Obama "Voted With the Socialist" 92% of the Time

Thom Lambert —  30 October 2008

The Mizzou campus is all atwitter today over a scheduled appearance this evening by the world’s biggest celebrity — my old constitutional law prof, Barack Obama. As I write this, I’m watching the Obama folks prepare for the rally, which is to take place on the quad my office overlooks. I must say, it’s a pretty impressive operation.

Without doubt, Sen. Obama — whom I admire and of whom I am quite fond (on a personal level) — has run an amazing campaign. He’s raised gobs of money, and he’s managed to deflect most of Sen. McCain’s attacks while getting his own attacks to “stick.” One of his most effective strategies has been to tie Sen. McCain to President Bush by, among other things, highlighting the extent to which McCain “voted with the President.”

Yesterday, my friend and colleague, Royce Barondes, undertook a similar analysis. He researched how frequently Sen. Obama voted with the nation’s one socialist senator, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders. Royce emailed me the results of his research this morning: “In Senate Roll Call votes in the first session of this Congress, where the two voted, Obama voted with Sanders 92% of the time.”

This breaks down as follows:

The two senators both participated in the same vote 273 times. (There were 442 total votes during the period, but there were 169 occasions on which one senator voted and the other didn’t; 166 of those times, Sen. Obama was the non-vote.)

Of the 273 votes in which both senators voted…

* They both voted yea 157 times.
* They both voted nay 93 times.
* They voted differently (one yea and one nay) 23 times.

The two senators thus voted in concert on 250 of 273 occasions. That’s a 91.58% agreement rate.

Josh has previously poked some holes in this sort of “voting with” analysis, but putting those aside, Royce’s findings raise an obvious question: If the fact that Sen. McCain voted “with the President” 90% of the time means a McCain administration would be “more of the same,” does the fact that Sen. Obama voted with Congress’s sole socialist 92% of the time mean that an Obama administration would be socialist?

I suppose we needn’t evaluate that syllogism to answer the underlying question. We could simply consider, among other things, Sen. Obama’s:

* support for the (badly misnamed) employee free choice act,

* avowed desire to “spread the wealth around,”

* opposition to the Central American, Colombian, and South Korean free trade agreements,

* promise to renegotiate NAFTA,

* letter to President Bush asking him not to cut farm subsidies as part of the Doha Round,

* promise to preserve the 54 cent per gallon import tariff on Brazilian ethanol,

* vow to increase the minimum wage and index it to inflation,

* support for windfall profits taxes on successful businesses,

* plan to expand welfare by giving income tax “refunds” to people who don’t pay income taxes,

etc., etc., etc.

Thom Lambert


I am a law professor at the University of Missouri Law School. I teach antitrust law, business organizations, and contracts. My scholarship focuses on regulatory theory, with a particular emphasis on antitrust.

10 responses to Obama "Voted With the Socialist" 92% of the Time


    R. Eriks Goodwin:

    That is the closest thing to a perfect post I’ve seen. Well done and thank you.


    Perhaps the challenge to be overcome is the lack of education on the part of so many people as to the definitions of words like “socialism,” “welfare statism,” etc.

    Perhaps the claims of Obama as a socialist are the only way to “alert” people to bad policy ideas (no matter the technical accuracy of the claim).

    On the other hand, McCain should have been held to the same standard.

    The real “pity” here is that we were faced with an election with two wholly anti-capitalistic candidates. Perhaps, someday, we’ll have a candidate who is not obsessed with controlling some aspect of our lives. The Democrats generally want to control our money and the Republicans often want to control our values. Well, brother, I am not willing to delegate control of either to anyone.

    I have an idea… let’s find someone who wants to focus on protecting individual rights (police and courts) and national defense (military)–and that’s it.

    We’re a resourceful people–we can do the rest ourselves.


    Thom’s musings must have been tongue-in-cheek for they were far from scholastic or thoughtful. His anti-Obama agenda prompted him to abandon core principles of honest, academic analysis. Pity what partisanship can do to an otherwise bright person’s thinking. He joins the McCain/Palin camp of labelling Obama as something he is not, and fueling the fringe’s disrespect for our next president. Shameful.


    This is a silly comparison — Sanders isn’t sponsoring the legislation, so the comparison is not equal. If we had Sanders proposing Socialist (??) programs, and Bush proposing Conservative programs (??), then compared McCain’s fidelity to Bush and Obama’s to Sanders, that might be illuminating. But come on — you’can’t compare McCain to the sponsor and Obama to another co-responding Senator and garner any useful info. Suppose a RADICAL right wing Senator were in the mix, one who voted against Bush every time because the policies were not “right” enough for him (or, just as likely given Bush’s record, the proposals were TOO left, TOO Big Govt). Now, you compare both Obama and McCain to this radical-righty. Obama would be closer to him than McCain was. That doesn’t make Obama a radical righty, it just means that — for whatever reasons — their votes overlap. Doesn’t mean the underlying rationale and philosophy are the same. You have to compare JM’s and BO’s records against the same thing to be fair, which is Bush … and by the way, I agree with the post above thsat Sanders is not really a Socialist … maybe Socialist-leaning, or Socialist sympathizer, but we have no REAL Socialists in our govt. All our leaders, for the most part, are in a narrow band from slightly left to slightly right of center.



