Voting Record Scoring Methodology
Some votes can be rated in an objective manner. For example, the fiscal impact of a bill can be determined by looking at the CBO's analysis. The rating of other votes is fairly obvious. For example, voting for a bill that establishes stricter standards for the financial industry generally indicates that the legislator favors stronger financial regulation. That said, the full picture requires examining the legislative history and statements of the legislators because, for example, it could be that the politicians who most strongly favored financial regulation voted against that bill because it was not strong enough, or it could be that a bill was a compromise that nearly all legislators voted for to honor the negotiated compromise even though they were split on the issue. Furthermore, in some cases, determining which vote would have a particular effect is subjective. For example, it could be that some legislators vote to defer setting a particular environmental policy to states because they believe that the states would develop stronger environmental policies while other legislators vote against that same bill because they believe that the states would developer weaker policies. It is not possible to completely eliminate all subjectivity from the process, but in order to make the ratings as objective as possible, we have skipped rating bills when there is a signficant question as to what that vote would indicate about the legislator's position.
Each vote might count towards multiple policy areas. For example, voting for a bill that increases military spending might count against fiscal responsibility (if the spending is not offset) and also as pro-defense. The degree to which a vote contributes to a policy area is also accounted for. For example, a bill that directs the EPA to study threats to duck habitats in Georgia and appropriates a budget of $600,000 does contribute to environmental protection, but not nearly as much as a bill that raises efficiency standards for automobiles. The degree to which a vote counts for a policy area is the 'weight,' and it ranges from 1 to 10, with a vote with a weight of 10 counting the same as ten votes that have weights of 1.
You can see which votes are factored into a given policy area by clicking "expand votes" next to that policy's scale. In cases where the rating of a vote is more subjective, we have included an explanation for the scoring, which you can see by expanding the votes under any policy.
Politics That Work rates votes as time permits. Not all votes, or even close to that, have been rated. Some votes we will never rate because they simply can't be rated objectively or because they are inconsequential. But, there are many votes that we intend to rate, but it takes a fair amount of research to be confident of each rating, so we are starting with recent and high-profile votes and working down the list. The "updated" date at the bottom of each legislator's page indicates the most recent date on which we rated votes. It does not indicate that we have rated all votes up until that date.
Lastly, a word of caution. While this data provides a good estimate of where each legislator stands on each issue, it could be misleading in odd cases. For example, 39 Senators could vote against a particular bill because they think it goes too far while 1 Senator votes against it because she does not think it goes far enough, and that might result in that one Senator being scored as opposing something she actually supports strongly. It could also be the case, for example, that a Representative strongly favors both military spending and deficit reduction, but when a bill is proposed that increases military spending by increasing the deficit, whichever way he votes, it will indicate that he opposes either military spending or deficit reduction, neither of which would be a true reflection of his position on that issue. When you see a pattern where a legislator consistently votes in favor of or against a particular type of policy, but they have one or two exceptions which seem inconsistent, it is a good idea to keep in mind that their actual votes are sometimes reflective of something other than their actual support or opposition to every provision in that bill. That having been said, while individual votes may not always accurately reflect the legislator's position on that issue, their overall average does. Also, we have made every attempt to avoid this sort of problem by skipping the categorization, or reducing the weight, of votes where these sorts of ambiguities are more likely. For example, there are a number of bills where the more liberal Democrats and the more conservative Republicans ended up voting the same way, but for opposite reasons, and we have not included those votes in the scoring.
If you see any votes that you believe have been categorized incorrectly or unfairly, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and make your case.
The raw data on votes, bills and legislators comes from Govtrack.us.
See how your legislator's voting record stacks up: Search voting records.