Announcing the Return of “Capitol Words”


The logo for the Sunlight Foundation's Capitol Words projectMore than three years ago, we launched a website called Capitol Words that gave an at-a-glance view of what word was most popular in Congress. Today, the Sunlight Foundation is unveiling the completely revamped and rewritten Capitol Words.

To folks who never had a chance to play with our previous version, Capitol Words scrapes the bulk data of the Congressional Record from the Government Printing Office, does some computer magic to clean-up and organize the data, then presents an easy-to-use front-end website where you can quickly search the favorite keywords of legislators, states or dates.

The new version now allows users to search, index and graph up to five-word phrases that give greater context and meaning to the turns-of-phrase zinging across the aisle. Where we once could only track individual terms like ‘health‘ or ‘energy,’ now we can break down the issue further into ‘health care reform,’ ‘renewable energy,’ ‘high energy prices‘ or however you wish.

The new advanced comparison chart pits two terms against each other in a contest of partisanship or popularity. The simple chart plots the contest winner and visualizes the debate with an embed code as easy to use as a YouTube video. A prime example is the chart generated for the recent health care reform debate and rise of the term ‘Obamacare’:

Capitol Words now pulls in every word and legislator in the Congressional Record going back more than 15 years to January 1996, when Congress first began a digital record of proceedings. For developers who are excited about this comprehensive database, read the details of the API offerings here.

The additional features we’ve added developed from the strong foundation of the old Capitol Words that bore ongoing fruit in the form of news stories, material for visualizations or just humorous insights. The Washington Post used Capitol Words to looks up favorite words of notable lawmakers from budget hawks to zombies. Reuters used Capitol Words to look back on the year and find the hottest topics and Gawker even indexed craziness using our word counts. took the Capitol Words API and made a fun animated site matching up politicians. Back at the Sunlight offices, we eagerly played with the data to make a colorful reflection on the year, a mashup of party leaders and an analysis of the effectiveness of a strategist’s memo by looking at the use of suggested terms. Capitol Words digs up the data for new stories about Congress every day and the latest version provides an expanded level of detail and history.

Please lose yourself in the sea of Washington babble and let us know what you find in the deep.