Sunday, January 18th, 2009...17:36

Would Obama Have Voted Nay On H.J.Res. 114?

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In October of 2002, Obama publicly condemned the use of force in Iraq. During the 2008 US Presidential Election, I kept wondering, had he been a senator, would he have voted Nay on H.J.Res. 114 A joint resolution to authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq. With the release of the NYTimes CongressAPI and Obama’s inauguration less than a week away, the question again popped into my head; but this time I figured it would take a trivial amount of work to answer.

Indeed, the NYTimes API is easy to use and it only took a few minutes to figure out which senators had participated in the 107th (H.J.Res. 114 passed) and at least one of the 109th and 110th Congresses (Obama’s tenure). There were 83 senators and my plan was to find which of their voting records was most similar to Obama’s, and then see how they voted on H.J.Res. 114.

Unfortunately this is where the NYTimes API let me down. It doesn’t allow one to retrieve an individual senator’s complete voting history, nor does it provide a method of querying the votes made by each senator for a given vote. The best I could do was find the most recent voting records for each of the 83 senators and Obama and compare that data. Below is a table of data showing the top 10 senators whose recent voting records are more similar to Obama’s along with how that particular senator voted on H.J.Res. 114:

Edward M. Kennedy D,MA  5/5  Nay
Max Baucus        D,MT 19/20 Yea
Christopher Dodd  D,CT 18/20 Yea
Richard Durbin    D,IL 18/20 Nay
Dianne Feinstein  D,CA 18/20 Yea
John Kerry        D,MA 18/20 Yea
Herbert Kohl      D,WI 18/20 Yea
Charles Schumer   D,NY 18/20 Yea
Hillary Clinton   D,NY 17/19 Yea
Joseph Biden      D,DE 16/18 Yea

H.J.Res. 114 passed 77 Yea – 23 Nea, so one would expect a random lots of 10 senators to be split about 8-2. The votes of the 50 Democratic senators was split 29-21, so random sampling of 10 Democratic votes should be split 6 – 4. Granted, the data above doesn’t take into account the types of issues being voted on, but it certainly doesn’t provide any evidence that Obama would have voted Nea on H.J.Res. 114. Sure Senator Kennedy was one of the earliest supporters of Obama, and Obama holds Kennedy in high regard, so even though there are only 5 data points, doesn’t the 100% match mean anything? Most likely not, for example, Senator Clinton also voted the same way on those 5 issues (roll call votes 123-126 and 169 from the 2nd session of the 110th Congress).

A significant amount of effort i.e. more than a couple hours, would be needed to do a more thorough study. I’ll make a note to myself that if I find the time it’d be interesting to:

  • Get more complete voting records for Obama and the 83 senators who voted on H.J.Res. 114
  • Do more complete analysis on voting record similarity that takes the issue into account as well

Anyway, Obama will be our president in less than 2 days, so the past won’t really matter as everyone will be focused on the future.

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