Mitt Romney once described himself as a "severely conservative governor," marking the first time that adverb had been used to describe something other than an illness. Whether or not that's true, according to Nate Silver's analysis of House vote data, Ryan is the most severely conservative vice presidential nominee in at least 100 years…
Various statistical measures of Mr. Ryan peg him as being quite conservative. Based on his Congressional voting record, for instance, the statistical system DW-Nominate evaluates him as being roughly as conservative as Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.
By this measure, in fact, which rates members of the House and Senate throughout different time periods on a common ideology scale, Mr. Ryan is the most conservative Republican member of Congress to be picked for the vice-presidential slot since at least 1900. He is also more conservative than any Democratic nominee was liberal, meaning that he is the furthest from the center. (The statistic does not provide scores for governors and other vice-presidential nominees who never served in Congress.)
Unfortunately, that's not how science — even political science — works. In essence, a NOMINATE score measures how frequently a member of Congress agrees with other members of his or her party, but the policies that constitute the party line change over the years.
For example, a loyal Republican in the 1930s may be a staunch isolationist, while a Republican with a similar score in the 2000s will only favor withdrawal from Iraq if the troops are sent next door to Iran. Likewise, congressmen from the 1920s couldn't vote to cut Social Security and throw grandma off the fiscal cliff because Social Security didn't exist.
So it's not possible to evaluate whether Ryan is more conservative than Charles W. Fairbanks, though it's perfectly plausible to use NOMINATE to determine that Ryan stands somewhere to the right of Dick Cheney. A dangerous place politically and also physically, as it may get you shot in the face.
Chart by Nate Silver/NY Times
Tags: Conservatives, Dick Cheney, Nate Silver, New York Times, Paul Ryan