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Refuting the Big Lie that There Is No Difference Between Democrats and Republicans

Benjamin Iglar-Mobley and Valerie Iglar-Mobley
GoreWon2000@netzero.net

"There is no difference between Democrats and Republicans."

We have heard this line repeated so often that it has become nearly axiomatic. Droves of people stay home on Election Day, discouraged by the meaninglessness of choosing between equally unappealing candidates. "Tweedledee versus Tweedledum," is their refrain. Third-party candidates dismiss worries about "spoiling" elections as inconsequential when the major parties offer indistinguishable alternatives.

But is that charge true?

We've heard it repeated endlessly, but we haven't seen anyone undertake any kind of systematic analysis to verify its accuracy. That statement has been presented as self-evident, with at most anecdotal evidence offered in its support, but a logical response would be to examine the positions and conduct of the parties to really see if they truly are as indistinguishable as claimed.

The most obvious measure of the parties is their legislative record. Votes in Congress are a matter of public record, and can be reviewed to determine if they reveal any differences. Obviously, such a review would be a Herculean effort, but much of that work has already been done. Special interest groups regularly review votes in Congress to grade individual Congressmembers for how much they vote in accordance with the wishes of those groups. Those groups identify votes that come before Congress on matters pertinent to their aims, and they make it known which way they wish Congressmembers to vote (for or against) according to their own interests. Those groups can then tally percentage ratings for Congressmembers, from zero to one hundred, to indicate to what extent an individual office-holder has voted in accord with that particular group's desires during a given legislative session. Those ratings then are made available to the public by those groups as a way of "grading" the official conduct of members of Congress.

Not only have interest groups already provided ratings of individual Congressmembers voting patterns, but the full spectrum of those ratings have been pulled together onto one Web site, Vote-Smart.org. Vote-Smart is a non-partisan Web site offering information about office-holders, candidates, legislation, and special interest groups.

With those individual ratings so readily available, it's a small matter to separate them out between the two parties and collect them into average ratings for the parties according to those interest groups. Those numbers will tell us to what degree Democrats and Republicans on average vote with the wishes of those groups. Comparing the results across the entire array of special interest groups that rate votes in Congress this way, we can gain a general picture of the positions of the parties on these issues as measured by the most meaningful yardstick there can be: how they vote.

Surprisingly, this fairly obvious meta-analysis has not been done before, despite the ubiquity of the complaint it can answer. To obtain the ratings for the parties as described here, and so provide some answer to this question, the most recent reports for every special interest group listed at Vote-Smart.org were reviewed and aggregated into averages for the two parties according to each group's individual ratings of Congressmembers.

Of particular interest is whether the average ratings for the parties fall above or below fifty percent for each group-- that is, whether the party votes with the wishes of a given special interest group more often than not or whether the party votes against that group's wishes more often than it does with them.

After combining these ratings in this way, the question then becomes whether any difference can be seen in the way the two parties vote? Do the numbers reveal any useful information about the parties? Is there a reason for those disillusioned with the political process to hope?

And the answer? A profound, emphatic, resounding, definite: YES!

Yes, there is a huge, mountainous, unmistakable difference between the parties in the way they vote on the issues. 107 different ratings have been listed on Vote-Smart.org, providing 107 different cuts across the legislative record according to various special interest slants. Of those, fully 93 found the parties on opposite sides of their particular issues-- 93 of those 107 had the parties stratified on either side of the fifty percent mark, one voting with the group while the other voted against.

Furthermore, not only did an overwhelming majority of groups find the parties to be on opposite sides of their issues, but the magnitude of difference between their positions is considerable. The average spread between the ratings that any group assigned to the parties was 55 percentage points. The parties do not simply differ on the issues-- they are widely disparate in how they vote.

What's most instructive are the particular groups that found the parties to be voting with their wishes. Looking at those groups together with their self-described missions produces a composite view of the positions of the parties.

The most glaring disparity between the parties is regarding organized labor. Sixteen different labor unions provide ratings of Congressmembers' voting, and all 16-- every last one-- found that the Democratic Party voted with the wishes of their union on average while the Republican Party voted against them. In fact, the most common rating individual Democrats in Congress received from labor unions was a perfect 100 percent-- voting with that union every time. In stark contrast, the most common rating any individual Republican received was a perfect zero, never voting with that union even once. (For example, of the 261 Democrats in Congress that the United Food and Commercial Workers union rated in 2001, 206 received a perfect 100 percent rating. In contrast, of the 269 Republicans in Congress the UFCW rated in 2001, 232 received an unqualified zero.) It's as if the Republican Party has declared outright warfare on working people in this country.

