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Introducing The Trump Score

Donald Trump has Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress — it’s the first time since Barack Obama’s first two years in office that the same party has controlled the U.S. Senate, the House and the White House. Trump’s ability to enact his policies, therefore, will largely come down to how often GOP senators and representatives buck the president’s agenda and, conversely, how often Democrats work with him. To help keep up with this, we’ll be tracking how often members agree with Trump and how that compares with expectations.

We’ll be using two primary measures for each member of Congress: the “Trump score” and “Trump plus-minus.”

The Trump score is a simple percentage showing how often a senator or representative supports Trump’s positions. To calculate it, we add the member’s “yes” votes on bills that Trump supported and his or her “no” votes on bills that Trump opposed and then divide that by the total number of bills the member has voted on for which we know Trump’s position.

We’ve set a few ground rules for how we’re planning to count things:

  • To determine Trump’s position on bills and joint resolutions,1 we’ll look for a clear statement of support or opposition made by him or by someone on his behalf. We’ll generally stick to bills themselves, but we may include amendments when Trump makes a statement about them.2
  • If there’s a Senate vote requiring Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie and we don’t know Trump’s position on it, we’ll assume that Trump supports it if Pence votes “yes” and opposes it if Pence votes “no.”
  • Votes in favor of Trump’s Cabinet-level and Supreme Court nominations count as votes in support of him.
  • We’ll count any veto-override votes as bills that Trump opposes.

We’re also calculating a metric that we’re calling plus-minus. Plus-minus measures how frequently a member agrees with Trump compared with how frequently we would expect the member to, based on Trump’s 2016 vote margin in the member’s state or district. (The “predicted score” is calculated based on probit regression.) Put simply, we would expect a member in a district where Trump did well to be more in sync with him than a member in a district where Trump did poorly. As members vote on more bills, their predicted agreement score will change.

Previous administrations have taken clear positions on bills by issuing “statements of administration policy” through the Office of Management and Budget. We hope Trump continues this practice, but we don’t know yet whether he will.3 In cases in which a statement of administration policy is available, we’ll consider that the administration’s stance. Barring such a statement, we’ll ask the White House for the president’s position on bills as they are scheduled for votes and look for media reports about Trump’s stance. We’ll always provide links to the source for Trump’s position.

Without an explicit statement about a specific version of a bill, determining an administration’s position can be difficult. Bills can change as they move through the legislative process, so a statement of support on a bill when it’s introduced might not apply by the time it gets through both chambers of Congress. Also, just because a president supports an idea doesn’t mean he supports a particular piece of legislation that purports to address that idea. A bill might not go far enough in addressing the issue, or it might go too far. It might address an issue in a way the president doesn’t agree with. It might include provisions that an administration opposes alongside ones it supports. So there will unavoidably be some judgment calls to make; we intend to take a conservative approach, focusing on cases in which the Trump administration has provided fairly explicit guidance about its position.

As we publish this, the House and Senate have cast a combined 10 votes on measures for which we know Trump’s position. That’s not yet enough to make any sweeping statements about how members of Congress are reacting to Trump’s presidency. The dashboard will update as more votes are recorded, and we’ll post occasional stories about what patterns we’re seeing, which members of Congress are voting with and against Trump the most, and other interesting findings.

Footnotes

  1. See here for a good explanation of the different types of legislation.

  2. For the Senate, our analysis will be based on passage votes (when senators vote on whether to approve a bill) instead of cloture votes (when senators vote on whether to end debate on a bill, stopping a filibuster). But in cases when the cloture motion fails, and there is therefore no vote on the bill itself, we’ll count senators’ votes on the motion toward their Trump agreement score.

  3. During the Obama administration, the OMB website listed these statements and other legislative information. The Trump administration does not appear to have an OMB website yet.

Aaron Bycoffe is a computational journalist for FiveThirtyEight.

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