Advisor: Sneha Narayan Times: Fall-Winter 4,5c
In an increasingly high-stakes political environment with major legislative issues on the table, you may have found yourself asking questions like "how did my representative vote on this issue I care about?", or "who is funding the politician that keeps voting against it?" There's a lot of information available (by law) on what bills your congressperson has voted on, who their campaign donors are, and what their voting record looks like. The journalism non-profit ProPublica maintains some regularly updated, free-to-use APIs that serve information on Congressional legislative data, and campaign finance data. However, just because the data is available doesn't mean that people always know what it shows. Trends can be difficult to notice if most of this information is stored in databases; quite often, it takes a journalist or other concerned citizen to analyze the available information before the public is made aware more broadly.
Visualizations that help summarize and analyze publicly available data can be tremendously useful for government transparency and an informed citizenry. You might be a constituent interested in better understanding your congressperson's voting record, or an activist interested in knowing which congressmembers are most likely to support an issue you care about. While that information is present in public records, it's not always easy for laypeople to access. This is where applications that surface trends and narratives in these data can be helpful.
Many famous examples of political data visualizations already exist. You might have memories of nervously watching election results pour in on the New York Times Election Needle, or looking at maps of polling data on the FiveThirtyEight blog. ProPublica also maintains its own government transparency tool called Represent, which allows users to see how congressmembers have voted on major legislation. These tools all use and combine data from multiple sources in different ways to help people better understand and participate in the political process, and in this project, your group will make its own contribution to this design space.
In this project, you will design a visualization tool that helps people access, summarize and explore data about Congressional representatives and legislation. Here are some basic criteria that the visualization should meet:
The project entails the following activities:
Background from CS 344 (Human Computer Interaction) or CS 314 (Data Visualization) is good to have, but not mandatory. Coursework in statistics or data science (such as STAT 120/220) would likely be useful too. Classes in political science and/or have an interest in American politics is a bonus. None of these are mandatory requirements, but should give you a sense of the skills this project will draw on.