Why care about Congress?

In the past five years, just 1 in 5 Americans have approved of the way Congress is handling its role. We investigate how Congress has changed over time and what trends present itself in these visuals.

To the right, see how the political landscape has changed since America's founding, and how parties have evolved over the years.

Partisanship and Party Unity

This interactive graphic shows the relationship between partisanship and party agreement. Each circle represents a party, and their fill represents the percentage of agreement between the parties on votes.

Playing the visualization though the years shows the user that as the unification goes up, agreement tends to go down. It serves as a visual cue for the parties ideologically drifting apart, and shows the trend over time. For example, the most current data (2013) is very partisan, with high unity ratings and a low agreement percentage.

Congressional Incumbency

Here, the coloring of districts represents how long the representative for that district has been in office, with darker colors meaning longer time. In general, incumbency is linked to voter apathy. Once a congressperson is elected into office, they do not need to spend as much time and energy trying to be re-elected. Incumbency tends to increase over time - however, there are pockets of congressional sessions where many incumbents have been ousted, most recently by the Tea Party wing in the 2010 elections.

Congressional Responsivenesss

We had all of this data, from the 1st Congress all the way up to the 113th, and we wanted to know what was most important to each session of Congress. From 1973 onwards, with a gap between 1985 to 1987, we were able to get data on every bill for each session of Congress and in turn the subjects those bills addressed. We used the tfidf algorithm to find the subjects most relevant to each session of Congress and plotted them here.

Clicking on this plot will allow you to zoom in and out, showing you the day to day operations of Congress and how many bills per day Congress voted on regarding these subjects. Once you've zoomed in, you can click on the subjects in the legend to only see the data for that particular subject. What this plot allows us to do is see how responsive Congress is, from the 1970s oil crisis due to the Iranian revolution (when Congress voted on over 38 bills in 1977) to Hurricane Katrina when hurricane aftermath legislation was the most relevant subject to the 109th Congress in 2005.