More Machine Learning About Congress’ Priorities

ProPublica: “We keep training machine learning models on Congress. Find out what this one learned about lawmakers’ top issues…

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a tax wonk ― and most observers of Congress know that. But knowing what interests the other 434 members of Congress is harder.

To make it easier to know what issues each lawmaker really focuses on, we’re launching a new feature in our Represent database called Policy Priorities. We had two goals in creating it: To help researchers and journalists understand what drives particular members of Congress and to enable regular citizens to compare their representatives’ priorities to their own and their communities.

We created Policy Priorities using some sophisticated computer algorithms (more on this in a second) to calculate interest based on what each congressperson talks ― and brags ― about in their press releases.

Voting and drafting legislation aren’t the only things members of Congress do with their time, but they’re often the main way we analyze congressional data, in part because they’re easily measured. But the job of a member of Congress goes well past voting. They go to committee meetings, discuss policy on the floor and in caucuses, raise funds and ― important for our purposes ― communicate with their constituents and journalists back home. They use press releases to talk about what they’ve accomplished and to demonstrate their commitment to their political ideals.

We’ve been gathering these press releases for a few years, and have a body of some 86,000 that we used for a kind of analysis called machine learning….(More)”.