A study conducted by a professor at Brigham Young University that argues Sen. Mike Lee is the most ideologically extreme Senator in Utah history is getting significant attention, but a key finding in the study deserves more attention.
So far, coverage of the study has overlooked the degree to which ideological extremism on the right outpaces ideological extremism on the left. Sen. Elizabeth Warren may be the most extreme on the left, but Lee’s conservative extremism is, well, more extreme than Warren’s. The difference makes it difficult to characterize Warren as extreme. Based on the analysis, it’s hard to argue that much extremism at all is occurring on the left.
In the histogram provided in the study, the average Democrat is closer to the ideological center than the average Republican. It’s also worth noting that Republicans have a much broader ideological spread. You could say that the Democratic senators have homogenized around a center-left consensus, whereas Republicans are all over the board. When compromise takes place, middle ground is going to be right of center.
I’d love to see some sort of analysis by the Utah Data Point folks that does a decade-by-decade comparison of the U.S. Senate (similar to the comparison of Utah legislators from statehood through today that the study already did) to track whether there is some sort of ideological movement over the last century–and if there is some sort of argument about Utah’s role in any of that movement.
For example, from the study we learned that Lee is Utah’s most conservative Senator ever. That makes him the most conservative member in the Senate now, but have Lee’s less conservative historical counterparts been more or less extreme relative to the Senate in which they served? In other words, is Lee’s ideological position within the current Senate an outlier, or, regardless of the ideological make-up of the Senate, has Utah consistently sent ideological extremists? I’m wondering if Utah has some sort of unique, if worrying, role in the relative extremism in a given US Senate.
To bring this home, while Utah has successfully bucked trends toward ideological extremism in certain areas (I’m thinking of the effect of the Utah Compact on immigration), it has been a breeding ground for rightward drift on public land issues (think of the rightwing vigilantism of Recapture Canyon). And that Governor Herbert’s Healthy Utah Plan could be stylized by some as a left-of-center option, speaks to just how far-right much of our thinking is in Utah.