CQ's annual vote studies analyze voting patterns in Congress by three measures: participation, presidential support and party unity. Scroll through the graphics below to see how Congress' 2011 record compares to years past.
This past year marked an increase for lawmaker participation in roll call votes in both chambers, a pattern consistent with non-election years. The average House member cast a "yea" or "nay" vote almost 97 percent of the time, the highest rate in the history of this study. The average senator voted 97 percent of the time, which has been the median for that chamber since about 1990. Overall, voting participation in both chambers has been fairly consistent over the past two decades.
With Republicans running the House and a larger GOP Senate minority in 2011, the president's historic string of successes was broken. Even so, his support among Democrats in both chambers remained high.
In recent decades the share of votes supporting the president's position has been declining, but it rose in the first session of the 112th with Senate presidential support votes surging to 37.9 percent, the highest since 1968. Not counting nominations, the Senate figure was 16.2 percent, the second-highest since 1998. In the House, the share was 10.1 percent, the second-highest since 2000.
After two strong years on votes on which he took a clear position, President Obama's success rate plummeted to 57.1 percent in 2011. Obama won on only 31.6 percent of the year's votes in the House — the third lowest for any president — although he held his own in the Senate, where he won 84.3 percent. The data in the graphic combine House and Senate figures.
House Democrats supported President Obama on 80 percent of the votes where he took a position last year — their third-highest support score. Senate Democrats supported him 92 percent of the time. Senate Republicans were more supportive than in 2010, voting 53 percent of the time with Obama — higher than in seven of the years Bill Clinton was president. House Republicans supported Obama 22 percent of the time, matching their lowest Clinton-era score. Top line of each chart indicates support by the same party as the president then in power. Bottom line indicates support by opposite party.
Partisanship is common, but by several measures it edged up in 2011. In the House, a record percentage of votes divided the two parties, and Republicans voted with their caucus at a record rate. Senate Democrats also set a record for voting together.
The number of Senate roll call votes during 2011 in which a majority of Democrats opposed a majority of Republicans fell from the 2010 number — both because there were fewer votes overall and because the frequency of such party unity votes declined significantly. Not so in the House, where the number of party unity votes skyrocketed, setting a record for the share of all votes — 75.8 percent.
Party unity ran a notch higher in 2011 for the majority parties in both chambers. House Republicans, back in charge for the first time since 2006, voted with their caucus colleagues at a 91 percent rate, matching the GOP's all-time high for the chamber. Senate Democrats set a record with 92'percent unity. House Democrats and Senate Republicans saw their unity scores decline in 2011.
House Republicans posted their second-largest victory margin ever on party unity votes in 2011 — 88.5 percent — although the House GOP was less successful than Democrats in the chamber had been during the four previous years. Also, Senate Republicans used supermajority requirements to push the Democrats' success rate down to 72.5 percent.
Senate Democrats set a record last year for voting as a bloc without dissent on party unity votes, while House Democrats continued to lag. Republicans in both chambers helped preserve their overall trend toward unanimous voting, though not at the record pace they set in 2010.