2012 Congressional Vote Studies

The Editors | January 30, 2:40 pm

2012 Vote Studies

CQ Roll Call (previously Congressional Quarterly) has analyzed the voting behavior of members of Congress since 1945. The three principal vote studies currently produced — presidential support, party unity and voting participation — have been conducted in a consistent manner since 1953. The graphics above show the historical trends for each of these studies, including the most recent data from 2012.

Presidential Support

When Barack Obama first took office, he enjoyed Democratic majorities in both chambers and record high success rates. In 2009, Obama won on 94 percent of House votes on which he expressed a clear  position, tying Lyndon Johnson's record from 1965. He prevailed on 99 percent of Senate votes that year, by far the highest success rate on record.

Following the 2010 elections, Republicans took back control of the House, and Obama's success rate in that chamber dropped to 32 percent in 2011 and to 20 percent in 2012. House Republicans voted with Obama only 17 percent of the time in 2012, the lowest average GOP support score on record. House Democratic support dropped off as well, from 90 percent in 2009 to 77 percent in 2012.

Party Unity

Both the number and frequency of Senate roll call votes on which a majority of Democrats opposed a majority of Republicans rose somewhat in 2012. In the House, the number of unity votes slumped along with the overall number of roll calls.

A broad trend toward partisan voting continued in both chambers as average unity scores for both parties remained high, though Senate Republicans were considerably more fractured than in recent years. The House Republican majority prevailed on 86 percent of votes that split the two parties, while Senate Democrats, who won on 92 percent of party unity votes in 2009, were only successful 69 percent of the time in 2012. Senate Democrats voted unanimously on 40 percent of party unity votes in 2012, a much higher rate of unanimity than House Democrats or Republicans in either chamber.

Voting Participation

The average House member cast a "yea" or "nay" vote 95 percent of the time on roll calls in 2012, down from a record 97 percent in 2011. The participation rate for Senators ticked down as well. After climbing in the 1970s and 1980s, voting participation has remained fairly consistent in both chambers for the past two decades, hovering around 95 percent in the House and 96 percent in the Senate.

Interactive by Ted Benson

About the Data

CQ Roll Call bases its vote studies on all floor votes for which members were asked to vote “yea” or “nay.” In 2012 there were 657 such roll call votes in the House and 251 in the Senate. The House total excludes quorum calls because they require only that members vote “present.”

Editors select presidential support votes each year based on clear statements by the president or authorized spokesmen. Success scores show the percentage of the selected votes on which the president prevailed. Support scores show the percentage of roll call votes on which members of Congress voted in agreement with the president’s position.

Roll call votes used for the party unity study are those on which a majority of Democrats opposed a majority of Republicans. Party unity scores indicate the percentage of the time that members voted in agreement with the majority of their party on such party unity votes.