Legislative Effectiveness, Part II: The South

This is a second post about legislative effectiveness. The first post is here.

After looking at the difference in legislative effectiveness between the majority and minority parties using new research from the book The Lawmakers, this is a more in-depth analysis of their data for the region of the country that I live in and call home: the South. (The researchers themselves examine the role of Southern Democrats.)

In this analysis, I want to see, using their legislative effectiveness scores (LES):

  1. If the effectiveness of Southern representatives have increased with the growth in Southern population (Southern states should have gained House members)
  2. Where in the South the effectiveness has increased or decreased

To get the regions, I used the US Census Bureau’s designation of regions and divisions. The Census has a loose definition of the South. Most egregiously, in my opinion, is that they not only include Delaware, the District of Columbia, and Maryland in the South, but also smush it in with Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas within the same sub-division, the “South Atlantic.” I can handle DC & Maryland being considered Southern only because of the Mason-Dixon line , but Delaware? Well, they were a slave state, so… Delaware, I thought I knew you (as a corporate tax haven)? Southern by the grace of God enslaving people.

Still, I need to split up the Census’ South Atlantic division, if only because it has eight states, while the other two southern divisions only have four each. It will make for easier comparing between the divisions. Delaware, DC, and Maryland will be paired with Virginia and West Virginia as “Middle South Atlantic,” while Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas will be “East South Atlantic.” The rest of the Census divisions are here. (My head is still spinning about Delaware, so I don’t have the energy to scoff at Texas and Oklahoma being Southern, especially the Okies. ANYWAY.)

Test 1: Southern Effectiveness Growth 

To test if Southern effectiveness has increased, we first have to see if the number of members in the South has increased. I am assuming Southern membership will have grown because of the region’s population growth. (On a side note, the West should probably increase, too.)

Southern House Membership

Southern and Western membership in the House has been steadily increasing, while the Northeast and Midwest have been declining. This isn’t too surprising. But what about effectiveness?

Effectiveness by Region

This gets more interesting. Despite more Southern members, the average effectiveness of Southerners didn’t jump until the Republicans took over the House again in 2011. At the same time, Northeastern reps’ effectiveness jumped when the Dems took over in 2007 and then plummeted when Boehner and company got their mojo back.

Test 1 Result: Southern effectiveness didn’t actually increase until the Republicans took over the House after the 2010 midterm election. This seems to reflect the South as the heart of the Republican party, especially considering that Southern Democrats were losing effectiveness in the 70s and 80s.

Test 2: Where In The South?

Within the South, we can see exactly where House membership has grown.

Number of Southern House Members by Census Division, 1973-2011


While the “West South Central” (the green line: Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas) has been increasing, my newly crowned division, the “East South Atlantic” (the purple line: Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas), took off in the 1990s. The rest of the South, House memership-wise (and thusly population-wise), remains stagnant. But how does that transfer over to legislative effectiveness?

Average Effectiveness of Southern House Members by Census Division

The mid-1980s, like in the second chart in this post, weren’t good for the South. Their influence was dipping in all divisions. However, once we get into the 1990s, the divisions are, well, divided. States like Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee (the red line) can’t find traction. It wasn’t until the GOP takeover of Congress in 2011 do we see each Southern division’s effectiveness ratchet up.

Test 2 Result: In the 1990s and 2000s, the South Atlantic states (Southern states that touch the Atlantic Ocean) were much more effective. The differences in effectiveness were also more pronounced. The split between the divisions is starkest in the Congressional sessions starting in 2007 and 2009, both Democratic majorities, when the Mid-Atlantic states’ effectiveness shoots up and the other three divisions are at or near their nadir. When that tanned Ohioan became Speaker, those three shot up while the Mid-Atlantic came down, showing exactly which parts of the South are dominated by Republicans.

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Legislative Effectiveness, Part I: Pelosi vs. Boehner

Two political science professors, Craig Volden and Alan Wiseman, have come up with a way to measure the effectiveness of individual House representatives in their new book. They’ve created a “legislative effectiveness score” (LES) that compares each individual member’s legislative productivity during one two-year session relative to other members of that Congressional session. (Each two-year term has 450 points – equal to the number of members – available.) In their words:

“As concisely defined, legislative effectiveness is the proven ability to advance a member’s agenda items through the legislative process and into law.”

