A special election to replace Representative John McHugh (R) is being held in the conservative 23rd District located in northern New York State. State Assemblywoman Deirdre (Dede) Scozzafava is the Republican candidate, attorney Bill Owens is the Democratic candidate, and there’s a prominent Conservative party candidate in Douglas Hoffman (minor parties are much more important in New York than other states for a variety of reasons).

Scozzafava has been assailed from the right for being far too liberal. For example, the libertarian Wall Street Journal this morning wrote of her that:

Democrats want to portray this race as a familiar moderate-conservative GOP split, but the real issue is why Ms. Scozzafava is a Republican at all. She has voted for so many tax increases that the Democrat is attacking her as a tax raiser. She supported the Obama stimulus, and she favors “card check” to make union organizing easier, or at least she did until a recent flip-flop.She has run more than once on the line of the Working Families Party, which is aligned with Acorn. Her voting record in Albany puts her to the left of nearly half of the Democrats in the assembly. She also favors gay marriage, which is to the left of Mr. Obama.

The conservative National Review writes:

In spite of its having gone for Obama in 2008, the district’s history suggests that it is basically conservative; Ms. Scozzafava is basically not. Boy, is she not: Not only pro-choice and in favor of homosexual marriage — common if distasteful concessions to the secular liberals’ agenda — she also supports some of the most odious items on the Left’s wish-list, including the “card check” initiative that would put a big cudgel in the hands of Big Labor while effectively disenfranchising millions of American workers who may not desire to become Teamsters, SEIU members, or similar. She signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge to oppose tax hikes but immediately declared that she was not bound by having done so. It is no surprise that she is supported by the public-employees unions, ACORN — and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga. (Really.)

A recent bizarre incident recently occurred when John McCormack, a writer at the conservative Weekly Standard, had to answer to the cops after asking about Scozzafava’s issue positions.

It was a fairly typical evening–until the speech ended and someone with Scozzafava’s campaign  called the police. On me.

Despite the laundry list of liberal issue positions held by Scozzafava, my research with Princeton’s Nolan McCarty on ideology in American state legislatures shows that the Assemblywoman is actually a conservative Republican. Wait for it. Wait for it… In New York.

Her ideological “common space” score is 0.02. These scores, similar but far superior to interest group ratings, put state legislators around the country on the same scale with each other, as well as with members of Congress. Liberals have lower scores; conservatives higher ones.

The most liberal legislator in New York state from that served anytime between 1996-2003 is Democratic Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell of Manhattan (Rosie O’Donnell’s brother), with a score of -2.9. One of the most conservative is Republican Robert DiCarlo of Staten Island, with a score of 1.64. DiCarlo was a titled a “maverick” Republican (!) for his conservative views on issues such as abortion by the New York Times.

Scozzafava’s score puts her in the 58th percentile of her party, which makes her slightly more conservative than the average Republican legislator in Albany, so she’s a conservative in her party. For example, she’s more conservative than James Tedisco, who lost a special election to succeed Kirsten Gillenbrand in the 20th District (score: -.22 and in the most liberal fifth of the party). In the legislature as a whole, she’s in the 83rd percentile, which makes her a conservative in Albany in general. Compare her, say, to Republican Thomas Morahan of the 38th Senate District (Rockland County, just across the border from the New Jersey town where I went to high school). He scores a very liberal -0.54, or in the most liberal 2% of his party. No wonder that his party affiliations include the Working Families Party, which is closely associated with organized labor (and ACORN). So she’s no Morahan.

But, of course, she’s a New York Republican and conservative. And if you thought that Republican equals conservative, and Democratic equals liberal, you’d be pretty far off when looking at America’s 50 state legislatures. New York’s Republicans (along with Massachusetts’, Connecticut’s, Hawaii’s, and New Jersey’s) are the most liberal in the country, so much so that Democrats in Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Carolina are all more conservative on average.

Here’s a picture of where New York rates ideologically relative to the other states and Congress over the past decade. The grey lines represent, for comparison, the ideology of Congressional Democrats and Republicans in approximately the same time period.


The New York legislature is one thing, and Congress is quite another. If Scozzafava were to win the election, she’d be replacing Representative John McHugh. He scores at 0.4, which is pretty liberal for a Republican (hence his nomination by President Obama), but far more conservative than Scozzafava.

American political parties are wild, diverse beasts, and New York is a perfect example of that. Which makes doing research in this area lots of fun.

Update: It’s quite heartening that this post has made its rounds in the blogosphere. But, a note of caution. The data that lie behind this post and form the basis for the chart are preliminary and subject to change as we update our work.