McCain's ACU Ratings

Senator John McCain's lifetime rating of 82.3% from the American Conservative Union is often cited as proof that he is conservative.  Here is a closer look at that 82.3 rating.

First, a rating of 82.3 is not really that high.  It puts Senator McCain in 39th place among senators serving in 2006, the latest year for which the ACU has its ratings posted online.  For that most recent year in particular, McCain scored only 65, putting him in 47th place for that year.  Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), for example, scored 64 and 75, respectively, in 2006.

Generally, McCain has voted less conservatively in more recent years.  His average for 1990-97 was 88, but was only 74 for 1998-2006.  Below are his yearly ratings since 1990.


Year

ACU Rating

2006

65

2005

80

2004

72

2003

80

2002

72

2001

68

2000

81

1999

77

1998

68

1997

80

1996

95

1995

91

1994

96

1993

83

1992

85

1991

86

1990

87


So where did McCain differ from the ACU?  The big areas were taxes, campaign finance reform, the environment and, most recently, immigration.  There was also a smattering of support for trial lawyers; federal intervention in health, education, safety or voting issues; internationalism; and some social issues.  He was more consistently conservative on spending and defense issues.  The list below summarizes all his votes since 1998 that differed from the ACU's position.


Year and Issue

Vote Margin

2006, Taxes

50-50

2006, Immigration

50-49

2006, Immigration

62-36

2006, Social: Same Sex Marriage

49-48

2006, Native Hawaiian Govt.

56-41

2006, International: Iran sanctions

54-45

2006, Immigration: Border Fence

71-29

2006, Social: Embryonic Stem Cells

63-37

2005, Taxes

51-49

2005, Environment: Climate Change

60-38

2005, Environment: mercury emissions

51-47

2005, Environment: ANWR

51-48

2005, Taxes: Oil & gas development

51-48

2004, Spending/Social: School vouchers

65-28

2004, Regulation: seat belts

57-41

2004, Legal Reform: Gun manufacturers

70-27

2004, Spending: Unemployment

58-39

2004, Taxes

51-48

2004, Spending: Education of disabled

56-41

2004, Legal Reform: Torts

44-43

2003, Taxes

50-50

2003, Taxes

50-50

2003, Taxes

51-49

2003, Environment: Kyoto

55-43

2002, Voter fraud, state control

55-40

2002, Regulation: SUV fuel efficiency

56-44

2002, CFR

60-40

2002, Taxes: death tax

55-44

2001, CFR

69-31

2001, CFR

60-40

2001, CFR

57-43

2001, Taxes: marriage penalty

73-27

2001, Taxes: capital gains

51-47

2001, Taxes

58-33

2001, Taxes/Health: med. savings accounts

53-45

2001, Legal Reform: torts

54-42

2000, Taxes

56-44

2000, International: Troops in Kosovo

53-47

2000, CFR: Brad Smith on FEC

65-35

2000, CFR

57-42

1999, International: Troops in Kosovo

N/A

1999, Health: managed care

N/A

1999, Spending

N/A

1999, CFR

N/A

1998, Health: surgeon general confirm.

75-23

1998, CFR

50-47

1998, CFR

50-48

1998, CFR

51-48

1998, Taxes: tobacco

72-26

1998, Taxes: tobacco

57-42

1998, International: Troops in Bosnia

65-31

1998, International: IMF lending

74-19



Another piece of information from the list above is that many of the votes were close.  In one third of these votes, a swing of only two senators would have changed the outcome.  In over two thirds, a swing of ten senators would have changed the outcome.  As someone remarked, McCain is like a baseball player who gets all his hits after two outs and no one on base, and all his outs with men in scoring position.

As might be expected, ACU ratings essentially reflect party affiliation.  At the halfway point, ranking 50th, we have Richard Shelby (R-AL, formerly D-AL) with a lifetime score of 74.2.  But Robert Byrd (D-WV) ranks just slightly lower at 58th, with a score of only 29.6.  By the time you get to 66th place, all scores are below 20.

What this means is that McCain's ACU ratings since 1998 put him on the liberal side among Republicans.  The few Republicans consistently more liberal than McCain would be Chafee (formerly R-RI), Collins (R-ME), Snowe (R-ME) and Specter (R-PA).  One could expect senators from northeastern states to be more liberal since their constituencies demand it, but McCain represents the fairly conservative state of Arizona.  (Arizona's other senator, Kyl, has a lifetime rating of 96.9, and half the representatives from there have ratings of 94.7 or higher.)

How much more liberal would McCain vote if his constituency put even the slightest pressure on him in that direction?

On the other hand, Senator Clinton (D-NY) has a lifetime ACU rating of 9 (83rd place) and Senator Obama (D-IL) has a rating of 8 (86th place).

Not much the cheer about here.

