17.251, Introduction to Congressional Politics

Spring 2016

Course syllabus, handouts, and assignments
(These all require Adobe Acrobat Reader)


Exercise I (for class on September 12)

Problem set # 1: Due MONDAY, Sept. 26, at the beginning of class.
Problem set # 1 review

Problem set # 2: Due THURSDAY, Nov. 16, at the beginning of class.
Problem set # 2 answers

The redistricting assignment is due Oct. 26.

The paper assignment is due on Dec. 14, at 10:00 p.m.

Midterm from 2015
Midterm answers
Prompt for midterm essay

Prompt for final

Lecture handouts
-Unidimensional spatial model
-Origins & development of Congress
-Congressional candidates
-Congressional voters
-Campaign finance
-Multidimensional spatial model
-Parties and leadership
-Floor procedures and roll call voting

Direct to Capitol Hill (more or less) Data and publications about congressional action

The MIT Libraries has a great web site that points to important sources for doing congressional research. The links often go to material that requires access through MIT, but other links are available directly to the public. I encourage MIT students to start here if they are doing research involving Congress.

The University of Michigan library also has a great resource page that points out sources for doing congressional research. There are a few resources here that aren't on the MIT site, especially under the "Evaluating the work of congress" tab. MIT students should start at the previous source, first, and then go to the Michigan page.

The Government Printing Office is the go-to source for all federal government documents. The GPO link allows you to get to relevant GPO publications pretty easily. The one resources that is buried is direct access to committee documents, which is accessible here. (As a general matter, keep in mind that electronic versions of documents only go back to the 104th Congress [1995-96].)

GovTrack is a web site that serves us lots of information about congress, including information about members, votes, issues, and committees.

The Sunlight Congress API has a ton of bulk data and scripts, especially for people who want to build their own apps or websites.

CQ, or Congressional Quarterly, has been providing first-hand accounts of congressional activities since the late 1940s. Access to CQ resources is easily provided via the MIT Libraries link given above.

The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, online version is the best source, by far, of biographical information about everyone who has ever served in Congress. My only complaint is that you can't really browse the directory. For that, you'll have to hunt down a paper version of the document, which is full of information the online version doesn't have. The paper version is now available online.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is Congress's "think tank," producing a huge volume of very useful reports on topics ranging from specific policies to the legislative process. Unfortunately, CRS doesn't make those reports available to the public. This has resulted in a network of libraries and web sites that try to acquire CRS reports and then make them available to the public. This site, at the University of Texas-Denton, is a great sources for these reports.

Digitized and searchable fascimiles of early congressional documents is available at the Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation site. Totally cool! You can also search the House and Senate Journals up to the 42nd Congress (up to 1873), in addition to other documents.

C-SPAN to see live television from the floor of the House and Senate

Roll Call is the "home town newspaper" of Capitol Hill. Information ranging from straight news to hometown gossip. The Hill is an upstart competitor that's a little edgier.

Campaign finance

The Federal Election Commission. regulates campaign finance for federal elections and is the primary source of election finance data.

The Campaign Finance Institute site is very useful, particularly in providing an on-line version of the campaign finance tables that are published in Vital Statistics on Congress.

The Center for Responsive Politics Open Secrets has a lot of information about individual MCs, particularly information about campaign finance.

CQ's Moneyline is a great news and data source concerning money in federal politics.

The Almanac of American Politics is a tremendous resource that gives detailed information about congressional districts, members of Congress, and local politics. This is perhaps my favorite reference book.

My own congressional data, including recent updates to my standing committee data.

Vital Statistics on Congress, now online, is a great resource that provides tons and tons of data about Congress, ranging from information about its members to committee statistics to workload information. (One of the co-authors, Raffaela Wakeman, took this class many years ago.

Keith Poole at the University of Georgia has the most interesting and useful roll call information up and running for recent years at his Voteview site. There is a more direct link to his NOMINATE data download page.

Jeff Lewis at UCLA maintains a site that makes available congressional roll call data in virtual real-time. It's a complement to the Voteview site right above.

The PIPC Roll Call Dataset is a dataset of congressional roll calls which codes the "vote type" of each vote. Very useful.

The Dirksen Center honors the memory of Sen. Everett M. Dirksen. It has grants and educational programs that are of some interest to the professional and student, alike.

Proquest: Congressional provides great access to the full text of congressional proceedings, reaching back at least 25 years. This provides direct access to most congressional documents. The link is available to MIT users only.

While it's not data -- it's software -- the PoliSim election simulator provides a pretty neat visualization of how spatial models of electoral competition work. (The page is now about 20 years old and written in Java 1.0. Please take the fellow up on his challenge to update it.)

The Legislative Studies Section of the American Political Science Association has its own home page, including the electronic version of its newsletter and other legislative links.

The Legislative Studies Quarterly is the official journal of the Legislative Studies Section. It's a highly-respected journal, and contains the most current research on legislatures of all types. You can access back issues through JSTOR. You must consult current issue the old fashioned way.

Elections and politics

Pollster.com is a great information aggregator of polling results, and it has a lot of great articles concerning how polling is done. It is usually the first web site I visit each day to see who's up and who's down. (Although, I must say, ever since it aligned with the Huffington Post, many of the things that used to make this site a must-visit have faded into the past.)

Pollingreport.com has the most comprehensive set of reports about recent public opinion polls.

News sources

Here are some links to sources for news about Congress.


Direct to boot hill

The Political Graveyard is a fun excursion .