CIRCA 2010

ABOUT US

Welcome to Connect 2 Congress. Please bear in mind that the site is still under heavy development and is provided at this point as a usable prototype. Connect 2 Congress is an ongoing research project and may change at any time without notice.

The most critical watchdog mechanism on democracy in the 21st century is the dispersal of information among the general population. Citizens have unprecedented access to vast amounts of data regarding numerous governmental processes. All democracies rely on an educated electorate. In representative democracies, such as the United States (US), citizens would be unable to make informed voting decisions without information regarding the actions of their representatives.

The 110th Congress refers to the set of representatives who served during 2007 and 2008. The 110th Congress saw 14,039 bills, 6,886 amendments, and 2,533 votes. Given the magnitude and complexity of the roll call voting data, citizens need assistance in order to keep informed on their representatives’ voting record. It is labor intensive to discover how a representative voted on a single piece of legislation, let alone on a categorical issue, such as taxes or healthcare. Performing high-level analyses of voting patterns is a challenging and resource-intensive task typically undertaken only by investigative reporters.

Connect 2 Congress (C2C) is a novel visualization system which is designed to reduce the level of complexity and time required to discover and comprehend congressional voting patterns. Connect 2 Congress serves as a primary source of Poole-Rosenthal scores (http://voteview.ucsd.edu/w-nominate.htm) and other legislative behavioral statistics.

You can learn more about our mathematical analysis, learn how to use Connect 2 Congress, or try Connect 2 Congress now!

Connect 2 Congress Lets You Track Your Senator, One Vote at a Time such was the headline of an April 2010 article by Peter Kinnaird from the Georgia Tech News Center. After reading the news article which I have included below, the site made more sense. It was apparently a 2009 project that Kincaid, along with four other members of a team created to to reduce the level of complexity and time required to discover and comprehend congressional voting patterns. This website was created to promote this project. Kinnaird moved on after his graduate studies at Georgia Institute of Technology. This website's domain registration expired and I just recently bought it. I was intrigued by the premise behind C2C and decided to recreate some of the original website from its 2010 archived pages. Since I was in the middle of researching MD moving companies for an upcoming move from Baltimore to DC I put recreating this site aside for a couple of months. Once I decided upon Von Paris Moving & Storage for my move, I needed to get organized to pack all my household goods. My work bogged me down so I ended up utilizing the Von Paris Optional Full Service Packing. Sure it cost a bit more, but it sure saved my a lot of stress. Their Von Paris Moving consultant took care of everything for me and I must admit the move was glitch free. Now that I am in my new place in Glover Park, Washington DC I took some time to really see what Connect 2 Congress. Unfortunately there were no 2009- 2010 legislative behavioral statistics to be had from the site's archived pages. What you see here, is what was available. The concept was interesting. For visitors who end up here, consider the info from a historical perspective.

+++

Connect 2 Congress Lets You Track Your Senator, One Vote at a Time s

Most of us know who the President is, but fewer can name their U.S. Senators or Representatives. Even fewer can name how their congressional representatives voted on specific bills. And if you ask most people how many bills their members have sponsored or co-sponsored, you’d most likely be given a blank stare.

So, if it’s our civic duty to keep up with what our government is up to, how exactly do we do that? Peter Kinnaird, master’s student in Georgia Tech’s College of Computing, wondered the same thing and came up with a program that makes keeping up with one’s representatives as easy as clicking a mouse. The system, Connect 2 Congress, will be presented at CHI 2010, the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, being held at the Hyatt Regency Atlanta, April 10-15.

“In the 110th Congress, which is 2007-08, there were about 14,000 bills and 2,500 votes that took place. How can anyone wrap their head around what all those bills mean? We created Connect 2 Congress to simplify all that,” said Kinnaird.

The system works by analyzing congressional voting records with a type of mathematical analysis known as a Poole-Rosenthal score. Connect 2 Congress looks at all the votes that take place over that session of Congress and assigns values to it. Each yes vote gets a one and each no gets a zero. Those who don’t vote are given a nine, which excludes them from the count for that issue.

“It doesn’t matter whether the issue is to recognize a community college for its great service or if it’s the healthcare bill, each roll call vote is counted the same,” said Kinnaird.

Once these numbers are assigned, the system lines up a string of ones and zeros that represent each person’s voting record and create a fingerprint of sorts for each member.

