Home Data Hacker Pageranks Members of the US Congress

Data Hacker Pageranks Members of the US Congress

What’s the fastest way to evaluate the true behavior of a Senator or Representative in Congress? How about through a ready-made mathematical model and some charts? That’s what Josh Tauberer has created as the latest project at congress-tracking site GovTrack.us. (Numerical methods for determining leadership and ideology in Congress)

“Bulk access to legislative information makes large-scale statistical analyses possible,” Tauberer writes. He’s performed analyses he says are like Google’s Pagerank, but for politicians: he’s tracked which politicians vote together in order to discover moderates and extremists, and he’s treated sponsorship and co-sponsorship of legislation like an endorsement of leadership, similar to the way Google treats links between Web pages as an endorsement. The resulting chart, below, tracks Senate members on axis of leadership and ideology. It’s a fascinating way to see important qualitative matters quantified and to get a quick snapshot of politicians you might not follow very closely. Something like this could also be helpful in assessing claims and pushing for accountability of elected officials.

One interesting thing that sticks out to me: Joe Lieberman may be best known for taking conservative positions that drive many of his fellow Democrats crazy – but day in and day out, he votes with them more than a number of other party-mates. As he has said, though: “I agree more often than not with Democrats on domestic policy. I agree more often than not with Republicans on foreign and defense policy.”

This kind of “birds of a feather flock together” statistical analysis reminds me of the fabulous, now-two-year-old project Memeorandum Colors. That Firefox extension used similar math to help color code political blogs for rapid display of their partisan orientation.

I sure hope we’ll see a lot more work like this being done in the future. The instrumentation, or making data-enabled, of a wide variety of experiences in public and private life promises to serve as a foundation for new levels of social and self awareness and the creation of innovative new services.

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