In Slovenia, we have a love/hate relationship with our politicians. We hate them, because at almost every single step they make, they let us know they are corrupt and they can easily get away with it. But in each new election new faces appear, promptly get elected and are hailed as saviors, who will finally clean the Augean stables of greed and corruption that has been accumulating for too long.
Most emotions are reserved for those in the front row, mainly government members. Members of parliament are somehow exempted, as they are not so widely known. Somehow, they are not monitored properly, at least in my book. There is a site that contains session records per member and per session, but it’s not widely known. It was an inspiration for this attempt to present members’ activity in an easily understandable and graphic way for current term and a few terms in the past.
The main idea was to group the parliamentary members by similarity of their voting record. Most parliamentary members are bound by strict voting discipline, imposed by the parties they belong to. This way the parties can guarantee that some or another act will pass and become a law. But is this really so? I tried to use a simple machine learning technique to answer that question. First I collected all the voting results from parliamentary term and sorted them in chronological order, then applied the technique (k-means clustering, for technologically minded). Number of groups was set to ten, but I could increase it to see smaller groups – maybe fractions inside parties, or cross-party interest groups.
Below you can see an example of two groups from recent term.
Here is the first:
It’s apparent that groups do not contain representatives from one party only, and the visual representation imparts a feel for the differences in voting. As I mentioned above, I arbitrarily constructed ten groups, but a serious researcher would play and tinker with the number, as every clustering technique is an exploratory process and must be iterated upon for best results. It’s interesting that the results also show other parliamentary tactics. This one below could be interpreted as obstruction, or simply passivity or indifference. So what is it? To ask this question is to answer it, I guess.
To put it in context, this is a group of left-wing opposition representatives during a period when they were in heavy minority.
In contrast, this is the right-wing voting machine that prevailed:
The contrast between these two groups is so dramatic that it would be funny, if these were funny affairs. While the opposition was idling away, the majority voted into existence law after law that, together, still influence the lives of the Slovenian citizenry. In interactive version (English) you can explore what the votes were about by simply moving the mouse over horizontal stripes.
Session attendance is another telling indicator of particular representative’s zeal in upholding democracy and fulfilling the interests of his constituency. It’s already apparent from charts above, but I still constructed a separate graphics for that. It’s sorted by presence and more easily readable.
It has to be noted that some representatives were excused from voting sessions for various periods of time. Among them are those who became ministers and those who replaced them in the parliamentary seat, not being there before.
Here’s an example from the recent term. At the bottom, you can see two blocks with alternating presence. That’s because there were two governments. When the first one fell, the ministers returned to their seats; those who originally replaced them, returned to the party’s roster; new ministers were sworn in and abandoned their seats; and new replacements came from opposite camp.
Yes-men and rebels
Another interesting statistics is: representatives with most votes for yea or nay. I don’t really know how to interpret this, but I did it nevertheless. One could say that in terms with only one governments, members of ruling majority with most yea votes are those who unquestioningly toe the party line. Conversely, those with most nay votes are most fervent members of the opposition. In terms with two governments, this is a little less clear-cut: one would have to separate the timelines and run the statistics on subperiods for each government. I didn’t do this, but a serious researcher would. I made this report to let them know that they are being monitored, but it’s a task of an investigative journalist to delve into the data and interpret it in a meaningful way. I don’t have time for this, and I don’t really know the particulars of daily politics here enough to be able to do that.
But I’m offering the database to anyone who would like to do that. Send me a mail for details, I’ll gladly oblige.
Here are a few simple pie charts that illustrate what I just wrote:
While programming, it struck me that I could calculate a synthetic measure that would show the unity in the parliament. The reasoning goes: if the vote was unanimous, the parliament as a whole was united in cause at hand. But if half of representatives voted yea, and the other half nay, the parliament was divided. So I constructed a timeline of all voting sessions and colored every session according to this measure. Blue for unanimous vote, red for evenly split vote, and violet hues as nuances of disharmony.
Additionally, the bar heights indicate the presence ratio. Lower heights obviously mean lower presence.
In some terms, the presence falls toward the end, and the proportion of red bars increase. This means that the representatives lost heart and abandoned their posts, and those who stayed, quarreled bitterly.
Here are these graphics for various terms. They are stretched to same length. Perhaps a more correct, but less visually appealing approach would be not to stretch them, so the length of particular term would be apparent.
Session timelines and voting networks
The drive behind this section was to find out whether the attendance is falling, as the session progresses into small hours. I found that not to be so, which is encouraging in a way. These charts at least show which sessions were bitterly contested, and which were almost unanimous. You can see examples of both behaviors in the graphic below.
Going one step further, I constructed a separate network for each session in a way that if a representative voted for a proposition, he or she is connected with it, otherwise no.
Networks are a little bit messy, and people tend to not understand them well. This network below shows three groups of representatives (you can zoom in and out in the interactive version). They are grouped close to the propositions they voted for. So this is another opportunity to find out the interest groups on the micro level, for each proposition. Some propositions don’t have a name, just a date. That’s not my fault, but the parliament’s, as they didn’t bother to publish it on the web.
Finally, here are some heatmaps for various variables, mapped on to seating orders. The first is partitioned according to representatives’ party. Sorry, no legend here. You can mouse over in the interactive version to show details.
The second is attendance heatmap. Green is full attendance, red is total absence, and there’s a linear color scale between them. This one provides at-a-glance overview of attendance of entire party blocks.
Next two are yea and nay heatmaps, so you can see which party blocks mostly voted yea, and which nay. They are normalized to their local maxima for visual appeal, but a more correct approach would be to not normalize them, so it would be apparent that a nay vote is much less frequent than a yea. Why, I have no Idea, but I imagine there must be a lot of technical votings, for example establishing presence and so on.
These seating orders are approximate, as I couldn’t get them for past terms from the parliament. They asserted that they didn’t have them, and claimed they don’t even have the current one, even if it’s published on their own website. There were more lies, but I won’t go into that here. They are, after all, in power, and I’m just a blogger.
Why they should engage in such behaviour is beyond me. Maybe they think that the information is theirs and should be kept from the public.
Again, if anyone needs the MongoDB database, drop me a note. My email address is on the About page.