Randall Hoven can be reached at randall.hoven@gmail.com.
Senator John McCain's lifetime rating of 82.3% from the American Conservative Union is often cited as proof that he is conservative.  Here is a closer look at that 82.3 rating.

First, a rating of 82.3 is not really that high.  It puts Senator McCain in 39th place among senators serving in 2006, the latest year for which the ACU has its ratings posted online.  For that most recent year in particular, McCain scored only 65, putting him in 47th place for that year.  Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), for example, scored 64 and 75, respectively, in 2006.

Generally, McCain has voted less conservatively in more recent years.  His average for 1990-97 was 88, but was only 74 for 1998-2006.  Below are his yearly ratings since 1990.


Year

ACU Rating

2006

65

2005

80

2004

72

2003

80

2002

72

2001

68

2000

81

1999

77

1998

68

1997

80

1996

95

1995

91

1994

96

1993

83

1992

85

1991

86

1990

87


So where did McCain differ from the ACU?  The big areas were taxes, campaign finance reform, the environment and, most recently, immigration.  There was also a smattering of support for trial lawyers; federal intervention in health, education, safety or voting issues; internationalism; and some social issues.  He was more consistently conservative on spending and defense issues.  The list below summarizes all his votes since 1998 that differed from the ACU's position.


Year and Issue

Vote Margin

2006, Taxes

50-50

2006, Immigration

50-49

2006, Immigration

62-36

2006, Social: Same Sex Marriage

49-48

2006, Native Hawaiian Govt.

56-41

2006, International: Iran sanctions

54-45

2006, Immigration: Border Fence

71-29

2006, Social: Embryonic Stem Cells

63-37

2005, Taxes

51-49

2005, Environment: Climate Change

60-38

2005, Environment: mercury emissions

51-47

2005, Environment: ANWR

51-48

2005, Taxes: Oil & gas development

51-48

2004, Spending/Social: School vouchers

65-28

2004, Regulation: seat belts

57-41

2004, Legal Reform: Gun manufacturers

70-27

2004, Spending: Unemployment

58-39

2004, Taxes

51-48

2004, Spending: Education of disabled

56-41

2004, Legal Reform: Torts

44-43

2003, Taxes

50-50

2003, Taxes

50-50

2003, Taxes

51-49

2003, Environment: Kyoto

55-43

2002, Voter fraud, state control

55-40

2002, Regulation: SUV fuel efficiency

56-44

2002, CFR

60-40

2002, Taxes: death tax

55-44

2001, CFR

69-31

2001, CFR

60-40

2001, CFR

57-43

2001, Taxes: marriage penalty

73-27

2001, Taxes: capital gains

51-47

2001, Taxes

58-33

2001, Taxes/Health: med. savings accounts

53-45

2001, Legal Reform: torts

54-42

2000, Taxes

56-44

2000, International: Troops in Kosovo

53-47

2000, CFR: Brad Smith on FEC

65-35

2000, CFR

57-42

1999, International: Troops in Kosovo

N/A

1999, Health: managed care

N/A

1999, Spending

N/A

1999, CFR

N/A

1998, Health: surgeon general confirm.

75-23

1998, CFR

50-47

1998, CFR

50-48

1998, CFR

51-48

1998, Taxes: tobacco

72-26

1998, Taxes: tobacco

57-42

1998, International: Troops in Bosnia

65-31

1998, International: IMF lending

74-19



Another piece of information from the list above is that many of the votes were close.  In one third of these votes, a swing of only two senators would have changed the outcome.  In over two thirds, a swing of ten senators would have changed the outcome.  As someone remarked, McCain is like a baseball player who gets all his hits after two outs and no one on base, and all his outs with men in scoring position.

As might be expected, ACU ratings essentially reflect party affiliation.  At the halfway point, ranking 50th, we have Richard Shelby (R-AL, formerly D-AL) with a lifetime score of 74.2.  But Robert Byrd (D-WV) ranks just slightly lower at 58th, with a score of only 29.6.  By the time you get to 66th place, all scores are below 20.

What this means is that McCain's ACU ratings since 1998 put him on the liberal side among Republicans.  The few Republicans consistently more liberal than McCain would be Chafee (formerly R-RI), Collins (R-ME), Snowe (R-ME) and Specter (R-PA).  One could expect senators from northeastern states to be more liberal since their constituencies demand it, but McCain represents the fairly conservative state of Arizona.  (Arizona's other senator, Kyl, has a lifetime rating of 96.9, and half the representatives from there have ratings of 94.7 or higher.)

How much more liberal would McCain vote if his constituency put even the slightest pressure on him in that direction?

On the other hand, Senator Clinton (D-NY) has a lifetime ACU rating of 9 (83rd place) and Senator Obama (D-IL) has a rating of 8 (86th place).

Not much the cheer about here.

Randall Hoven can be reached at randall.hoven@gmail.com.