They try to show how successful a member of the House is able to move their bill through the committee process, onto the floor, have it pass, and eventually be signed into law. (Within each of these steps there are more finely grained indicators of effectiveness.) Effectiveness is only related to bills – not deal-making skills, constituent services, media appearances, or eating corn dogs at state fairs. “Significant” and “substantive” bills are weighted more than, say, a new name for a post office. They examined the 93rd through 112nd House sessions, which span from 1973-2012.

Volden and Wiseman look at a host of indicators for each member to try and find what criteria, if any, lead to more effectiveness: committee chairmanship, majority or minority party, women, African-American, and more. In addition to all the richness of variables they examine, I’m also interested in how different regions, the South especially, have fared in this research.

But before getting to regional differences, let’s get a sense of what the LES looks like in general. I took their data set and played around with it in R. Here’s a chart showing the effectiveness of the average majority and minority party member. Remember, there’s 450 points available – an average of 1 per member – for each Congress:


As you’d might expect, a representative in the majority party is going to be more effective than a minority party colleague. That doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual Democrat in, say, the 99th Congress (1985-1987) is more or less effective than a Republican, but as a whole, the lefty is more likely to push their bill through than the righty.


In the above chart, we see the LES score of each representative split up between majority and minority party members. The minority members  are concentrated near the bottom – joined by most of the majority, by the way – while the most effective members are almost always in the majority. And guess who is the most effective lawmaker based on their data? Why, it’s controversial New York Democrat Charlie Rangel, who was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee from 2007-2010 until he had to step down from the committee because of ethics violations. Despite being 84 and “disgraced” (in the eyes of some), he was reelected a couple weeks ago.

Last but not least, let’s look at a couple of lightning rods, House Majority Leader John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.


Speaker Boehner, using Volden and Wiseman’s calculation, is the much more effective legislator. He was a committee chair during the Bush presidency when the Republicans held the House. Pelosi never held a committee chair (she was on Appropriations and the senior Democrat on the Intelligence committee), just party leadership positions. This isn’t to say she wasn’t “effective,” just that the tangible data points used don’t translate well for her. Her prodigious fundraising for other Democrats isn’t incorporated.

Stay tuned for my look at the South through the lens of legislative effectiveness later this week.

(Code and data here on Github. Warning, the code is still a work in progress.)

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Map Quest: Nashville Residential Building Permits

Strap on your tool belt, we’re talkin’ ’bout building permits! Specifically, we’re dipping our toes into the building of new homes in Nashville, Tennessee, where we mourn the loss of former resident Swizzle Stick to the Big Apple. Bye, Tay-Tay!

Nashville’s real estate market has been on fire the last few years, and there’s much discussion in the local media about how the rising sales prices and rents are affecting the growing population. Looking at building permit data, specifically permits for new residences (not demolitions or rehabs, which would be interesting to see) would… permit me… to accomplish a few things:

  1. Use Nashville’s public data web site
  2. See if information on building permits coincides with the fastest growing Nashville neighborhoods
  3. Broaden my R knowledge by trying to make a map.

I’ve been getting pretty good at making charts in R, but whenever I’d see some egghead make an awesome map, I’d get envious. Learning that R demi-god Hadley Wickham has co-developed a package within R to make maps, using ggmap (the package) and Nashville data was a no brainer.

Without further ado, here’s where building permits for new residences have been distributed in Nashville. The lighter the blue, the more permits in that area.


If you’re familiar with neighborhoods in Nashville, most new residences seem to be in East Nashville and southwest of downtown. Let’s focus in closer to downtown.


Now we can really see the density of building permits for new residences in East Nashville, as well as the Hillsboro/12South (south of downtown) and Sylvan Park/West Nashville areas. This isn’t too surprising. We could look at these last two places, but let’s take one more zoomed in look at yuppie/hipster central, East Nashville.


Everyone is trying to build as close to Five Points as possible (without going west of Gallatin Pike).

The locations of new residential building permits show where homeowners and investors are remaking Nashville’s housing supply. It doesn’t explain the consequences of this building – the gentrification, huge rents, and traffic (to name a few) – but it does confirm that people trying to live in the city are trying to move to the same three or four areas.

