What does the Senate have in common with single-celled organisms? This diagram.

Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference last Friday morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had this to say about factionalism within the Republican Party:

"The mainstream media loves nothing more than to sow division among conservatives. They love it when we take shots at each other. It gets more coverage than a D.C. snowstorm."

As a member of the media, my Illuminati overlords prohibit me from acknowledging media bias. But I might point out that McConnell’s own crew of Senate Republicans have divided themselves quite ably without anyone sowing anything, based purely on how they have voted in 2013.  

To find out how united or divided both Republicans and Democrats are in the current senate, I started with a simple concept: For every member, I calculated which other senators voted the same way at least 65 percent of the time. In effect, this organizes the senate as a mini-Facebook of 100 users, in which any given pair of senators are friends if they meet this 65-percent threshold. When visualized, the picture looks like the final stages of cell division when a Paramecium reproduces, in which a formerly unified body has nearly split into two distinct creatures.

Visualizations like this one work by treating the senators as particles that repel one another, and treating the connections between them as springs that hold them together. Because the Democrats vote so cohesively, with few defectors, they are held together by a large number of springs. Because Republicans are less organized and less disciplined in their opposition—or more bipartisan, depending how you want to cast it—their side of the network is more diffuse.


The 65-percent figure I’m using to draw connections is a bit arbitrary, so you can adjust it with the slider at the top to see how connections materialize or disintegrate based on that threshold of bipartisanship. As you drag the slider to the right, you’ll see that the Republican coalition breaks up far faster than the Democratic cluster. In fact,22 Democrats have voted together in all 37 votes so far in 2013.

If 37 votes doesn’t seem like enough information to draw any conclusions, just select a previous congress from the dropdown menu in the upper right corner. It’s the same picture for every session of congress.

You may also notice that voting discipline seems to be function of who’s in charge, not an intrinsic value of liberalism. (Anyone who has seen Democratic politics from the inside knows this in their bones.) If you select the Republican-controlled 108th Congress, you can see a similar effect in reverse. At a 75 percent threshold, there is not a single connection between the clusters. As you drag the slider to the right, you see the blue dots scatter much faster than the red dots.

Alexander Furnas, a political scientist and fellow at the Sunlight Foundation who examined this data for me, suggests this is because of the control the majority party holds over what comes to a vote.

“The majority is unlikely to bring things to vote unless they can garner 60 votes to be filibuster proof. Given that usually the majority does not have a filibuster-proof supermajority, that means that they are bringing things to vote that they know can peel off a few votes from the minority,” he said. “It is likely that that process contributes to the lower voting cohesion in the minority party.”

At high thresholds, the factions begin to emerge. If you select Florida Republican Marco Rubio in the 113th congress and drag the bar to the 80 percent mark, a purely organic image of the tea party emerges in the mini-network of like-minded voters: Rubio, Rand Paul (R-KY), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), James Risch (R-ID), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Tim Scott (R-SC).

There are dozens of ways to slice and dice lawmakers based on their voting behavior, most of which place members of Congress on a linear scale of partisanship. Congressional Quarterly, for example, measures the percentage of the time a member votes with his or her party, counting only votes in which a majority of Democrats opposed a majority of Republicans. Political scientists tend to prefer more complex methods like NOMINATE, which is more statistically rigorous but less intuitive.

But I do not think these measures fully capture what the Senate is: not so much two homogenous sides as aseries of affiliated cliques. In other words, more like the lunchroom scene in Mean Girls than the gym scene in West Side Story. McConnell’s denial that there are divisions within the party, in fact, has clear echoes of Regina George herself:

Can I just say that we don't have a clique problem at this school? And some of us shouldn't have to take this workshop because some of us are just victims in this situation?

Regina wasn’t correct about that either.

  • Geraldo Rivera Causes Controversy: 'What a Woman Brings to a Marriage More Than Anything Else ... Is …
    Geraldo Rivera Causes Controversy: 'What a Woman Brings to a Marriage More Than Anything Else ... Is …

    On Monday, Geraldo Rivera, no stranger to controversy, stirred things up again while appearing on the Fox News show "Outnumbered." In a segment on what 20-somethings really want in a marriage, the talk turned to the concept of "beta marriages," in which the union can be formalized or dissolved after a two-year trial period with no paperwork or hassle, allowing partners to see if they want to continue beyond a short-term commitment.

