Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How do the candidates compare on the issues?

Sen. Tim Kaine has been described as a very good guy, and a good pick. Elsewhere, though, he's seen as "vanilla" and "middle of the road." Can we do some research to decide between these characterizations? Can we be more precise in characterizing Kaine's beliefs and how they match up with Clinton's views?

A few days ago, the Daily Star (tucson.com) asked "How do Clinton and Kaine compare on the issues?". I set out to answer that question in a quantitative way. I expanded the question to include how the two presidential candidates compare, how the two vice-presidential candidates compare, and how all four of them compare to the former progressive candidate, Bernie Sanders.

I used the characterizations of the candidates positions on brief issue statements (listed in the Star's article), for example, those statements that the candidates favor and those they oppose.

My similarity analyses resulted in two clusters of candidates; members within a cluster are similar to each other and different from members of the other cluster. The clusters are Clinton/Kaine/Sanders and Trump/Pence.

There is no evidence in my analyses to support those who would draw sharp distinctions between Clinton and Sanders; there is much they agree on. Likewise, there is no strong evidence to view Tim Kaine as substantially different in his views from either Clinton or Sanders. But the three Democrats differ markedly from both the Republican candidates.

The details of my research are described after the break.

To compare the various candidates for President and Vice President, I used the issue statements that appeared in the Daily Star and found additional issue statements at insidegov.com. These statements were short, generally less than six words, for example, "Higher taxes on the wealthy" and "Expand Obamacare." The candidates' views on these statements were labeled on those two web sites as "Strongly Favors", "Favors", "No opinion", "Opposes", "Strongly Opposes." Quantitative measures of similarity required that I recode these labels so I did that using a 5-point scale, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, respectively.

The quantitative measure I computed is the "cosine similarity". This measure ranges between +1 and -1. A +1 value means that the scores of two candidates being compared are identical for each issue. (A +1, for example, would result from comparing a candidate to him/herself.) A value of -1 means that the candidates are in exact disagreement on every issue. A zero means that the candidates are sometimes in agreement and sometimes in disagreement. My first analysis compared Clinton, Kaine, Sanders, and Trump on the 20 issues listed in the Star. The issues to which Pence responded were somewhat different so I could use only 13 for which I had data on Clinton, Kaine, Sanders, Trump, and Pence.

Here are the cosine similarity measures. Sanders and Clinton have much in common (+0.803) so it should not be surprising that each of them differs markedly from Pence, -0.969 and -0.881, and each of them differs from Trump, -0.537 and -0.455. Kaine is similar to both Sanders and Clinton, +0.641 and +0.646 but differs from Trump (-0.409) and Pence (-0.658). What about Trump and Pence? The similarity there is substantial (+0.574).

Here are the scores for each pair of candidates.

N=20 (without Pence)

HC TK +0.646

HC BS +0.803

HC DT -0.537

TK BS + 0.641

TK DT -0.409

BS DT -0.455

N=13 (with Pence)

HC TK +0.650

HC BS +0.839

HC DT -0.462

HC MP -0.881

TK BS +0.654

TK DT -0.360

TK MP -0.658

BS DT -0.431

BS MP -0.969

DT MP +0.574

Abortion is a woman's unrestricted right
Legally require hiring women & minorities
Comfortable with same-sex marriage (2)
Keep God in the public sphere (1)
EPA regulations are too restrictive
Make voter registration easier
Stricter punishment reduces crime
Absolute right to gun ownership
Expand ObamaCare
Vouchers for school choice
Prioritize green energy (3)
Marijuana is a gateway drug (4)
Stimulus better than market-led recovery
Higher taxes on the wealthy (5)
Pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens (6)
Privatize Social Security
Support & expand free trade
Expand the military
Support American Exceptionalism
Avoid foreign entanglements

Teacher-led prayer in public schools (1)
Stricter limits on political campaign funds
Same-sex domestic partnership benefits (2)
More federal funding for health coverage
Replace coal & oil with alternatives (3)
Mandatory Three Strikes sentencing laws
Drug use is immoral: enforce laws against it (4)
Make taxes more progressive (5)
Illegal immigrants earn citizenship (6)
US out of Iraq & Afghanistan
Footnotes in parens indicate issue statements for Pence that are very similar to those for the other candidates. For example, "Make taxes more progressive" was judged close enough to "Higher taxes on the wealthy."

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