(Code and data located here.)

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Frank Wren’s Firing: Looking At The Braves Through A New (To Me) Metric

While the Major League Baseball playoffs have been amazing so far, the Atlanta Braves’ 2014 season is mercifully over. After a quick start to the season (17-7), they finished three games under .500 and 17 games back from the division leader.

Oh, boy, was Atlanta’s offense terrible. They scored the second fewest runs in the majors and struck out the fourth most. It was painful to watch BJ Upton swing and miss so much. (His brother, Justin, only struck out two fewer times than BJ, although Justin can connect when he actually hits the ball.)

The general manager Frank Wren, the hand-picked successor of John Schuerholz, took the fall. (Schuerholz is considered the brains, along with manager Bobby Cox, of the Braves’ 1990s success.) He was fired after seven years on the job by… John Schuerholz. Who chose Frank Wren’s replacement, John Hart, a friend of John Schuerholz? Mmm, John Schuerholz. But we’re not here to talk about John Schuerholz.

Wren just had too many bad signings and dead money during his tenure. His decisions have been chronicled in depth here by Braves blog Talking Chop, so I’ll just look at the bottom line: Money and Wins. How much value did Frank Wren wring out of Atlanta’s rising salary?

We’re going to look at it by seeing how much he paid per win by doing a simple calculation: team salary divided by wins. To put the Braves’ performance in more context, we’ll compare them with the 2014 National League playoff teams: Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Washington. We’ll start by looking from 1988 through 2014, as far back as USA Today’s salary database goes.

Salary Per Win, 1998-2014

Every team is paying more per win these days. The revenue explosion in baseball (mostly from TV money), plus a strong players union, sees to that. The Dodgers, always big spenders, have outdone themselves since 2012. Their division rivals, the Giants, have been trying to keep up, and have won two World Series’ recently in 2010 and 2012.

Although this is interesting, the statistic doesn’t “normalize” the value of the win. How do we go about comparing salary per win when salaries are constantly rising?

The method I have taken is to compare the salaries and wins according to how well the teams do versus a .500 club with the same salary. Basically, how does their salary/win ratio per season compare against a team with the same salary that won 81 games? By then finding the percent change of the 81-win ratio from the actual ratio, we’ll be able to compare a team’s success (success in this instance being salary/win) from year-to-year.

Salary/Win Ratio vs Wins

The above plot show how this new relationship works. As a team becomes better than 81 wins (a .500 winning percentage), the salary/win value increases versus the 81-win team.

Braves Value vs 500 team

Focusing on just the Braves, Wren was extracting a lot of value out of the team from 2009-2012. It was a strong improvement over the last five years of the Schuerholz era. One could even interpret Wren’s firing after this season as a bit harsh. However, the bad free agent signings, a listless team, and some tension in the front office led to Atlanta’s upper management pulling the plug.

(Note: Not sure if what I did is really “new.” Baseball stats are sliced and diced so often, it’s hard to know what is original and what isn’t. Code and data on Github here.)

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Oberlin College: Not A Football School

Oberlin College football point differential

Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, is not a football powerhouse.

Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, is not a football school. It has a football team, the Yeomen, but it seems they will never approach the success of Division III powerhouse Washington & Jefferson College or Yeowoman-in-Chief Lena Dunham.

Which is good for my alma mater, the College of Wooster. COW was beaten up two Saturdays ago by the Washington & Jefferson Presidents 51-17, the same score as their loss to W&J in 2013, 58-21. An easy victory is needed for the Fighting Scots, who have now lost their season opener six years in a row.

Oberlin is a punching bag for the North Coast Athletic Conference, of which Wooster is a part. They have averaged only three wins a season since 2000 and haven’t gotten to 5 wins (a .500 winning percentage in the 10-game season) since 2007.

Oberlin football attendance

Oberlin’s home crowds are usually small compared to what they face on the road

The lack of interest in Yeomen football is seen in their attendance totals. While ticking up lately, the home attendance is usually much lower than what they face on the road. A tradition of losing and no home field advantage does not bode well for success. Their English department is pretty good, though.

