Via Danny Finkelstein at the Times comes this fascinating graph (click to enlarge) detailing the various US presidential candidates’ positions on everything from abortion to universal healthcare. On first glance, a couple of interesting facts leap out.
First, how much smaller are the differences between same-party individual candidates than those between the parties. On almost all issues there are significant differences between Republicans and Democrats, and relative unity within party ranks. Of course, the issues will have been chosen partly to reflect the main points of policy contention between the parties, but nonetheless, in an era when we are often told that “triangulation” has eroded most differences between the parties, it’s useful to have such a stark reminder that this is not necessarily the case.
Second, there is much more unity on policy within the Democrat ranks than the Republican. On most issues, the bulk of the parties’ eight candidates share the same view (the usual exceptions being the no-hopers Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel). The Republican candidates are far more heterogeneous, making it difficult to discern a consensus on many issues (is this why the Economist last week described the American conservative movement as being in “deep trouble”?). More importantly, the party’s leading candidates—Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, John McCain and Mitt Romney—disagree with each other as often as they agree. Despite the much-hyped spat a couple of weeks ago between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over the question of whether the US should negotiate with its enemies without preconditions, the contrast with the Democrats is striking—according to the graph, the two leading Dems disagree only over the use of the death penalty, a decision which is left to the states anyway.