"But what about business?" might come the rejoinder. When that general charge has been expressed more narrowly, it translates to: "The Democrats and the Republicans are just two branches of the Business Party."

Not true.

Five different special interest groups are listed as representing business on Vote-Smart.org, and all five found the Republicans to vote with their interests while the Democrats vote against them.

Overall, 56 groups found the Democrats voting with their interests against the Republicans, while only 24 found the opposite of the Republicans voting theirs against the Democrats, so by dint of raw numbers alone the Democrats are clearly the more broad-based, pluralistic party. One could say the Democrats are more democratic in whose interests they represent. (Those numbers total lower than 93 because some groups furnish multiple ratings on different issues.) But the types of groups represented by the parties are even more informative.

As demonstrated by their voting record, Democrats are the party of working people, of women, of seniors, of African-Americans, of Hispanics, of consumers. Democrats are the advocates for civil rights, for protecting the environment, for reproductive freedom, for gun control, for education, for public health, and for humanitarian social policy.

And the Republicans? The Republicans are the party of big business. They're conservative. Republicans stand for cutting taxes, and cutting government services. Perhaps they can best be defined by what they're against rather than what they're for: they are against all those groups and all those social aims that the Democrats serve. However much they might protest this characterization, their voting record speaks for itself.

So when someone tries to cloud the debate with that tired claim of "no difference," point out that the legislative record has quite definitively disproved that charge; there is a world of difference between the parties. When someone criticizes voting Democratic as a "sellout," reply that a vote for the Democrats is a principled vote in service of the highest of ideals.

* * *

INTEREST GROUPS SERVED BY DEMOCRATIC VOTES

The following are groups who rated the Democrats as voting with their interests while the Republicans voted against them, along with the year(s) which the ratings cover, the group's categorization at Vote-Smart.org, and their web site.

American Federation of Government Employees, 2001
(labor) http://www.AFGE.org
Democrat average rating: 93
Republican average rating: 8

American Federation of Labor - Congress of Industrial Organizations, 2001
(labor) http://www.AFLCIO.org
Dem 93
Rep 16

American Federation of State, County, & Municipal Employees, 2001
(labor) http://www.AFSCME.org
Dem 89
Rep 3

American Federation of Teachers, 2001
(labor) http://www.AFT.org
Dem 93
Rep 11

American Postal Workers Union, 2001
(labor) http://www.APWU.org
Dem 92
Rep 8

Communications Workers of America, 2000
(labor) http://www.CWA-union.org
Dem 88
Rep 10

International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, 2001
(labor) http://www.IAMAW.org
Dem 92
Rep 18

International Association of Fire Fighters, 1999-2000
(labor) http://www.IAFF.org
Dem 93
Rep 24

International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, 2001
(labor) http://www.boilermakers.org
Dem 97
Rep 40

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 2001
(labor) http://www.IBEW.org
Dem 88
Rep 32

Service Employees International Union, 2001
(labor) http://www.SEIU.org
Dem 87
Rep 23

Transportation Communications Union, 2001
(labor) http://www.TCunion.org
Dem 97
Rep 41

The Teamsters, 2000
(labor) http://www.teamsters.org
Dem 77
Rep 9

United Auto Workers, 2001
(labor) http://www.UAW.org
Dem 85
Rep 13

United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers, 2001
(labor) http://www.ranknfile-UE.org
Dem 78
Rep 7

United Food & Commercial Workers, 2001
(labor) http://www.UFCW.org
Dem 91
Rep 4

American Association of University Women, 2001
(women) http://www.AAUW.org
Dem 95
Rep 10

National Organization for Women, 1998
(women) http://www.NOW.org
Dem 77
Rep 11

Alliance for Retired Americans, 2001
(seniors) http://www.RetiredAmericans.org
Dem 88
Rep 1

National Association of Retired Federal Employees, 1999-2000
(seniors) http://www.NARFE.org
Dem 97
Rep 27

National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, 1999-2000
(seniors) http://www.NCPSSM.org
Dem 93
Rep 31

