2009 in Capitol Words + Colors


CapitolWords.org is a Sunlight Foundation site that “visualizes the most frequently used words in the Congressional Record, giving you an at-a-glance view of which issues lawmakers address on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.” As 2009 began winding down, I started poking around at the data for the year to see if I could come up with an interesting way to visually summarize the year in Congress. With a total of 58 unique words commanding the top slots over the course of the year, I thought it might be interesting to color code and present them as a sort of “at a glance” Congressional calendar. As you can see below, the word Health pretty much dominated the latter half of the year, while the first half of 2009 was dedicated to a variety of topics including Land, Energy and Credit. It is also easy to see when Congress does a lot of its work on the floor and when they tend to take breaks throughout the year (April and August, apparently).

If we look a little deeper, for example using the word “Credit”, we can see that there was a lot of use of the word in May ’09, which happens to correlate nicely with the signing of the Credit CARD Act of 2009. Of course, not all of the top words are directly related to a particular bill, and that’s part of the fun of Capitol Words. Hover over the various boxes/days and see if you can find any interesting correlations, or just marvel at the year that was 2009.

Some notes:

  • I didn’t set a threshold for inclusion, choosing to use the exact data that Capitol Words provides in the API, so you’ll see that some days the top word was only spoken a handful of times. Such is the nature of the Congressional Record and CapitolWords.org.
  • The “calendar” was generated using Processing and uses jquery QTip to show the metadata for the day.
  • Aside from assigning “Health” a blue value, the other 57 words were randomly assigned colors from a palette generated using ColorSchemeDesigner.
  • visually/conceptually inspired by colorjack.
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  • It’s really interesting how you can immediately see the dominance of an issue at a glance. The power of visualizing information.