“When we do this, we don’t know who the person casting the vote is, what party they belong to, what race or ethnicity. All we know is that the vote was cast,” said Kinnaird. “We compare them with all of the other votes being cast, and by doing that we can rank people from liberal to conservative without any of that other knowledge. The results are displayed on a graph so that users can get a quick picture of Congress, or examine changes in behavior over time.”

Among a few interesting uses, voters can use the system to see how well the parties’ votes align at different points in the session. They can also see whether their representatives vote with their party or go off on their own.

In addition to showing where each member fits on the political spectrum, Connect 2 Congress also conducts a leadership analysis on each member.

“So, if you sponsor a bill you get a full point, and if you co-sponsor a bill you get anywhere from no points to a full point, depending on when you attached your name to it,” said Kinnaird.

The system updates a few times a day, allowing users to view Congressional activity from the present back to the beginning of the 110th Congress. Kinnaird is currently building a new version of Connect 2 Congress that tracks the current 111th Congress. The new version shows how votes are being conducted in the U.S. Senate as early as the next morning and tracks how verbose the senators are. Kinnaird hopes to release the House version in the next few months.

Connect 2 Congress pulls its data from GovTrack.us (http:// govtrack.us), not the Library of Congress, because GovTrack.is considered reliable by government watchdog groups and it provides the date in a format that’s easier to use.

 

Caveats

Standing Still

We are aware of a few bugs that currently exist in Connect 2 Congress. One of these is evidenced by Senator Tim Johnson's behavior in our system circa January 2007. Senator Johnson suffered a stroke and was in the hospital, yet his circle remains visible and in a location, implying a certain set of behavior. In reality,  his circle's position is simply a remnant from an earlier view. Circles which do not move indicate that that the individual exhibited no behavior (or did not vote) during the selected time period. We are working to resolve this problem.

Data Set

Our data set is imperfect. As an example, all Representatives from Alabama are missing. Some others are as well. Please remember that Connect 2 Congress is currently a proof of concept. We are performing on-going revisions and hope to resolve most of these issues. If you spot another data issue, please send information about it to info[at]connect2congress[dot]com.

The House of Representatives

Most of the calculations should be complete by now for the House of Representatives. There may still be some period selections for which the House does not move. Check back soon for updates. All of these should be up and running very very soon.

 

About the Author

Peter Kinnaird is currently a Masters in Human Computer Interaction student at Georgia Tech. He will be starting a PhD in Human Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University in August. For more information about Peter, see his web page. For questions or requests regarding Connect 2 Congress, please send e-mail to info[at]connect2congress.com.

 

It's important for users to understand what our scatter plots are showing. The horizontal and vertical positions of the circles on the plots are completely independent.

 

ANALYSIS

Vertical Axis

We developed an original approach for statistical analysis of bill sponsorship and cosponsorship. Most bills have a single sponsor attached to them. This sponsor is generally the person who authored the bill. Bills can have many cosponsors who join later.

For each bill, we compute a representative’s leadership on the following basis:

  • Sponsors receive 1 point.
  • Each cosponsor receives a fraction of 1 point,

depending on how far along the bill was in the process when they joined as a cosponsor.
For cosponsors, we look at the entire duration that the bill had any updates or actions taken on it and we assign points accordingly. Actions include voting on a bill, referring a bill to a committee, and joining a bill as a cosponsor. For example, if the period between a bill’s introduction and the last action taken on it is 30 days and a representative joins as a cosponsor after 10 days, the representative receives 0.333 points.

To compute a person’s position for a selected period we take the average of the representative’s scores for all bills the person sponsored or cosponsored during the given period. Therefore, sponsoring or cosponsoring numerous bills yields a high score, placing the representative near the top of the spectrum. Those representatives who sponsor and cosponsor bills infrequently, or take a long time to cosponsor bills appear lower on the spectrum. The result is a value between 0 and 1 for each unique pair of dates on which voting took place for each representative. We scale these values to the height of the spectrum.

One bias we acknowledge is that the presentation of this analysis as “Leaders” and “Followers” imposes a value judgment on the data. We label the axis with “Leaders” and “Followers” for simplicity.

 

Horizontal Axis

We calculated Poole-Rosenthal scores using a program provided by Keith T. Poole called W-NOMINATE (http://voteview.ucsd.edu/w-nominate.htm). For each unique pair of selectable dates we run WNOMINATE on all roll call votes cast during that period. We used Poole-Rosenthal scores for the horizontal positions of representatives.

 

Connect2Congress.com