National Council of Senior Citizens, 2000
(seniors) http://www.NCSCinc.org
Dem 91
Rep 8

American Civil Liberties Union, 2001
(civil liberties) http://www.ACLU.org
Dem 72
Rep 14

Human Rights Campaign, 2001
(civil rights, civil liberties) http://www.HRC.org
Dem 87
Rep 14

Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, 1999-2000
(civil rights, civil liberties) http://www.CivilRights.org
Dem 89
Rep 27

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2001
(civil rights, civil liberties) http://www.NAACP.org
Dem 85
Rep 24

National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, 2000
(civil rights, civil liberties) http://www.UnidosForAmerica.org/NHLA.html
Dem 90
Rep 29

American Lands Alliance, 2000
(environment) http://www.AmericanLands.org
Dem 74
Rep 11

Comprehensive US Sustainable Population, 1999-2000
(environment) http://www.UScongress-enviroscore.org
Dem 64
Rep 24

League of Conservation Voters, 2001
(environment) http://www.LCV.org
Dem 81
Rep 15

National Parks Conservation Association, 1999-2000
(environment) http://NPCA.org/flash.html
Dem 84
Rep 48

US Public Interest Research Group, 2001
(environment, consumers) http://www.PIRG.org
Dem 75
Rep 16

Consumer Federation of America, 2000
(consumers) http://www.ConsumerFed.org
Dem 83
Rep 40

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, 1987-1999
(gun issues) http://www.BradyCampaign.org
Dem 80
Rep 21

Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, 1999-2000
(gun issues) http://www.GunFree.org
Dem 56
Rep 42

Handgun Control, Inc., 1993-1994
(gun issues)
Dem 79
Rep 23

Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, 1999-2000
(crime) http://www.CUREnational.org
Dem 62
Rep 27

National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, 2001
(abortion, family planning) http://www.NARAL.org
Dem 80
Rep 10

Planned Parenthood, 2001
(abortion, family planning) http://www.PlannedParenthood.org
Dem 82
Rep 12

AIDS Action Council, 2001
(health) http://www.AIDSaction.org
Dem 93
Rep 42

American Public Health Association, 2001
(health) http://www.APHA.org
Dem 90
Rep 9

Children's Defense Fund, 2000
(family, children) http://www.ChildrensDefense.org
Dem 88
Rep 44

National Education Association, 2001
(education) http://www.NEA.org
Dem 95
Rep 30

US Student Association, 1995-1996
(education) http://www.USstudents.org
Dem 78
Rep 9

Bread for the World, 2000
(social policy) http://www.bread.org
Dem 96
Rep 18

Friends Committee on National Legislation, 2001
(social policy) http://www.FCNL.org
Dem 71
Rep 16

National Association of Social Workers, 1999-2000
(social policy) http://www.SocialWorkers.org
Dem 86
Rep 16

NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, 2000
(social policy) http://www.NETWORKlobby.org
Dem 74
Rep 18

Zero Population Growth, 2001
(social policy) http://www.ZPG.org
Dem 83
Rep 17

Americans for Democratic Action, 2001
(liberal) http://www.ADaction.org
Dem 87
Rep 9

Public Citizen's Congress Watch, 2001
(liberal) http://www.citizen.org
Dem 85
Rep 7

National Committee for an Effective Congress, 2001
(liberal) http://www.NCEC.org
Dem 85
Rep 4

Humane Society, 2000
(animal issues) http://www.HSUS.org
Dem 70
Rep 31

National Farmers Organization, 1991-1992
(farm) http://www.NFO.org
Dem 68
Rep 37

Campaign for UN Reform, 2000-2001
(foreign policy) http://www.CUNR.org
Dem 83
Rep 28

Council for a Livable World, 1999-2000
(defense, foreign policy) http://www.CLW.org
Dem 54
Rep 17

* * *

INTEREST GROUPS SERVED BY REPUBLICAN VOTES

The following are groups that rated the Republicans as voting their wishes while the Democrats voted against their wishes, on average. That should not be taken to mean that these groups make the case that Democrats do not reflect the popular will in their Congressional voting. Take a look at the positions advocated by these groups as described on their web sites and be grateful that the Democrats stand as a bulwark against these groups' agendas. Nonetheless, these ratings still serve to confirm the conclusion of the great difference between the parties.

