Senator Robert Dole (R-KS) and Polarization in the US Senate

In a recent article on gridlock in the US Senate, Senate historian Don Ritchie remarked that: “Part of the shift in the Republican Party means that old-time senators like [Senator Robert] Dole who were to the right of their party when they came here are to the left of their party now because the party has shifted so much beneath them. This all reflects that a bit.”

Mr. Ritchie’s observation is backed up by the use of DW-NOMINATE Common Space scores to compare Senators’ ideological positions over time. The DW-NOMINATE Common Space procedure estimates a constant ideal point for legislators over their entire congressional career: a -1 represents the most liberal position, +1 the most conservative position, and 0 the center between the two. Using this metric, Senator Robert Dole’s DW-NOMINATE Common Space score is 0.338.

As shown in the plots below, when Senator Dole first entered the Senate in 1969 (the 91st Senate), he was more conservative than 61% of his Republican colleagues. When he left the Senate 27 years later to focus on the 1996 presidential campaign, he was — as Senate Majority Leader — slightly to the left of the median Republican Senator in the 104th Senate, more conservative than only 44% of Republican Senators. The shift is most dramatic when we compare Senator Dole’s ideological position to the Republican caucus in the most recent, 112th Senate. If Senator Dole served in that Senate, he would be among the most moderate Republicans, less conservative than 79% of Republican Senators.

Indeed, this would place Senator Dole among the group of 8 Republican Senators who voted for ratification of the UN Treaty on Disabled Rights. Senator Dole returned to the Senate floor last December to advocate for the treaty.

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