  • BlackBerry buffs up security credentials with Secusmart deal
    BlackBerry buffs up security credentials with Secusmart deal

    By Euan Rocha NEW YORK (Reuters) - BlackBerry Ltd is buying a privately held German firm that specializes in voice and data encryption, it said on Tuesday, in a bid to burnish its credentials with highly security-conscious clients like government ‎agencies. The acquisition is the latest by the smartphone pioneer to build on niche areas in an attempt to reinvent itself under new Chief Executive John Chen and recover ground ceded to Apple Inc's iPhone and Samsung Electronics Co's Galaxy devices. "It is a really reassuring sign that BlackBerry is now less focused on firefighting and more focused on identifying and building for the long-term into enterprise services," said CCS Insight analyst Geoff Blaber. Still, BlackBerry shares fell 4 percent to $9.54 on Nasdaq and C$10.45 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

  • Jury awards Ventura $1.8M in defamation case
    Jury awards Ventura $1.8M in defamation case

    ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura won $1.8 million Tuesday in his two-year fight to prove he was defamed by a military sniper and best-selling author who claimed to have punched out Ventura at a bar for bad-mouthing the Navy SEALs.

  • Obama eats ribs with 4 Kansas City letter writers
    Obama eats ribs with 4 Kansas City letter writers

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — President Barack Obama feasted on barbecue Tuesday with four people who wrote him letters in a trip to highlight the struggles of working families in American's heartland, as the clock ticked on pressing issues before Congress goes on summer break.

  • Some Ukrainian rebels vent frustration with Putin
    Some Ukrainian rebels vent frustration with Putin

    By Aleksandar Vasovic DONETSK Ukraine (Reuters) - Western leaders may be Vladimir Putin's biggest critics over the conflict in east Ukraine but the Russian leader is also facing criticism from some of the rebels they accuse him of arming. The European Union and the United States have imposed new sanctions on Russia because they say Putin has not done enough to persuade the pro-Russian separatists to stop fighting and is supplying them with weapons. Squeezed by the Ukrainian army into their last two strongholds, the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, the rebels complain they are outnumbered and outgunned. "Oh, how we would like to see the Russian army here," said a fighter who gave his name only as Pavel, standing outside the rebel headquarters in Donetsk, an industrial city about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of the nearest border crossing with Russia.

  • AP ANALYSIS: Amid war, endgames in Gaza emerge
    AP ANALYSIS: Amid war, endgames in Gaza emerge

    TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — The savage fighting between Israel and Hamas is escalating in Gaza, cease-fire efforts take on elements of farce, and bravado rules the public discourse. But even through the fog of war, a few endgame scenarios can nonetheless be glimpsed.

  • The Army’s New Handgun: A Weapon for Criminals?
    The Army’s New Handgun: A Weapon for Criminals?

    There’s a new semi-automatic handgun on the horizon for the Army that U.S. consumers may have access to almost immediately. The goal is to develop something far more advanced and powerful than the Cold-War era Beretta M9, which the Army has been using for nearly three decades. Since the Army is “the lead agent for small arms,” whatever weapon is produced would also have to meet “the needs of the other services,” reports Military.com. “The Army is seeking to replace the M9 and M11 pistols with a handgun that is more accurate, ergonomic, reliable and durable than the current pistol.”

  • Airbus cancels $2.2 bn jet order from Japan's Skymark
    Airbus cancels $2.2 bn jet order from Japan's Skymark

    Airbus on Tuesday said it has cancelled a $2.2 billion deal with Skymark Airlines for the purchase of six A380 superjumbos, reportedly over concerns about payment. The Airbus announcement came hours after Skymark said it was locked in "difficult" talks with the European aircraft manufacturer about its 2011 order, which had marked a big victory for the firm in a market long monopolised by rival Boeing. Skymark's Tokyo-listed shares plunged about 13 percent to close at 250 yen ($2.45) after the airline said it was negotiating with Airbus to "revise" the multi-plane order inked three years ago. "Following discussions with Skymark Airlines, and in light of the airline's expressed intentions in respect of the A380, Airbus has in accordance with its contractual rights notified Skymark Airlines that the purchase order... has been terminated," Airbus said in a statement.

Follow Yahoo! News

Loading...