February 23, 2017

Partisan Conflict and Congressional Outreach

Appendix B: Terminology


“Statement” refers to a single press release or Facebook post issued by a member of Congress. In this report, the term “statement” does not refer to a single sentence or assertion.


“Disagreement” refers to statements that explicitly oppose or disagree with any of the following domestic political actors: President Barack Obama or his administration; Democrats or liberals; or Republicans or conservatives. Such statements do not include critiques limited to policy, but rather must identify other political actors directly. Thus, criticism of the Affordable Care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”) is not classified as disagreement unless it explicitly blames President Obama or his administration for some negative outcome or associates the policy directly with political opponents.


“Indignant Disagreement” refers to statements that go beyond disagreement as defined above by also expressing emotions such as anger, resentment, or annoyance. All statements that contain indignant disagreement also contain disagreement more broadly as defined above.


“Criticism” refers to statements containing any form of disagreement (including indignant disagreement).


“Constituent Benefits” refers to favorable legislative outcomes and/or government spending that directly benefit an elected official’s home state or district. Benefits may accrue to residents of other districts as well.


“Bipartisan” refers to messages that suggest that Democrats and Republicans are – or should be – working together in good faith to achieve a shared goal.


“Conservative,” “liberal,” and “moderate” are defined using a measure called DW-NOMINATE, which places members of the U.S. House and Senate on a liberal-to-conservative ideology scale according to their roll-call voting history in each legislative session of Congress. The scale ranges from -1 (very liberal) to 1 (very conservative). A score closer to the extremes of the measure indicates a more consistently liberal or conservative voting record in that session. For example, a Republican who never votes with Democrats would receive a score closer to 1 than a Republican who votes in favor of bipartisan legislation44 When a member is referred to as “conservative” or “liberal,” these labels are based on their DW-NOMINATE score. The term “moderate” refers to members whose scores are near the middle of the scale, and “very liberal” and “very conservative” refers to members with scores closer to either end of the scale.


“District competitiveness” refers to the chance that a candidate from one party could beat a candidate from the other party at the ballot box. That chance is lower in states and districts where one party tends to win elections by a large margin. This report measures voters’ preferences and district competitiveness using 2012 presidential election results. Less competitive districts are defined as those where either President Obama or Mitt Romney received a large majority of the votes; more competitive districts are defined as those in which the presidential vote was closer to 50-50.


“Engagement” refers to the attention a Facebook post receives, as measured by likes, comments, and shares. Each of these metrics can provide a sense of how much a member’s audience on Facebook reacts to particular statements that they make.

  1. See Poole, Keith T., and Howard Rosenthal. 1985. “A Spatial Model for Legislative Roll Call Analysis.” American Journal of Political Science.