John McCain seems like an attractive candidate in some ways. He has a reputation as a "straight talker" who bucks party orthodoxy to vote his conscience. But when you examine his voting record things look a bit different. With the exception of a few specific issues, McCain is basically an orthodox conservative Republican.
I plan to look at McCain's history from several different angles, but let's start with his environmental record. This chart shows his ratings from the League of Conservation Voters all the way back to when he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1982. For comparison I've also included Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, although they obviously haven't served in the Congress as long as McCain. Click on the chart for a larger version.
McCain's ratings bounce around a bit, but basically he started bad and trended downward until 2000. Perhaps he decided his abysmal environmental record had hurt in his first presidential run, but for whatever reason he improved markedly from 2001 until 2004. Unfortunately he's been backsliding ever since.
It's rather interesting that McCain's 2007 LCV rating is zero not because he voted against environmental issues, but because he missed every single one of the fifteen environmental votes LCV used in it's analysis. LCV counts missed votes as negatives, and it's perfectly normal for senators running for president to miss some votes when they're campaigning. Both Clinton and Obama took rating hits because they missed four votes in 2007. But it's still really strange that McCain missed all fifteen of them. Almost gives you the impression that Mr. Straight Talk has been deliberately avoiding controversial votes...
1. A complete table of LCV ratings for the three current presidential candidates follows. Remember that candidates start serving the year following their election, so there's no rating for the year in which they were first elected.
2. The historical LCV ratings reports are here. Because the older documents are scans, some of them rather poor quality, I had to calculate McCain's ratings for a couple of years where sections of the reports were unreadable. I believe my numbers are accurate, but please let me know if I made any errors.
3. Up until 1989 LVC did ratings every other year (for each two-year congress), so on the chart McCain's ratings are identical for 1983-1984, 1985-1986, and 1987-1988.
4. I smoothed the trend lines in the chart. I know it isn't statistically proper and it does create some minor artifacts, but it makes the chart, which I created for public consumption, look a heck of a lot nicer.