On One Hand

April 29, 2009

The Coolest Political Web Graphic Ever

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:05 pm
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The coolest political web graphic ever comes from my favorite Online news magazine, Slate.com.

The graphic, here, represents Democratic and Republican senators as a bunch of blue or red dots, and, like a Facebook friendship network, draws lines between them if they are connected. The criteria is this: two senators are connected if they voted together at least 65 percent of the time in 2009.

The computer initially randomizes the dots but gradually moves them into a more “balanced” physical map – it pulls together those who are connected by a line, and pushes apart those who are not connected. Democrats and Republicans almost immediatly separate into two distinct camps. Some breakoffs appear: the two moderate Republican senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, isolate themselves between the parties. In some scenarios they even start in the Democratic cluster and graduately migrate outward to a position in the middle.

You can mouse over unlabeled dots to see which senator they represent, and the program will also highlight all other senators with direct links.

After a while, moderate Democrat Ben Nelson pops out of the Democratic pack, and Republican senator George Voinovich graduately migrates to the Democratic side of the Republican mass. Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter, the purple dot, is still more conservative than some Republicans but distinguishes himself from the pack as having few allies in either party – only 14 Republicans and one Democrat.

The scenario does not have any initial tendency to place the party extremists at any location in the map; the diehard liberals do not gravitate toward either the center or the far edge of their party’s node, as might be intuitive. That’s because almost all senators in either party are already connected to nearly everyone else in their own party, be they liberals, conservatives or moderates. But it’s interesting to see who the real “mavericks” are, and there are only five. Hint: John McCain isn’t one of them.

I left the window open for a solid half hour and the Democratic side was still bumping and nudging around a little bit to find a better equilibrium, though the Republican side was completely satisfied.

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