A bit of a more liberal pool of people in the House depressed the average GOP score slightly. The Senate, however, is more dramatic. The average score was a 64% and its lowest scorer was Jacob Javits (N.Y.) with a 0%! Runner-ups for such staunch liberalism were Ed Brooke (Mass.) and Clifford Case (N.J.) with 3%.
Major party changes would be occurring in the next ten years: by 1987, all of the top conservative Democrats were out of office or dead save for Montgomery and Stennis of Mississippi, the latter of whom would retire the following year aged 87. On the Republican side, only Conte would remain, with McKinney dying of AIDS that year. While it is clear that change definitely happened as there are no Democrats serving in Congress even close to as conservative as any of the people I listed and for Republicans there are at least no equivalents to Whalen or Javits, we must consider if the ACU’s standards for legislative performance rose since, particularly in the last few years. In all, it is interesting to see the extent of change in the parties, especially leading up to the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Federal Legislative Ratings, 1977. American Conservative Union.
Federal Legislative Ratings, 2017. American Conservative Union.