Data on Congressional Voting Records for Presidential Candidates

Josh Wright —  3 September 2008

I don’t like blogging about politics except when there is some antitrust angle. This, for reasons that are obvious but still disappoint me, doesn’t happen too often (but see here and here). My general disinclination to blog about politics is that it isn’t my area of expertise and I don’t think I can really add anything interesting to the discussion that someone else won’t — though many appear not to view this as a prerequisite. And quite frankly, I’d like to get through one day without hearing or reading the words “one heartbeat away” or “any of the other various slogans and talking points floating around. Anyway, all of this is to set up that I’m violating my own rule to point out what I think is a pretty interesting fact and data source. Ian Ayres at Freakonomics points to this Congressional Quarterly tool which allows one to to see estimates of how often a Senator or Representative voted in support of the President or along party lines.

Ayres is making an interesting point about the appropriate benchmark with which to evaluate Obama’s statement that “a 10% chance for change isn’t enough,” referring to the percentage of the time McCain votes support President Bush.   Ayres notes that the appropriate benchmark is not 0%, but rather at least the 40% of the time that Senator Obama supported McCain. Ayres writes in response to Obama’s charge that “a 10% chance for change isn’t enough,” that apparently, “by Obama’s reckoning, I guess a 60 percent chance of change is enough.” As Ayres notes, it would be pretty embarrassing for the Obama candidacy if, after pounding on the 90% support rate, it turned out they to agreed with President Bush a vast majority (even a slight majority?) of the time. But as it turns out, a 60% disagreement rate is a fairly high relative to other Democrats.

The Presidential Support scores for Biden, McCain and Obama during the Bush Era, respectively, are: 52, 90 and 40%. Congressional Quarterly also has preliminary data for 2008 votes and I thought it would be interesting to simply compare those support rates to the average over the Bush Era. One problem the comparison is that both Obama and McCain participated in fewer than half of the relevant votes this year while campaigning.  Nonetheless, here are the figures (with differences relative to Bush Era averages in parenthesis) for 2008 votes:

  • Senator Biden: 34% (-18%)
  • Senator McCain: 100% (+10%)
  • Senator Obama: 19% (-21%)

In other words, McCain has supported President Bush 10% more often than his Bush Era average in the available votes in 2008 while Senators Biden and Obama become increasingly more likely to vote against the President.  I don’t claim that these figures will surprise anybody.  They shouldn’t.  But I did think that the numbers were interesting and I and that the data source was worth sharing so others who may not have seen it could take a look.