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How to know the Senate better through data visualization

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The shutdown has been averted. The debt ceiling has been raised. For now. In the process, Congress’ public approval has fallen to around 10 percent – and as low as 5 percent in one poll. But how much do you know about who actually serves in Congress? How do you know who to even disapprove of? Today, we unveil a new interactive tool that will allow you to get to know the U.S. Senate a little better. While it’s easy to focus on prominent Senate leaders like Harry Reid (D-Nev.) or Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or prominent grandstanders like Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), we think it matters who our 100 senators are: What are their backgrounds? What is their education? What did they do before coming to the Senate? Who do they depend on most to support their campaigns? All of these factors shape how they collectively make decisions. For this reason, we’ve created an interactive tool that allows you to explore the U.S. Senate. You can see how Senators break down across a wide variety of dimensions.

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The Politics of the Government Shutdown – In One Chart

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As the government shutdown begins, so does the blame game. Is it Republicans’ fault? Democrats’ fault? While the endless speculation keeps pundits busy, it’s important to remember that members of Congress don’t care about “the public” in the abstract. They care about the public in their district. We say “district” because any deal to re-start the government will require agreement by both the House and the Senate. While senators, with their broader constituencies, have to worry more about voters in the center, no such pressure exists for most House members. A quick analysis finds roughly seven in eight House Republicans (86.6 percent, to be exact, or 201 of 232) won with at least 55 percent of the vote in 2012. Additionally, 140 Republicans (60.3 percent of the caucus) won with at least 60 percent of the vote. The chart below shows the distribution of seats by margin of victory. Note: most Democrats also come from safe seats.   house_shares

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Five years of Political Party Time

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We’ve told you before about the innovative ways our elected representatives raise cash: from assault rifle raffles to March Madness fund-a-thons to swanky out-of-town retreats. But taking a step back from all the invites shows some interesting trends. Check the graphic below, and see more dataviz on our 18,000 political fundraising invitations after the jump!

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Partying for dollars: Mapping five years of political fundraisers

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When it comes to political fundraising, Congress doesn’t travel very far; 76 percent of all political fundraisers in D.C. take place within three city blocks of the U.S. Capitol, a new study by the Sunlight Foundation shows. Additionally, these fundraisers are concentrated in and around congressional working hours and on days when the House and Senate are in session (more to come on this trend tomorrow). What this map illustrates, in interactive color, is how deeply ingrained fundraising has become in the day-to-day life of Washington and in the routines of the people who work here.

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What the banks’ three-year war on Dodd-Frank looks like

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Graphics by Ben Chartoff and Amy Cesal. Network analysis by Alexander Furnas. In the three years since President Barack Obama signed the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, federal regulators charged with implementing it have opened their doors to the biggest banks over and over again – 14 times as frequently as they have to representatives of consumer and pro-financial reform groups, a new Sunlight Foundation analysis finds. By most accounts, the banks’ besiege-the-regulators strategy has yielded rich rewards in sapping, slowing, and stymieing regulations intended to prevent another massive financial crisis. The emerging consensus is that Dodd-Frank implementation is limping, while the big banks are poised to return to being the most profitable industry in the U.S. Sunlight’s analysis is based on logs of Dodd-Frank meetings at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the Treasury, and the Federal Reserve Board., available through Sunlight’s Dodd-Frank Meetings Tracker. Because of problems with data quality and comprehensiveness, we had to exclude two other regulatory agencies (the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission). And because of the time involved in data cleaning, we also excluded 22 percent of reported meetings – those that did not include “active” players. (By “active” we mean organizations that showed up at least five times in meeting logs.) For more on the data, see our methodology section at the end of this post, and read our companion piece, “Dodd-Frank meeting data need improvement.” Still, the imbalances our analysis reveals are so overwhelming that we can be confident that they are not merely a feature of the reporting practices.

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Why the 2012 election was unusual — and why it wasn’t

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Back in the days after the 2012 election, when it became clear that despite losing the popular House vote, Republicans had actually won a sizeable majority in the House, plenty of speculation set in as to why: Was it gerrymandering? Was it geography? Or just luck? Thanks to data from the latest edition of Vital Statistics on Congress (a joint product of the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute that has just been posted online), we can put 2012 in better historical context. Last year marked the first time since at least 1946 (the first year for which Vital Statistics has data) that one party (the Democrats) won the pluralirty of the popular vote in U.S. House but ended up with less than the majority of seats. While such a reversal of electoral fortune is unusual, a significant disparity between a party’s seat share and vote share is not. Historically, Democrats have benefited from distortions of apportionment much more than Republicans, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. Fig 1

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Are the 1% of the 1% pulling politics in a conservative direction?

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In the 2012 election 28 percent of all disclosed political contributions came from just 31,385 people. In a nation of 313.85 million, these donors represent the 1% of the 1%, an elite class that increasingly serves as the gatekeepers of public office in the United States.

 
The more conservative the Republican, the more dependent that Republican is likely to be on the nation's biggest individual donors, a new Sunlight Foundation analysis of campaign finance data finds. By "biggest individual donors," we are referring to a group we named “the 1% of the 1%” after the share of the U.S. population that they represent. These wealthy donors may be pulling Republicans to the political right, acting as a force for a more polarized Congress. The polarizing effect for Democrats, meanwhile, is unclear. If anything, more liberal Democrats depend a little less on 1% of the 1% donors than conservative Democrats. As we explored in our big-picture look at the 1% of the 1%, the biggest donors in American politics tend to give big sums of money because they want one party to win. Approximately 85 percent of the top individual donors in U.S. politics contributed at least 90 percent of their money to one party or the other. By contrast, less than four percent of these donors spread their money roughly equally between the two parties (a 60-40 split or less).
Figure 1.
the one percent of the one percent and partisanship The above figure treats all Democrats and Republicans as equivalent. In reality, both parties contain some moderates and some extremists. Some -- Ezra Klein, most prominently -- have argued that while small money exerts a polarizing tug on the parties, big money is consensus-oriented and centralizing. At the time, I responded that if big money was consensus-oriented, it was doing a terrible job of building consensus. I went further to hypothesize that big money might also be polarizing. Turns out I was more right than I knew then.

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The 1% of the 1% by state

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This table contains data on members of the 1% of the 1%, organized by state. For each column, the colors correspond to the size of the given indicator, with the darkest green referring to the ten states with the largest values, and the lightest green to the ten lowest. Click on a column name to re-sort the table by that column.

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Where the 1% of the 1% money goes

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The figures below break the 1% of the 1% up by deciles, going more in depth for the top decile (the top 3,139 donors) and then in more depth again for the top 314 donors (the 1% of the 1% of the 1%). The major takeaway  is that the biggest donors are the biggest donors because they give primarily to super PACs. Since individual aggregate contributions directly to candidates, parties and committees are legally capped at $117,000 (though some seem to ignore this), to be in the top 314 donors (minimum total of $304,000) requires at least some giving to super PACs, which allow for unlimited contributions.

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CFC (Combined Federal Campaign) Today 59063

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