GOP candidates in Iowa

From left to right: Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum – photo by AP Images

It’s a big debate every election cycle, particularly within the GOP. Just how conservative is each presidential candidate? Who is a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and who can rightly be called the most conservative of all?

Rather than go off of instinct, reputation or an out-of-context soundbite, we turned to the issues. Using data developed by OnTheIssues.org, we created scores for every 2016 candidate based on official campaign platforms and on-the-record statements. We assessed each candidate across four key categories: individual rights, domestic issues, economics and international politics.

Finally, we normalized each candidate’s results into a single score out of 40, where 0 represents the most thoroughly conservative candidate, and 40 represents the most thoroughly liberal candidate.

In the end, we ended up with this list: a ranking of every 2016 presidential prospect from the most liberal of all, to the most true conservative in the pack.

Jill Stein

Overall Score: 39/40
The higher the score, the more liberal the candidate. Explore the second tab on each page to see how the candidate scores on each individual issue.

A Harvard Medical School graduate and career physician, Jill Stein is the likely Green Party representative for the 2016 presidential election. Last February, she formed an exploratory committee in anticipation of a run.

The Green Party supports liberal principles across the board, including nonviolence, gender equality, social justice, and diversity. With an overall issue score of 39 out of 40, Stein is the most liberal candidate in the field.

Bernie Sanders

Overall Score: 37/40

The Vermont Senator is a Congress veteran and left-leaning politician, vocal on Sunday talk shows and outspoken in his liberal views. With a score of 37 out of 40, Bernie is the most liberal candidate from the Democratic Party in 2016.

Hillary Clinton

Overall Score: 32/40

Hillary Clinton is the heavy favorite to win her party’s nomination, and for a Democrat, her views are right around average. She is most liberal when it comes to healthcare, social security, and the environment, while she shows a few conservative streaks on defense and international politics.

Joe Biden

Overall Score: 32/40

At this point, it seems unlikely that Joe Biden will run for president, but as the sitting Vice President, he deserves a place in the conversation. Politically, Biden is largely in step with Hillary, scoring 32 points overall.

Andrew Cuomo

Overall Score: 27/40

The New York Governor is as liberal as Clinton and Biden on individual rights like abortion and same-sex marriage, but holds more moderate views on the economy and foreign policy, making Cuomo more of a moderate, overall. He scores 27 out of 40.

Lincoln Chafee

Overall Score: 27/40

A moderate Democrat overall, Lincoln Chafee’s leans further left on individual rights. He fully supports abortion rights, equal pay and same-sex marriage.

Jim Webb

Overall Score: 26/40

Moderately liberal across the board, Virginia Senator Jim Webb combines a Democratic mindset with a military background, making him a quiet threat to Hillary Clinton’s nomination. Webb is decidedly less liberal than Clinton, with an overall score of 26 out of 40.

Martin O’Malley

Overall Score: 25/40

The Governor of Maryland (2007 to 2015) and former Mayor of Baltimore (1999 to 2007), Martin O’Malley is a dark horse to usurp the Democratic nomination from Hillary. While he is known nationally for signing liberal immigration and same-sex marriage laws, he is nonetheless more moderate than most of his liberal compatriots.

O’Malley has come out in favor of military expansion and free trade, two conservative viewpoints that earn him an overall score of 25 out of 40.

Brian Schweitzer

Overall Score: 25/40

The former Governor of Montana was once a popular presidential pick among moderate Democrats, but recent political fundraising controversies have made his candidacy less likely. Even so, Brian Schweitzer would be a true moderate candidate—a Democrat with respect for the free market and support for the military.

Chris Christie

Overall Score: 17/40

The outspoken New Jersey Governor is the least conservative presidential hopeful from the GOP, more neutral on same-sex marriage than other Republicans, and more open to aspects of Obamacare. While a low favorability rating will likely hurt him nationwide, his moderate bonafides may win over some independents.

Gary Johnson

Overall Score: 16/40

The 2012 Libertarian nominee and likely 2016 representative, Gary Johnson holds individual rights above all else, a classic Libertarian platform that combines a mix of conservative and liberal principles. Johnson is liberal on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, but right of center with respect to the free market, giving him a moderate score of 16 points overall.

Carly Fiorina

Overall Score: 11/40

A decade ago, the former AT&T and Hewlett-Packard executive turned to politics, serving as a McCain advisor in 2008 before running for the Senate in a failed 2010 bid. Like several of her GOP counterparts, she scores an 11 out of 40, just slightly more liberal than average for a Republican presidential candidate.

Jan Brewer

Overall Score: 11/40

Jan Brewer has served as an elected official for 31 years, all in the state of Arizona. Her most recent office was Governor of Arizona from 2009 to 2015. Politically, Brewer is similar to Fiorina, with an overall score of 11 out of 40. She is most conservative on domestic issues, like crime, guns and healthcare.

John Kasich

Overall Score: 11/40

As the governor of Ohio, John Kasich is an attractive vice presidential pick for one of the more mainstream nominees, as the Buckeye State has played a key role in each of the last three presidential elections. Kasich is thoroughly conservative on most issues, but he holds more moderate views on defense and international politics, giving him an overall score of 11 out of 40.

Rand Paul

Overall Score: 11/40

The Kentucky senator and son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, Rand has long been billed as a Libertarian-minded candidate, a man who values individual liberties and limited government. That said, he has moved right on several social issues, from abortion to same-sex marriage. As a result, he scores an 11 out of 40 overall—noticeably more conservative than Gary Johnson, the field’s more classic Libertarian.

