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Political Networks in the Congressional Progressive Caucus, March 2009

Yesterday, we considered the progressive record of the Congressional Progressive Caucus so far this year on a substantive basis, both in reference to an index of opportunities for progressive action in the House of Representatives of the 111th Congress and in comparison to a new Populist Caucus that is working on an economic subset of the progressive agenda. Today I’d like to take another look inside the Progressive Caucus to find out what kinds of coalitions and connections between caucus members are being built.

The most appropriate way of characterizing patterns of connection is as a social network, a set of people connected somehow through a network tie. The networks you see below take all 72 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus with full voting privileges in the House of Representatives (excluding three nonvoting delegates and Senator Bernie Sanders) as their set. In these networks, a tie between two members is measured in terms of the number of bills before the House of Representatives that both members support, either as principal sponsor or supporting cosponsor.

As of March 12, 2009, there were 1,464 bills and joint resolutions submitted for consideration by the House of Representatives. Is it reasonable to say that two members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are tied to one another if they’ve jointly supported any number of these bills, even just one bill? If we take that standard, here’s the resulting network we see for the Progressive Caucus:

Social network of legislative cooperation in the Congressional Progressive Caucus as of March 2009: ties for members jointly supporting at least one bill

Wow — by those standards, the legislative network of the Progressive caucus is chock full, and I mean that literally. Every member of the CPC has sponsored or cosponsored at least one bill with every other member of the CPC. When the standard for a tie is just one jointly supported bill, we have a completely connected network. This is not a trivial finding. If we expanding our focus for the moment out to the entire House of Representatives, there are many pairs of representatives who haven’t jointly supported any bills. As of yesterday, for instance, Rep. Barbara Lee of California has sponsored or cosponsored a considerable 105 of the 1464 bills before the House, but nevertheless there are dozens of fellow members of Congress with whom she has not jointly supported a single bill. That every member of the Progressive Caucus has jointly supported at least one bill with every other member is a sign of the caucus’ ideological coherence.

But although every member of the Progressive Caucus is connected to every other member through at least one jointly supported bill, that strength of connection is weak. A stronger level of connection would be the joint support of twenty bills. A stronger tie yet would be the joint support of thirty bills… or of fifty bills. Two members of the caucus who support eighty of the same bills would be very strongly connected. The social networks below are drawn at increasing thresholds of tie strength, highlighting those members between whom connections are increasingly strong:

Social network of legislative cooperation in the Congressional Progressive Caucus as of March 2009: ties for members jointly supporting at least 20 bills

Social network of legislative cooperation in the Congressional Progressive Caucus as of March 2009: ties for members jointly supporting at least 30 bills

Social network of legislative cooperation in the Congressional Progressive Caucus as of March 2009: ties for members jointly supporting at least 50 bills

Social network of legislative cooperation in the Congressional Progressive Caucus as of March 2009: ties for members jointly supporting at least 60 bills

If you’d like to see change in the appearance of the caucus network in finer detail, click on the thumbnail below to download and watch a video in which the threshold of tie strength increases from 1 joint bill to 80 joint bills. Look at the box to the lower-middle right in the video to see the threshold change.

Social network movie video of legislative ties in the Congressional Progressive Caucus as of March 2009, varying levels of tie strength

Notice that as the threshold for tie strength goes up, fewer ties between members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus appear. The disappearance of these ties is not random. Rather, ties concentrate between members of a single core group. Above a threshold of sixty bills jointly supported in order for a tie to appear, the following core group of the Congressional Progressive Caucus resolves:

Bob Filner
Raul Grijalva
Maurice Hinchey
Barbara Lee
Carolyn Maloney
James McGovern
Janice Schakowsky
Lynn Woolsey

These members are the core in a network sense, being the set of people between whom the most joint activity is shared. But that means they’re core in a substantive sense, too, as the people in the group whose political behavior is most coordinated. Other members of the CPC fall off to the periphery of the network and of CPC joint activity.

Is the core-periphery status of members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus associated with other indicators of progressive political leadership? Yes. The two co-chairs of the caucus, Raul Grijalva and Lynn Woolsey, are also in the network core. Notice that the core of our network image is where the core of the network lies, and that those closer to the edge of the image are more peripheral (I arranged the image that way on purpose). Keeping the distribution of CPC members in that image the same, let’s color code them according to each member’s Progressive Action Score, the % of the time that each member has acted in a progressive manner regarding a slate of 20 bills before the House this year. Here’s what the result looks like:

Graphic Progressive Score for members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Plotted According to Network Centrality

Those who are at the core of the CPC network also have the highest Progressive Action Scores. The three most strongly connected members of the CPC are Raul Grijalva, Janice Schakowsky and Maurice Hinchey, and they earn three out of the four highest progressive action scores in the entire House of Representatives. The fourth in that high-scoring group, Bob Filner, is part of the broader core we name above. Where are the five members with the lowest Progressive Action Scores? On the edge of the periphery, gaining their peripheral status by jointly supporting few bills with their fellow members. It’s a good sign that these indicators are related, each apparently measuring some common underlying tendency toward a progressive political commitment.

As the 111th Congress continues, look for more reports on the cosponsorship and caucus activity of your representatives on Capitol Hill. Remember: it’s your Congress. You deserve to know what’s going on there.

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