Sunday, February 13, 2011

Analysis (and opinion) on the House vote on the PATRIOT act

Last Tuesday, February 8, 2011, the House of Representatives voted to extend controversial expiring provisions of the PATRIOT act. The results of the vote are here:

I was planning to use this blog post to just display some graphs, avoid any commentary, and just let the readers come to their own conclusions. The primary point of this post is to understand how the different groups in congress voted (Republican vs Democrat, Tea Partiers, new versus senior members, etc). However, I find myself on my soap box again. :)

My question – what happened to the Tea Partiers?
I was surprised (no doubt naively) about the result of the Republican vote. I had heard and read much about the Tea Party criticizing big and overreaching government and wanting to restore respect and adherance of the Constitution. I assumed that they included the fourth amendment in the list of Constitutional principles they would endeavor to respect. The specific provisions of the PATRIOT act in question allow the government to perform warantless searches of people's personal information and communication, which to me seems pretty much like a violation of the fourth amendment. So, I expected the Republican vote (or at least the Tea Party vote) to not be so swayed in support of these specific provisions of the PATRIOT act.

Perhaps the Tea Partiers (as well as others who voted to extend these provisions) might argue that we have a terrorist threat that warrants these warrantless searches. This could be a reasonable argument worth discussion, but it is incompatible with the promises to strictly adhere to the Constitution.

My message to these Tea Partiers who voted "Aye": if you vote to extend these provisions, just come out and admit that you believe that the Constitution is not always worth following, but please don't be hypocritical and "defend" the Constitution while you vote against it.

Again, probably naive of me to even think politicians could be un-hypocritical. :)

Analysis and breakdowns
Now I proceed to step off the soap box and focus on the analysis of how the different members voted.

You can see a few breakdowns and graphs of the votes, as well as a list of how each congress member voted here. I was curious as to how the Tea Party members voted, so I tried to find a list of Tea Party congress members, to make my own breakdowns and graphs. I found two lists of Tea Party members:

Also out of curiosity, I took a look at how the Congressional Progressive Caucus (also referred to as Socialists) voted. I obtained the list of Progressive members here.

Following are the breakdowns for your enjoyment and reflection. You can download the raw data here.

Global vote

Globally, the House voted 64% in favor of extending the PATRIOT act provisions. This fell just short of the 2/3rd vote needed to pass it on the fast track.

Republicans and Democrats

Republican party breakdown

It's safe to say that the Republicans voted overwhelmingly in favor of the PATRIOT act, with 87% of Republicans voting to extend the controversial provisions.

Democratic party breakdown

While a majority of Democrats voted against the PATRIOT act provisions, this party was more divided than the Republican party, with only 63% voting “Nay”.

Tea Party and Progressives

Tea Party

This is what surprised me. A strong majority (79%) of Tea Party congress members voted in favor of extending the PATRIOT act provisions which violate the fourth amendment (oops, soap box!). This does represent a slightly smaller majority than the overall Republican party's 87% “Aye” vote.

According to this list, 14% of all the Republicans in the House are Tea Partiers, yet 23% of the Republicans who voted “Nay” are Tea Partiers. This is just another way of seeing that Tea Partiers were more likely than other Republicans to vote against the PATRIOT act provisions. However, they still mostly voted for it.


The Democrats who are Progressives are practically unanimous (97%) in their opposition to the PATRIOT act provisions.

New members versus senior members

New members

The new members voted overwhelmingly (83%) to extend the PATRIOT act provisions.

Senior members
The following graph includes all congress members who have been in congress prior to November 2010.

The senior members appear to be quite divided on the issue, being the most evenly-split vote of all the groups discussed here, with 58% in favor and 40% against the PATRIOT act provisions.

  • Tea Partiers are strongly in support of the PATRIOT act provisions, although they oppose it slightly more than Republicans as a whole.
  • Progressives are practically unanimous in opposing the PATRIOT act provisions.
  • The most divided groups are the senior members (regardless of party), and Democrats (regardless of seniority).
  • Any other conclusions are left as an exercise for the reader :)

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