The McCourt School of Public Policy and the Lugar Center unveiled the latest addition to their Bipartisan Index Dec. 15 with lifetime scores for senators from 1993 to 2014.
The Bipartisan Index, originally launched in May 2015, calculates a score for each senator based on an algorithm that takes into account how frequently they co-sponsor a bill with a member of the opposite party. The algorithm also accounts for whether a senator belongs to the majority or minority party, the volume of bipartisan bills and their relative importance.
The lifetime scores reflect how a senator behaved compared to a similar cohort of congressmen over the past 20 years, with a score of 0 indicating an exactly average performance in terms of bipartisan cooperation. Positive and negative scores indicate above-and below-average performances, respectively.
The data revealed escalating levels of partisanship in the Senate over the past two decades, as well as subpar bipartisan performance among all six presidential contenders who currently or previously served in the Senate.
The rankings catalogued the records of six presidential candidates who previously or currently served on the Senate, all of whom scored in the negative range. Of the 227 senators scored, Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) ranked at number 145, Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) at 156, Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) at 170, Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) at 217, Rand Paul (R-Ky.) at 222 and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) at 224.
Lugar Director of Policy Dan Diller said that the creation of the Bipartisan Index stemmed from the desire of the center, a nonprofit public policy institution, to quantifiably measure the scarcity of cooperation in Congress today. After developing the idea for the index, the center approached the McCourt School in Oct. 2014 to establish an academic partnership on the project.
“We live in a time of great contention,” Diller said. “Problems do not get solved because there is a level of combat inherent in American politics today that is just unhealthy. … From a political science view, you want some confirmation that there are measurable tendencies to say, ‘Yes, indeed, we have a problem.’”
Diller emphasized that although the chasm between Democrats and Republicans continues to expand, the updated index did not indicate that one party was more bipartisan than the other. In fact, of the 60 most bipartisan Senators, the results were evenly split among 30 Democrats and 30 Republicans. Within the 100 top-scoring Senators, there were 51 Democrats and 49 Republicans.
McCourt Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Mark Rom said that the presidential candidate results may be of little surprise to the public. Of the six former or current senators now running for presidential office, Rom said he found Clinton’s score the most unexpected.
“Clinton is surprising to find in the lower third of pack,” Rom said. “She paints herself as a centrist and she comes from a state with a tradition, governors like George Pataki and Rudy Giuliani, which shows New York is accepting of conservatives the way Texas is not very supportive of liberals.”
Rom stressed that while the rankings provide a useful resource for the electorate, they are unlikely to have a major influence on voters.
“I had discussion with the Lugar Center, and they believed posting these rankings would help the cause of bipartisanship, and I was concerned that it might hurt the cause,” Rom said. “Constituents might look at this and say, ‘You’re too moderate. You’re too bipartisan. I want somebody who is more ideologically pure.’ Ultimately, I think these kind of rankings provide only a kind of marginal impact on people’s decisions.”
Alex Coopersmith (COL ’19), who volunteers for the Clinton campaign and will help during the New Hampshire primary, said that he remains supportive of Clinton regardless of the rankings.
“It’s interesting that Hillary Clinton is that low because I remember when I was reading her book ‘Hard Choices’ about her time in the Senate, she touted her bipartisan efforts,” Coopersmith said. “She’s a progressive but also very pragmatic, and that is the kind of leader I want: someone who runs for president because they want to govern, not because they want to fire up a base.”
Former Chair of the Georgetown University College Republicans Amber Athey (COL ’16), who is gravitating toward either Rubio or Cruz as her preferred Republican nominee, said that bipartisanship is not necessarily a virtue in a politician.
“For me, I think spending is a big one, because just look at the size of the national debt right now,” Athey said. “That’s why I kind of appreciate that Cruz is more fringe, more anti-establishment, because it’s nice to see that someone is actively battling against the tricks that some senators use to deceive the public.”
Similarly, Caleb Weaver (SFS ’16), a co-founder of the Georgetown chapter of College Students for Bernie Sanders, said that his admiration for Sanders stemmed largely from the senator’s steadfast devotion to his vision.
“My model is not a candidate who says everyone can get along, everyone can agree on things, we can all work together all the time,” Weaver said. “When it comes to certain key issues, I admire someone who says, ‘Not everyone will like me, but if you like me, you should support me.’”
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