    No pressure is required to have me provide the data I gathered, because I gave it to Thom yesterday. Although I’m not inclined to spend my day replying to e-mail requests for the data, I’m happy to have Thom post the data on this web site, and have you proofread the data entry and merge it with whatever other information you have. There’s nothing proprietary about the data–it’s from a government web and takes a couple of hours to get. However, the data I pulled only has Obama’s and Sanders’ votes, and I will respectfully decline your kind invitation to have me pull the additional data necessary for you to make whatever comparisons you want.

    Obama has chosen to gauge his competitor by how frequently McCain “votes” with Bush. He cannot properly complain when the same standard is applied to him.

    I am not inclined to try to pull additional data to formulate a well-formulated inquiry, because it is not clear to me how I would properly formulate the inquiry. There are a number of problems. Sanders has only been in this office for two years. Obama has missed one-third of the votes. Given McCain has also been campaigning, I am not sanguine about the number of votes that all three participated-in.

    Moreover, to make what I would think is a thoughtful comparison, one would have to consider things such as what the votes that all three voted on were about, compared to the universe of all votes. Ultimately a thoughtfully-prepared analysis would, I suspect, be unlikely to be capable of being understood by the folks who are influenced by the advertisements stating that McCain votes with Bush over 90% of the time.

    I last evening heard reference on a news show to a report that correlates voting patters for purposes of seeing who is most likely to reach across the aisle–vote in a bipartisan way. I have not endeavored to track down that analyses. But you may be inclined to do so.

    Lastly, if the matter is not already moot, I expect that it will be moot in a couple of days. So I’m not inclined to look at the matter further. The interesting part, and creative part, for me, was I had heard all this droning about how frequently McCain voted with Bush, and notwithstanding that prominence, I had not heard anyone try to apply to Obama his own standard. So I did it on a lark.


    Bernie Sanders isn’t a socialist either. He fancies himself a social democrat (in the modern European sense of the term), but Sanders hasn’t done anything particularly indicative of even a social democrat. Social democrats are still far from the marxist some are trying to make Obama out to be. The figures aren’t particularly useful either without specifying the legislation involved and the distribution of votes on each vote. People seem to forget that very few votes in the senate have much division, particularly on party lines, and an alarming number of senate votes are nearly unanimous — sad, but true. Compare Obama and McCain’s voting records and you’ll see that they are closer to each other than either is to Sanders.

    What’s really disingenuous is that the term “socialist” is being applied to Obama as a slur, and not to McCain. In fact, both have the same notion of redistributing wealth, etc., they only differ on how the slices of the pie are cut. The “socialism” here is nothing more that good old taxation — if you’re forced to pay and have no say in how it is spent (how much influence do you personally have on that), that’s the taking of money from you and giving over to others to redistribute as they see fit.

    Despite the woes of the economy, you don’t see either major party candidate offering a plan to pay down the debt. Quite the opposite, both have offered fiscal plans that have this country operating in a deficit. They’re inheriting a country whose current president more than doubled (almost tripled) the national debt during his tenure. Service on that debt alone will cost more than 1/2 the budget, and both candidates plan to make it worse (maybe McCain’s plan calls for more debt, but they are close enough that you can’t really say it’s worse).

    Same crap, different sacks.


    You know, this says it pretty effectively:



    I asked exactly the same question. Thom, pressure Royce to get us the data!


    Gosh Thom – – you need to simply HOPE!


    I’m surprised to see support for the “socialist” meme over here. That attack is ludicrous on so many levels.

    – Socialism is government ownership of the means of production. In fact, we are far closer to a socialist system after the last month than we have been in ages — perhaps ever. But that system has been put in place with the approval of both McCain and Obama, and it has been advocated for and implemented by a conservative Republican administration. If you want to talk about socialism, talk about what the Treasury and the Fed are doing.

    – Redistribution is something entirely different than socialism. In fact, crazy folks like Louis Kaplow and Steven Shavell (among many others) are on board with redistribution, as long as it is done in ways that minimize the market effects. Capitalism and redistribution are not mutually exclusive.

    – Obama’s redistributionist goals are very modest. He wants to raise the upper tax limits back to where they were under Clinton. That’s socialism? He wants to raise the minimum wage. Clinton did that under his presidency, and I haven’t seen any literature that shows dramatic employment effects. And I’m not familiar with the tax refund proposal, but tax refunds are the method that folks like Kaplow and Shavell recommend for redistribution to be implemented. The rest of what is on your list is protectionism, not socialism.

    – Finally, as to the voting pattern: The Democrats control the Senate. The “socialist” is alone, but he generally works with the Democrats — in fact, he is part of their majority for majority-counting and leadership purposes. Is Obama’s pattern an outlier when compared to the voting of his Democratic colleagues? I would doubt it. In fact, McCain’s votes might even have a high level of overlap with Sanders’. You could say the same thing about the Bush & McCain statistic — the 90% is fairly meaningless without more context. But then you should complain that the McCain 90% statistic is meaningless — not that we should use “voting with” statistics more frequently.