Scott Walker

Overall Score: 11/40

The fourth and final candidate to score 11 out of 40 on the conservative-to-liberal spectrum, Scott Walker seems to have hit an early sweet spot with Republican voters. He routinely ranks among the top three in early polls. He is most conservative on domestic issues like crime and health care, but he has remained relatively quiet on foreign policy views.

Scott Brown

Overall Score: 10/40

Attorney, senator, Fox News contributor and a 35-year member of the Army National Guard, Scott Brown is the consummate conservative. He holds right of center positions across most issues, though he avoids the extreme ends of the spectrum. Add in his success in a blue state (Massachusetts) and Scott Brown may be a quietly appealing candidate for the GOP.

Ben Carson

Overall Score: 9/40

Famous for successfully separating twins conjoined at the head, Carson is a physician turned politician. He holds moderately conservative positions on domestic, economic and international issues, but is especially right-leaning on individual rights. He strongly opposes both abortion and same-sex marriage.

Jeb Bush

Overall Score: 8/40

Some Republicans have criticized Jeb Bush for not being conservative enough, but his latest statement on the issues seem to indicate otherwise. He is thoroughly conservative on abortion, same-sex marriage and religion in school, and still reasonably right of center on nearly every other prominent issue, from defense to the economy.

While some of this may be strategic positioning in advance of the election, Bush’s views put him right in the middle of the pack among fellow GOP candidates.

John R. Bolton

Overall Score: 8/40

John R. Bolton has done just about everything besides hold elected office. He served as a UN ambassador under George W. Bush, advised Romney during the 2012 campaign and often appears on Fox News as a political commentator. Politically, he is moderately conservative on economics and individual rights, but extremely conservative on defense and international issues.

Pete King

Overall Score: 8/40

The last candidate to score an 8 out of 10, Pete King is a New York congressman who is most famous for speaking out against Islamic extremism. He has been openly critical of the Tea Party, largely because he believes their top candidates don’t focus enough on terrorism and foreign policy. King is moderately conservative on most issues, but very conservative on international politics and defense.

Bobby Jindal

Overall Score: 6/40

The Governor of Louisiana enjoyed a brief stint as the next GOP star…before a bumbling State of the Union response in 2009 reversed his fortunes. Even so, Jindal has been lurking ever since. With an overall score of just 6 out of 40, you might call Jindal the first thoroughly conservative candidate on this list.

Mike Huckabee

Overall Score: 6/40

The evangelical Christian all-star currently has higher favorability ratings than any other 2016 candidate. He was the runner-up (at least by delegate count) in 2008, and he’s enjoyed a successful run on the Fox News show, “Huckabee.” His only problem? He’s likely too conservative to make any ground nationally. With ultra-right-wing views on both individual rights (especially abortion and same-sex marriage) and defense, Huckabee’s presidential ambitions will likely end in the early primaries.

Lindsey Graham

Overall Score: 5/40

The South Carolina Senator is extremely conservative on issues concerning individual rights, crime and guns, but a moderate streak on economic issues and immigration serve to balance him out.

Marco Rubio

Overall Score: 5/40

The Tea Party rock star turned Florida Senator clocks in at 5 out of 40—even more conservative than Mike Huckabee. That said, he is less extreme than Huckabee on individual rights, and more thoroughly conservative on economics. This subtle-but-important distinction will likely make Rubio more competitive nationally, as he can probably win over a wider base of support than his evangelical opponent.

Rick Perry

Overall Score: 5/40

The Texas Governor and gaffe-prone debater may take a second stab at the White House after a failed 2012 bid. He brings a conservative mindset and over a decade of experience leading America’s most populous red state.

Mike Pence

Overall Score: 4/40

Despite being a former Democrat, the governor of Indiana is nonetheless one of the most conservative figures in 2016. He leans very far to the right on social issues, and is still very conservative across all other categories. Failing a successful primary run, Pence could also be tapped as vice president—a conservative counterbalance for a more moderate GOP nominee.

Ted Cruz

Overall Score: 4/40

If Marco Rubio is the Tea Party star gone mainstream, Texas Senator Ted Cruz is the Tea Party golden boy who never left the party. With an overall score of 4 out of 40, Cruz is thoroughly conservative, particularly on economic issues.

Rick Santorum

Overall Score: 3/40

The 2012 GOP runner-up and former Pennsylvania Senator, Rick Santorum is a true conservative. He holds 100% right-leaning views on both domestic and economic issues, while maintaining traditional conservative views on international politics and individual rights. He is likely too far right to win the nomination himself, but he may very well coax the more serious contenders into taking more right-wing positions.

Steve King

Overall Score: 2/40

Congressman Steve King (R-Iowa) isn’t a serious threat to win the 2016 GOP nomination—but there have been just enough rumblings to include him on this list. While he is famous for strict immigration proposals—and some controversial comments about Obama’s name and heritage—he is also significant for being more completely conservative than anyone else on this list.

He scores 2 out of 40 overall, with 100% conservative bonafides across individual rights, domestic policies and economic issues.

Finally, King holds one other key card. As a representative in Iowa, the congressman will have extra influence in the crucial Iowa caucus, where every GOP candidate will make their first impression with voters. Even if King can’t win the nomination, he can throw his weight behind his favorite fellow candidate. Rest assured: that candidate will be conservative.

The Full Spectrum of Candidates