Inside FiscalNote’s Legislative Effectiveness Score

Posted By: FiscalNote
We Uncovered A Couple of Ways to Look at Effectiveness


One of the most valuable pieces of information a government relations team can have is which lawmakers matter the most to the specific issues important to them. Until now, collecting all the publicly available information on lawmakers and legislators – from data about votes to bill sponsorships to public statements about a given issue and more – would take a team of lawyers and lobbyists hours, if not days, to assemble. And as soon as that information was collected, it could potentially be obsolete.

So when we came up with our proprietary algorithm to calculate Legislative Effectiveness of Federal and state lawmakers, we defined an aggressive data scope and refresh approach that would create the most immediate and ongoing benefit to a government relations team.

That’s why the FiscalNote Government Relationship Management (GRM) platform calculates effectiveness scores based on 12 factors for each individual — including bills sponsored, bills out of committee, bills to the floor and bills enacted — with each stage receiving more importance. A lawmaker’s score for each stage is further weighted by whether the bill is substantive (i.e., attempts meaningful change) or non-substantive (e.g., a resolution, memorial or commendation) as well as the lawmaker’s performance relative to other members of the chamber.

And when we ran the algorithm and reviewed the analysis, we found a couple of valuable ways to measure effectiveness.

1) The first is a straight ranking of the most effective lawmakers, based on cumulative data across all sessions of service – effectively, a measure of how effective legislators are over the course of their careers. This approach favors lawmakers who have long tenures of service – which recognizes the fact that getting reelected by one’s constituents can be an important measure of effectiveness in and of itself.

For those currently serving, that cumulative ranking looks like this:

As expected, Senators and Representatives with some of the longest tenures in office have the highest effectiveness scores. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Rep. Don Young (R-AK), topped FiscalNote’s list. Both have served in Congress since the 1970s.

2) To remove length of tenure as a direct factor, a second way to assess lawmaker effectiveness is to calculate scores based on individual sessions. Here, we compute the effectiveness factor for each lawmaker separately for each session, and then average those numbers. By looking at the data based on average session performance, a somewhat different set of Senators and Representatives rank in the top 10 for each chamber. Newcomers then rise in a ranking, as it’s a more finite measure of how effective lawmakers and legislators are over the same amount of time.

The difference is particularly noticeable in the House, where Republican members who have been elected within the last three years dominate the list.

The Top 10 most effective U.S. Senators based on average session performance:

1. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) – elected 1992

2. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) – elected 2012

3. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) – elected 1976

4. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) – elected 2002

5. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) – elected 1998

6. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) – elected 2006

7. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) – elected 1974

8. Senator Bob Casey (D-PN) – elected 2006

9. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) – elected 1996

10.Senator John McCain (R-AZ) – elected 1986

The most effective U.S. Representatives based on average session performance:

1. Congressman John Katko (R-NY) – elected 2014

2. Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-AZ) – elected 2014

3. Congresswoman Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen (R-American Samoa) – elected 2014

4. Congressman Don Young (R-AK) – elected 1973

5. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) – elected 1994

6. Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) – elected 2010

7. Congresswoman Ann Wagner (R-MO) – elected 2012

8. Congressman John Ratcliffe (R-TX) – elected 2014

9. Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-WY) – elected 2016

10.Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) – elected in 2014

Breaking down the average performance even further, we can examine a number of lawmakers’ performance over time in the graph below. The vertical axis shows what percentage of the chamber they are more effective than. The horizontal axis indicates session.

A few interesting patterns emerge when looking at the performance on a per session basis. Intuitively Republicans score higher when their party is in control, and vice versa. For instance, while Orrin Hatch scores highly in the 2005/07 session, his effectiveness drops sharply during the 2009/11 and 2011/13 sessions, as does Mitch McConnell’s. However, they begin increasing in 2013/15 and continue upward in 2015/2017. Meanwhile, Chuck Schumer and Pat Leahy start dropping at the same time. Interestingly, Dianne Feinstein is able to maintain a consistently high position throughout majority changes. And Bernie Sanders seems to be more sporadic, with increasing effectiveness in sessions preceding elections, but fairly low effectiveness otherwise.

A similar examination of per session performance in the House shows Nancy Pelosi’s effectiveness changing as she becomes House speaker in 2007, while Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s steadily increases. Rep. Jason Chaffetz was also steadily on the rise since his election, but he has been underperforming in the current session. House Speaker Paul Ryan has also been moving up and down throughout the sessions, and changes as he became speaker in 2015.

These alternative calculations show which new legislators have been fairly effective in a short amount of time.

In summary, looking at longer stretches of time can show which lawmakers have the most influence in Congress, while looking at individual sessions can show which legislators are consistently performing, and for junior legislators, those most likely to gain influence in the future.