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The dance of the Rs and Ds
May 31, 2006 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Watch political ideologies emerge and shift over hundreds of years. ANIMATE is an amazing Java app that lets you track graphically the ideological position of all the representatives to the US Congress, European Parliament, or the UN over every roll call vote in history. The really interesting part is that the application uses DW-NOMINATE data that maps the ideology of representatives, and is pretty good at predicting voting patterns. Voteworld is a related Java application that is a little less dramatic, but allows you to really dig into the data (to access DW-NOMINATE data in Voteworld, click the little orange sphere icon in the application).

On the US side:"There are two major lessons to take away from ANIMATE. First, over time, you see less and less motion of individual legislators, particularly after the Civil War. This shows the stabilization of the American political system. Second, after the Civil War you will see the major party clusters growing further apart until the turn of the century, then come together and overlap, and beginning in the 1970s draw apart again. That is, throughout most of the twentieth century, political divisions blurred but in the last quarter one sees the polarization of American politics."
posted by blahblahblah (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Pretty much an un-usable GUI on my laptop as it opens larger than 1024x768 with no scrollbars and is un-resizable.
posted by octothorpe at 9:25 AM on May 31, 2006


We probably didn't need this tool to learn the "lesson" you quote -- the clusters, overlaps, and recent drawing apart have been self-evident and obvious. But the nuances of the shifting positions and the exact times and "shapes" of the shifts are very neatly illustrated with this. Thanks for the post.
posted by beagle at 9:49 AM on May 31, 2006


Isn't polarization kind of an expected outcome when the parties are only two and historically are supposed to oppose each other ?
posted by elpapacito at 9:54 AM on May 31, 2006


Yeah, a two party system hardly lends itself to "evolution". That's just calcification.
posted by slatternus at 9:58 AM on May 31, 2006


Isn't polarization kind of an expected outcome...

Sure, but the thing is that for a big while, they weren't (very) polarized in the US. The US House was characterized by two ideologically overlapping parties and was effectively governed by a cross-party coalition.

You see something similar if you look at NOMINATE scores for US state legislatures -- lots are very polarized (moreso than recent Congresses), but in others party is a poor predictor of voting. Narrow majorities seem to breed partisan voting patterns.

Yeah, a two party system hardly lends itself to "evolution". That's just calcification.

But you *do* see substantial change over time in the distribution and organization of NOMINATE scores for Congress. The big shifts are in the axis of disagreement between the parties, which shifts from being nearly perfectly ideological in the 1930s to a mix of ideology and racial concerns in the 1950s--1970s and then shifts back towards an ideological division.

We probably didn't need this tool to learn the "lesson" you quote -- the clusters, overlaps, and recent drawing apart have been self-evident and obvious.

It's worth checking to see if even the obvious and self-evident things are actually supported by the data.

blahblahblah is Chuck Stewart or Jim Snyder AICMFP.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:36 AM on May 31, 2006


Broke it already...
posted by DesbaratsDays at 10:52 AM on May 31, 2006


ROU_Xenophobe -- you got one of the institutions right, but I am in a different department. Good guess, however.

I also recommend the UN simulation - it is cool to see the formation of the various blocs and how they change over time.
posted by blahblahblah at 1:10 PM on May 31, 2006


That's really very cool. It shows zeitgeist.
posted by stbalbach at 1:54 PM on May 31, 2006


Just excellent. Many thanks.
posted by 3.2.3 at 3:05 PM on May 31, 2006


House #85, 1957-1958... Why does this look like the pepsi logo to me?

Surprisingly, I see that LaFollette was listed in the anti-civil rights portion. And I've been indoctrinated by the Madison Liberals that he's such a "progressive"... I'm gonna have to research a bit more I guess.

Thanks for this interesting tool :)
posted by symbioid at 4:37 PM on May 31, 2006


I wish I could get it to work.
posted by tkchrist at 5:18 PM on May 31, 2006


Surprisingly, I see that LaFollette was listed in the anti-civil rights portion.

Interpretations of the second-dimension / vertical scores is tricky, messy, and inexact.

The way that NOMINATE in all its variations works is that you tell it how many dimensions it should use, and it goes ahead and estimates ideal points in that many dimensions. But it doesn't have the slightest idea what the dimensions are substantively. All it knows is that there are two orthogonal dimensions. Or one, or thirty-seven, or whatever you told it to look for.

Interpreting comes later, and is mostly a matter of asking what sort of distinction makes sense. People look at the first dimension, and it seems to be pretty reliably ideology* -- that is, it puts Ted Kennedy and Strom Thurmond at opposite ends and Jim Jeffords more towards the middle. But the second dimension isn't nearly as reliable in that respect. To the people who created the software and others it looks like it should be something to do with race, but only vaguely and inexactly.

*Except for the Nebraska Legislature, where even long-time legislative reporters can't make any sense out of who's on each end.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:02 PM on May 31, 2006


It's intresting how it puts the democrats as being more anti-civil rights, and how more centrist democrats are much more likely to be anti civil rights.
posted by delmoi at 7:55 PM on May 31, 2006


That's almost certainly just because southern Representatives were all Democrats.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:06 PM on May 31, 2006


Looking at the UN version, it's a bit interesting that Poland was always just a little out of step with the remainder of the Warsaw Pact, which otherwise appears to have voted en (Soviet) bloc except for Romania whose pattern drifted all over the place from year to year. Oh, that wacky Ceausecu!
posted by SenshiNeko at 5:18 PM on June 1, 2006


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