Associated Builders and Contractors, 2000
(business) http://www.ABC.org
Dem 10
Rep 93

Business-Industry PAC, 2001
(business) http://www.BIPAC.org
Dem 16
Rep 89

National Federation of Independent Business, 2001
(business) http://www.NFIB.com
Dem 21
Rep 96

Small Business Survival Committee, 2000
(business) http://www.SBSC.org
Dem 15
Rep 86

US Chamber of Commerce, 2000
(business) http://www.USchamber.com
Dem 49
Rep 81

Americans for Tax Reform, 2001
(taxes) http://www.ATR.org
Dem 13
Rep 91

Citizens Against Government Waste, 2000
(taxes) http://www.CAGN.org
Dem 16
Rep 75

Competitive Enterprise Institute - budget, 1994
(taxes) http://www.CEI.org
Dem 12
Rep 78

Competitive Enterprise Institute - deregulation, 1994
(taxes) http://www.CEI.org
Dem 30
Rep 85

Competitive Enterprise Institute - spending, 1994
(taxes) http://www.CEI.org
Dem 13
Rep 66

Competitive Enterprise Institute - taxes, 1994
(taxes, spending) http://www.CEI.org
Dem 14
Rep 95

Competitive Enterprise Institute - totals, 1994
(economic policy) http://www.CEI.org
Dem 15
Rep 72

Competitive Enterprise Institute - environment, 1994
(environment) http://www.CEI.org
Dem 17
Rep 74
[Note: This designation is misleading. This group is not interested in protecting the environment so much as exploiting it for profit.]

National Tax Limitation Committee, 1999-2000
(taxes, spending)
Dem 17
Rep 78

National Taxpayers Union, 2001
(taxes, spending) http://www.NTU.org
Dem 15
Rep 67

Liberty Lobby, 1999
(populist)
Dem 31
Rep 60
[Note: This group is miscategorized. Their aims-- lower taxes, less government spending, "protective" immigration laws-- are more in keeping with conservatism than populism.]

League of Private Property Voters, 2001
(property) http://www.LandRight.org
Dem 16
Rep 78

Gun Owners of America, 2001
(gun issues) http://www.GunOwners.org
Dem 12
Rep 54

National Rifle Association, 1993-1994
(gun issues) http://www.NRA.org
Dem 19
Rep 81

Center for Security Policy, 1997
(defense, foreign policy) http://www.security-policy.org/latest.html
Dem 28
Rep 81

National Right to Life Committee, 1999-2000
(abortion, family planning) http://www.NRLC.org
Dem 19
Rep 88

American Conservative Union, 2001
(conservative) http://www.conservative.org
Dem 17
Rep 84

Family Research Council, 2001
(conservative) http://www.FRC.org
Dem 17
Rep 72

John Birch Society, 2001
(conservative) http://www.JBS.org
Dem 18
Rep 69

Republican Liberty Caucus, 2000
(conservative) http://www.RLC.org
Dem 28
Rep 69

Republican Liberty Caucus - social policy, 1999
(social policy) http://www.RepublicanLibertyCaucus.com
Dem 25
Rep 67

Christian Coalition, 1999-2000
(Christian family issues) http://www.CC.org
Dem 18
Rep 87

Concerned Women For America, 2000
(women) http://www.CWFA.org
Dem 34
Rep 84
[Note: This group is deceptively named, being more accurately titled the "Conservative Women of America" as their aims are more organized around conservatism than focused on the particular interests of women. For example, it's unclear why public prayer is an item of particular concern to women as a group.]

The 60 Plus Association, 1999-2000
(seniors) http://www.60plus.org
Dem 29
Rep 89

United Seniors Association, 2000
(seniors) http://www.UnitedSeniors.org
Dem 25
Rep 93

[Note: These last two groups are also more accurately described as conservative groups rather than groups serving the particular interests of seniors. Insofar as their aims address the interests of seniors, they advocate against government programs to assist seniors and in favor of privatization-- Enron-style retirement plans, for instance.]

(Considering all these misleading interest group names, perhaps another conclusion to be drawn from this study is that Republican special interest groups often attempt to confuse the public and cloud the issues by presenting themselves with populist-sounding names to disguise anti-populist agendas.)

