Deb Fischer Was The Real Conservative

Did Sarah Palin get the pick right? Is Fischer the more conservative choice? The answer is yes. Fischer is in 96th percentile for conservatism in the officially nonpartisan Nebraska unicameral, and in the 93rd percentile of identified Republicans. That is, only 7 percent of Nebraska Republicans are more conservative than she in recent years. If her voting behavior was unchanged in the move from statehouse to Congress, she would be somewhere between Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Scott Johnson (R-WI) ideologically speaking. That’s pretty hard-core conservative.
Jon Bruning, on the other hand, is a moderate Nebraska conservative, located close to  the middle of identified Republicans in the statehouse. That’s still fairly conservative, something close to deposed Bob Bennett of Utah or Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina.

That’s University of Chicago political scientist Boris Shor.  More at his post.

9 Responses to Deb Fischer Was The Real Conservative

  1. Anonymous Coward May 18, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Has the dimension recovered from roll-calls in Nebraska become more ideological since Wright/Schaffner 2002? In 02 it wasn’t only not ideological; it was barely even related to legislators’ responses on the NPAT.

  2. Andrew Gelman May 18, 2012 at 10:13 am #

    I don’t understand. Boris writes:

    That is, only 7 percent of Nebraska Republicans are more conservative than [Fischer] in recent years. . . . Jon Bruning, on the other hand, is a moderate Nebraska conservative, located close to the middle of identified Republicans in the statehouse. . . .

    But then he concludes:

    Given how conservative of a state Nebraska is, I think Republican primary voters largely got this one right.

    How is it they “got this one right” if Fischer isn’t close to the median for Nebraska Republicans? Why wouldn’t it be getting it right to choose a candidate closer to their political views?

    • Boris Shor May 18, 2012 at 12:21 pm #


      Of course, I was being a little bit glib. But here are my thoughts on this:

      Yes, proximity is the yardstick, not directionality.

      I was talking about Nebraska *conservatives*, not merely Republicans. NE conservatives surely live on the right hand side of the median Nebraska Republicans. In that case, Fischer at the 93rd percentile is more proximate to the 75th percentile Republican than Bruning at the 46th!

      More broadly, of course, the calculation about whom to support is not only about proximity, but also about electability. So NE conservatives should weigh the potential benefits of a Fischer victory relative to Bruning by the probability that she wins relative to him.

      What goes into that probability of victory? Proximity implies she’d be a WORSE candidate than Bruning, relative to the general election median.

      On the other hand, partisanship dulls the effects of proximity. Jon Rogowski and I have a paper on this, showing that the proximity model works even in congressional elections, with the proviso that partisanship heavily moderates the effect. So, the dominance of Nebraska Republicans makes them somewhat insensitive to the difference between Fischer and Bruning. You can find the latest version of the paper here:

      On the other hand, while Bruning has fought and won statewide office, Fischer hasn’t. Kerry has, but a long time ago. She might be a terrible candidate. It’s a gamble that I alluded to in the last line of the post to a fear that conservatives in the state might have — what if she’s another Sharron Angle?

      So, what we have is a gamble. Fischer is probably less likely to win than Bruning against Kerry. But it appears that the payoff to winning is considerably higher for hard core conservatives in the state. If the drop in electability isn’t too bad (my guess, and that of preliminary evidence from the polls and markets), than she is the “right” choice for state conservatives.

  3. Andrew Gelman May 18, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    P.S. I’m bothered about the above headline, “Deb Fischer Was The Real Conservative.” Is it appropriate to define “real conservative” as the more conservative of any pair of candidates? This suggests an implicit directional rather than positional model of politics, the idea that the realest of conservative corresponds to the most extreme right-wing views. This seems to me to be a form of internalized polarization, the idea that to be a real liberal or a real conservative you have to be an extremist.

    • John Sides May 18, 2012 at 10:46 am #

      Headline is mine. Just trying to gin up some interest, at the apparent risk of introducing conceptual confusion.

      • Andrew Gelman May 18, 2012 at 10:49 am #

        I was just trying to be picky, at the risk of reinforcing stereotypes about methodologists!

      • Boris Shor May 18, 2012 at 12:28 pm #


        You have a long way to go before you get to New York Post style headlines! Keep working at it!