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Ted Cruz, Barack Obama and the biggest vote-missers in the Senate

Various senators at this year's State of the Union. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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When Ted Cruz missed the confirmation vote for Attorney General Loretta Lynch, his spokesman dismissed criticism by pointing out that Cruz had already "made the case against her." On Thursday, Cruz himself explained it away by saying that an "absence is the equivalent of a no vote." In which case Cruz has had a lot of "no" votes lately; as we pointed out, he's missed 70 percent of the votes this month.

When we noted that, defenders of Cruz were quick to demand that we compare Cruz’s absenteeism to Barack Obama’s. Which: That ship has sailed? But regardless, we compared Cruz to Obama and other confirmed and likely 2016 candidates with Senate experience, using data at GovTrack to do some exploration.

First and foremost: Cruz has missed the most votes over his career of any 2016 candidate, but Obama's brief Senate career was much worse. Still, it's not really a fair comparison yet, for reasons we'll discuss.

We actually ran this data for every member of the Senate who'd been born in the year 1900 or later, which revealed some interesting patterns. (And which provides the yellow "average" bar above.) Here is a selection of that 400-plus group, showing how regularly each missed votes.

Missed votes

1. Maryon Allen: 43.4% (355 total votes)
2. Ross Bass: 35.8% (497 total votes)
3. David Clark: 35.7% (677 total votes)
6. Eugene McCarthy: 31.2% (3,135 total votes)
7. Barry Goldwater: 30.8% (10,807 total votes)
10. Mike Gravel: 29.5% (6,264 total votes)
24. Barack Obama: 24.2% (1,300 total votes)
25. George McGovern: 23.8% (7,891 total votes)
36. Al Gore: 19.8% (2,731 total votes)
57. Walter Mondale: 16.3% (5,149 total votes)
64. John Edwards: 15.7% (1,980 total votes)
114. Ted Cruz: 10.7% (825 total votes)
131. Hillary Rodham Clinton: 9.5% (2,616 total votes)
150. Marco Rubio: 8.3% (1,311 total votes)
222. Lindsey O. Graham: 4.5% (3,984 total votes)
279. Rand Paul: 3.1% (1,311 total votes)
290. Bernie Sanders: 2.9% (2,664 total votes)
327. Jim Webb: 2% (1,839 total votes)
332. Rick Santorum: 1.9% (4,156 total votes)
428. Charles E. Grassley: 0.3% (10,923 total votes)
430. Benjamin L.  Cardin: 0.3% (2,664 total votes)
433. Olympia J. Snowe: 0.2% (5,995 total votes)
436. William Proxmire: 0.1% (12,108 total votes)

You'll notice that a number of the most frequent vote-missers were also presidential candidates (including Mike Gravel, who ran a bit later). Obama's misses almost certainly link to his success on the national stage; he's the only one of the candidates on our graph who spent a full year of his time while in the Senate campaigning non-stop, given that he won his party's nomination. So it's not quite an apples-to-apples comparison with the nascent Cruz campaign.

Congrats to William Proxmire, by the way, Democrat of Wisconsin. He barely ever missed a vote at all.

Since we had the data in-hand, we decided to also see who the most positive and negative members of the Senate had been. And something surprising happened.

But first, here are the 2016ers (plus a 2008er) who had the highest percentage "yes" and "no" votes.

That "no" chart is particularly interesting. All the Republicans higher than average, save Rick Santorum; all of the Democrats below. Have we stumbled onto some greater truth about the parties?

No. There's a reason Santorum is the outlier on the right. He served longer -- and at a different time.

Here are the top lists among all senators for "yes" and "no" votes.

Senators voting "yes"

1. John Walsh: 93.5% (340 total votes)
2. Dean Barkley: 85.7% (14 total votes)
3. Joe Donnelly: 82.2% (825 total votes)
4. Cory Booker: 80.8% (600 total votes)
5. Angus King: 80.2% (825 total votes)
6. Heidi Heitkamp: 79.8% (825 total votes)
7. Martin Heinrich: 79.8% (825 total votes)
8. Tim Kaine: 79.5% (825 total votes)
9. Tammy Baldwin: 79.5% (825 total votes)
10. Mazie Hirono: 79.5% (825 total votes)
86. Jim Webb: 65.5% (1,839 total votes)
100. Rick Santorum: 64.5% (4,156 total votes)
101. Hillary Rodham Clinton: 64.4% (2,616 total votes)
103. Bernie Sanders: 64.3% (2,664 total votes)
263. Lindsey O. Graham: 55.7% (3,984 total votes)
311. Barack Obama: 52.4% (1,300 total votes)
392. Marco Rubio: 45.2% (1,311 total votes)
409. Rand Paul: 43.3% (1,311 total votes)
440. Ted Cruz: 36.6% (825 total votes)

Senators voting "no"

1. Mike Lee: 55.9% (1,311 total votes)
2. Tim Scott: 55.4% (825 total votes)
3. Hugh Mitchell: 54.1% (242 total votes)
4. Deb Fischer: 53.5% (825 total votes)
5. Rand Paul: 53.3% (1,311 total votes)
6. Ted Cruz: 52.7% (825 total votes)
19. Marco Rubio: 46.5% (1,311 total votes)
81. Lindsey O. Graham: 39.7% (3,984 total votes)
237. Rick Santorum: 33.5% (4,156 total votes)
279. Bernie Sanders: 32.6% (2,664 total votes)
295. Jim Webb: 32.3% (1,839 total votes)
415. Hillary Rodham Clinton: 26.1% (2,616 total votes)
429. Barack Obama: 23.5% (1,300 total votes)

A number of recent senators top both lists! What gives?

Partisanship. Lee, Scott, Walsh and Booker got to the Senate recently, when it was controlled by Democrats and when there weren't very many votes. So Democrats voted yes, along with party leaders, most of the time. Republicans voted no. In the 2016 field are a number of Republicans who are new to the Senate and a number of Democrats who didn't serve very long. (Staying in the Senate long enough to see control switch parties is a good way to diversify your voting patterns.)

To put a fine point on it, here's how the total number of votes for each of our 2016ers (and that Obama fella) compare to the average number of votes cast by those 400-plus senators.

They're all new kids, which basically every graph above reinforces. Can a new kid to the Senate who missed a lot of votes win the presidency, just like that?

Hard to say. It hasn't happened in almost seven years.