Wooster has only lost once to Oberlin in their eleven meetings since 2000, and that was in 2003. Tomorrow’s game against the Yeomen is looking favorable for the Scots. Hopefully they can take advantage.

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College of Wooster Football: Stay Lucky in 2014?

2012 was a bad year for the College of Wooster tackle football team. The Fighting Scots bottomed out at 2-8, steadily declining each year since an 8-2 record in 2008. After hiring a new coach, they rebounded in 2013 at 7-3.

Wooster Football Winning Percentage

The first half of 2012 wasn’t actually that bad, despite starting off 1-4. They lost those four games by a total of 24 points. In Week 6 they bounced back and beat up Hiram 45-14, but then the finished on a down note, losing their last four games by a combined 69 points.

The 7-3 record last year actually hides the fact they weren’t as good as they were in previous winning seasons. Their overall point differential (Points Scored – Points Allowed) was actually negative. Since 1999, Wooster has had an impressive 10 winning seasons, and 2013 is the only one in which they gave up more points than they scored.

College of Wooster Football Point Differential, 1999-2013

They were crushed in their three losses in 2013 by an average of 34 points, while winning by an average of 12. They got lucky in two of their last three games (all victories), beating Kenyon by 10, while outlasting DePauw and Ohio Wesleyan by three and one points, respectively.

The 2014 season, which starts this Saturday at Washington & Jefferson College in southwestern Pennsylvania, will be a big year for Wooster. Will the Scots be able to build on a surprisingly successful year, or will they fall back to earth some? They face a tough test in week one. The Presidents – yes, W&J’s mascot is the Presidents – smacked Wooster 58-21 last year, and CoW hasn’t won a season opener since 2008.

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Heath Care Update: Medicaid Enrollment Is Up Where They Want Medicaid

Not surprisingly, Medicaid enrollment is up in states where they want Medicaid.

Since open enrollment for expanded Medicaid coverage started last October under Obamacare the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has been releasing Medicaid enrollment numbers for all 50 states. In the most recent report released August 8, Medicaid enrollment is up in the states that have decided to expand (25 + DC), while in states that didn’t expand Medicaid, enrollment is do- Wait, enrollment is actually up in most of those states, too.

For instance, in Kentucky, an expansion state, Medicaid enrollment is up almost 17% from this time last year. Neighboring Tennessee, which hasn’t expanded, is still up 7%. The word is out on enrolling for health insurance, whether it’s for private plans or Medicaid.

From May to June 2014, six months into expansion, Medicaid enrollment increased nearly everywhere.

Medicaid enrollment May 2014 to June 2014

Even states not expanding Medicaid are seeing their Medicaid rolls grow from month-to-month. (Source: CMS)

Taking a wider view, CMS tracks the enrollment change from before open enrollment (the average of June through September 2013) to June 2014. In expanding states, there has been an 18% increase since last year (6.5 million more people), while non-expanding states have increase 4% (975,000 people). You can see the stark difference in the chart below:

Medicaid enrollment differences from last year to this year

There is a stark difference in Medicaid enrollment between non-expanding states and expanding states. (Source: CMS)

Each dot is a state, and the brighter the dot, the more states are clustered around that percentage. For expanding states, Nevada and Oregon have increased their Medicaid population by over 50%, while the highest non-expanding state is Georgia, by percentage (16%) and population (246,000 more people). You’d think with that much pent up demand in places like Georgia or Florida (223,000 more people), that would move the needle a bit in the state legislatures.

Taking a more detailed dive into the year-to-year change, below shows the type of online health care exchange states are using. The exchange can be both for Medicaid and private insurance.

Health Care Exchange type by Medicaid Expansion

States that are expanding Medicaid are less likely to leave managing their health care exchange to solely the federal government. (Source: CMS)

As you’d expect, the states expanding Medicaid are more likely to be running their own exchange (SBM) or partner with the federal government (Partnership). Non-expanding states usually leave it to the feds to run on their own, or only have a small part of it run by the state. (For example, Mississippi has an exchange for small business health plans that they run.)

These monthly enrollment reports really demonstrate how the politics of the Affordable Care Act through the lens of Medicaid expansion is creating vastly different health care environments for the working poor.

(Code for the plots is on GitHub here.)

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