* * *

NATIONAL JOURNAL

The National Journal, a political analysis forum, provides the circular ratings of Congressmembers' votings against each other, rating Congressmembers as more or less liberal or conservative than each other. This kind of rating doesn't reflect an evaluation of voting in accordance with any group's wishes, but it can still inform this meta-analysis of differences between the parties. If it's true that the parties vote the same on the issues, then their individual members would be evenly divided across the spectrum of voting more or less liberal or conservative than each other, and so the average for the parties would be around 50 percent and 50 percent on each of these rating scales. If, at the other end of the spectrum, the parties were perfectly stratified such that every Democratic member of Congress voted "more liberally"-- in whatever way the National Journal staff define that-- than any Republican member of Congress, then those averages would be 75 percent for Democrats and 25 percent for Republicans on each liberal scale, vice versa on each conservative scale. (Actually, these numbers would be slightly higher because Congress is not evenly divided.) Insofar as the averages of the National Journal's ratings for Congressmembers of the two parties approach these two types of value sets, that will tend to support that particular answer to this question. And as it turns out, the National Journal's ratings come very close to the "perfectly stratified" schema of average ratings, further supporting the conclusion of the parties being markedly different from each other.

National Journal - liberal on economic policy, 2001
(National Journal) http://www.NationalJournal.com
Dem 75
Rep 24

National Journal - liberal on foreign policy, 2001
(National Journal) http://www.NationalJournal.com
Dem 73
Rep 23

National Journal - liberal on social policy, 2001
(National Journal) http://www.NationalJournal.com
Dem 72
Rep 22

National Journal - conservative on economic policy, 2001
(National Journal) http://www.NationalJournal.com
Dem 24
Rep 73

National Journal - conservative on foreign policy, 2001
(National Journal) http://www.NationalJournal.com
Dem 24
Rep 71

National Journal - conservative on social policy, 2001
(National Journal) http://www.NationalJournal.com
Dem 24
Rep 68

* * *

INTEREST GROUPS THAT DO NOT RATE THE PARTIES IN OPPOSITION

In the interest of fairness and honesty, presented here are the ratings from groups that did not find the parties to come down on opposite sides of their voting wishes, with one party voting for them and the other against. Here the parties do not stand in opposition. Nonetheless, if a critic wanted to use these groups' ratings to make the case that the parties are no different, she or he would first need to show why the issues raised by these few groups here outweigh the vast differences presented above.

American Farm Bureau Federation, 2000
(agriculture) http://www.FB.org
Dem 50
Rep 84

Competitive Enterprise Institute - agriculture, 1994
(agriculture) http://www.CEI.org
Dem 50
Rep 37

National Farmers Union, 1999-2000
(farm) http://www.NFU.org
Dem 81
Rep 53

American Immigration Control - Senate, 1996-1998
(immigration) http://www.ImmigrationControl.com
Dem 13
Rep 7

Federation for American Immigration Reform (Senate), 1996
(immigration) http://www.FAIRUS.org
Dem 31
Rep 35

Concord Coalition, 2000
(taxes) http://www.ConcordCoalition.org
Dem 34
Rep 32

Taxpayers for Common Sense, 2000
(taxes, spending) http://www.taxpayer.net
Dem 34
Rep 36

Cato Institute / Center for Trade Policy Studies, 1997-1998
(trade) http://www.FreeTrade.org
Dem 24
Rep 43

Cato Institute - subsidies, 1999-2000
(trade) http://www.FreeTrade.org
Dem 13
Rep 33

Cato Institute - trade, 1999-2000
(trade) http://www.FreeTrade.org
Dem 60
Rep 65

Competitive Enterprise Institute - trade, 1994
(trade) http://www.CEI.org
Dem 63
Rep 60

Information Technology Industry Council, 2000
(technology) http://www.ITIC.org
Dem 64
Rep 88

National Association of Counties, 2000
(government issues) http://www.NACO.org
Dem 71
Rep 54

Peace Action, 2001
(defense, foreign policy) http://www.webcom.com/peacenet
Dem 37
Rep 6

Vietnam Veterans of America, 2001
(veterans) http://www.VVA.org
Dem 73
Rep 73

. . .

(The information contained in this report is available in the public record, but it was drawn from http://www.Vote-Smart.org. Vote-Smart has provided an invaluable service to voters and activists by compiling comprehensive information about elected officials and special interest groups onto their Web site.)

 


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