The Senate as Facebook

March 21, 2013

Ever wonder what the Senate would look like viewed through the lens of Facebook?  Us too.


This is Facebook.

Now, thanks to Yahoo's Chris Wilson, we know. Using Senate votes, Wilson has created a mini-social network of the world's greatest deliberative body.

Here's how he explains it:

"For every member, I calculated which other senators voted the same way at least 75 percent of the time. In effect, this organizes the Senate as a mini-Facebook of 100 users, in which any given pair of senators are friends if they meet this 75-percent threshold....Visualizations like this one work by treating the senators as particles that repel one another, and treating the connections between them as springs that hold them together. Because the Democrats vote so cohesively, with few defectors, they are held together by a large number of springs."

In the chart below, you can see the Senate as a whole or sort via specific Senator to see whether they have any ties -- meaning they vote with a colleague 75 percent or more of the time -- to other Senators.

What's clear from the chart is that while Senate Democrats are more closely aligned than Republicans in their voting patterns so far in 2013 -- Wilson notes that 22 Democrats have voted exactly the same on every vote this year -- there are very few ties between the two parties. The two members sitting in the middle are Republicans Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collins (Me.), two of the noted moderates in the chamber.

Then there is the strange case of Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R) and New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D). Neither man has voted with any other senator more than 75 percent of the time during 2013. (Lautenberg, who is retiring in 2014, hasn't even voted with any other Senator 65 percent of the time.)

The most obvious storyline from the amazing tool Wilson has built is that the two parties in the Senate have, at least by their voting records in 2013, almost nothing in common. That affirms the widening partisan divide that we've observed in the Senate and in politics more broadly over the past few years.

Fiddle around with Wilson's infographic. It's a great tool that can spawn a thousand insights into how the Senate works (and doesn't). What's yours?

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza · March 21, 2013