My sabbatical work asks the simple question "Has Donald Trump changed the meaning of "conservatism" for the mass public?" A couple authors have started to look into this question- or have found evidence that speaks to this question while studying ideology. Noel and Hopkins have a great forthcoming article that samples activists, asking them to make pairwise comparisons between Republican Senators to determine which is the more conservative of the two. They then use those scores to create a unidimensional scale of ideology. They found that Senators who criticized Trump in 2016 were considered more moderate, despite conservative voting records. They also use some 2016 CCES data to show this pattern.
I'm replicating some of their work as a first step in my project, which has three stages.
Stage 1: Does standing against Trump/criticizing Trump make a Republican- regardless of their actual ideology as measured by their voting record-appear more moderate to the mass public? Does associating/supporting Trump make a politician appear more conservative- regardless of their voting record?
Here's a first cut at the CCES 2020 data which asks respondents in every state to rate their Senators on a 7 point scale going from "Extremely liberal" (1) to "Extremely conservative" (7). Below are the ratings from activists only. "Activist" is operationalized as any respondent who said they engaged in at least 3 political activities (donating, working for a campaign, putting up a yard sign etc.) in the last 12 months. These people will be more likely to actually know about their Senators which means they are less likely to take a random guess and introduce real noise in the data. The perceived ideology scores are plotted against the Senators DW Nominate scores in the first dimension.
Most of the ratings pass a basic face validity test- at least comparatively. Murkowski and Romney ARE more moderate in their voting records and are rated as such by the activists. Collins, who votes quite moderately though, is rated noticeably more conservative than the other two. This is perhaps because she equivocated a great deal on Trumpism, and ultimately sided with him sometimes. Note that this survey was administered PRIOR to the second impeachment trail in which Collins voted to impeach (she did not vote to impeach during the first impeachment).
Above is a regression - with an admittedly small N size- that regresses the activist ratings onto two variables: the DWNominate score (first dimension) and whether the Senator endorsed Trump in the 2020 election. In initially included a variable for whether TRUMP endorsed THE SENATOR for the 2020 election, but since many Senators were not up for re-election, this variable is not ideal. But we do see some significance on the variable of whether the Senator endorsed Trump- which anyone was able to do. We see even more significance on this variable if we use the ratings from all respondents rather than just the activists.
I might try to add the data from 2018 to this analysis when some other anti-Trump members such as Jeff Flake were still in office. Stay tuned.