What Chance of Change Is Enough?

Obama in his acceptance speech included the lines:

But the record’s clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush 90 percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than 90 percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a 10 percent chance on change.

So here’s a pop quiz: what percent of the time did Obama vote with George Bush? It would be kind of embarrassing for Obama to use this statistic if Obama or Biden voted with the Bush administration too often.

The same study by Congressional Quarterly estimates that Obama voted with Bush during the Bush era 40 percent of the time. (The study limited itself to votes which the Bush administration had taken a clear position on before the vote.) Obama’s percentage was the eighth lowest in the Senate. But by Obama’s reckoning, I guess a 60 percent chance of change is enough. Or maybe even a 48 percent chance of change is enough (Biden voted with Bush 52 percent of the time).

The C.Q. web tool is pretty cool because it lets you slice the data for the House and Senate in lots of different ways. The study also analyzed a “party unity” percentage. When a majority of Republicans voted one way and a majority of Democrats voted another way, what percentage of the time did a particular senator break with his or her party?

Obama’s party unity score during the Bush era was 96 percent (ninth highest among Democrats). McCain’s party unity score was 81 percent (the sixth lowest among Republicans).

Judy C

Obama voted "party unity" 96% ; he believed the Democrats had the correct answer to the issue. Obama had four of the worst Bush years ever.

McCain has 25 years of senate experience to statisitize. McCain USED to be a maverick, until 2006. Why don't you compare McCain pre-2006 and post 2006?

Mark T

I cannot fathom how anyone can vote to legalize killing an unwanted infant even after it is born.

Even if it is along party lines. Barack Obama is a liar and a murderer along with his croney Ayres.


Well, there are a certain number of votes that are trivial (a lot of resolutions are like this) and another chunk that are necessary. Is it really voting "with Bush" if you vote for a budget that's pretty necessary, has already been amended back and forth and fought over, and is passed almost unanimously? I'd say no.

The best way to measure this, I think, would be a metric that adjusted for the divisiveness of the vote, so that if you and 95% of the Senate voted with Bush, it doesn't really count, but if you were the only guy who voted against his position, that really means something. Something like the product of the Bush-position percentages of all the votes you went against him on might be more useful...


Thanks for the stats - I have been looking for the complete info on the voting record of both candidates.

I am comforted that Obama's has voted against Bush 60% of the times, but somewhat discouraged by his high partisan voting record.


Well, the Obama quote doesn't make any sense anyway. It would have made more sense to say, "With McCain, there will be a 10% change. But that's not enough! If you vote for me, I will do 60% of things differently, which is just right. I mean, it's still a great country we live in; it's not like I'm going to change EVERYTHING. Just a lot of things. 60% of things."

Yes, I am available for speech-writing.


So they are both just partisan hacks, with Obama even more so than McCain. What an exciting election!

ur biggest fann

Obama if you arereading this i gust wanna say im your biggest fann!!!! i love you sooooooo much and right now for history class im doing a paper about you and how your so great

Joe Smith

Mostly politicians actually agree with each other about basics.

My observation on politics is that citizens agree to a high degree on what sort of country they want but they disagree about what sort of country they have and strongly disagree about what sort of country is possible.


This is meaningless. People can come up with statistics to show anything. 14% of people know that.

Black Political Analysis

Over the years, the parties have moved steadily apart, especially in the House and even in the House. Only a few Senators are really close to the middle (Snowe of Maine comes to mind). The primary system, typically, does not reward people in the middle. It rewards strong partisans. We must recognize the system within which politicians operate.



Yeah we all want change right? Tommorrow we might not wake up, that would be change. Change is good because, that grass over there...it's greener.


Or even less than a 48% chance of change, assuming less than perfect correlation between Obama and Biden


How do you plan for Bush changing? Katrina vs Gustav being the easiest comparison.

What if some of the change, environment, is closer to the standard? Putin would be change. Hillary would be change. Elmo would be change.

The idea of change won't be enough. Jib Jab made the point in their satire. Kerry couldn't get elected when I thought the country hated Bush. They need to get beyond this cult-like idea of just change.


talk about obfuscation!- expanding healthcare, getting out of Iraq, and ending the tax holiday are change enough


How does this analysis account for bills that never make it to the president's desk? What's the delta between (a) the sampling used in the voting with the Prez study and (b) the sampling used in the voting with the party study?

How can one discern whether the candidate is following the President or the President has been persuaded to follow the candidate and the others voting in favor of a bill? What are the chances that a bill carried mostly by the vote of the president's party being vetoed?

Another factor to consider is whether, on one or more occasions, one of the candidates was given permission by the party to vote out of lockstep on an issue of special significance to his or her district or campaign-related objectives.

Quantitative view is of interest, though not sufficient without thoughtful qualitative analysis.


This comment is from Ben Stein on The Larry King Show, defending McCain's 90%-with-Bush voting record. Stein said that many of the votes in the Senate are procedural votes in which everyone votes with the administration. Using that explanation, Obama's 60% of votes not-with-Bush is huge.


Bruce in CA,

I'm not sure, but it seems that it's the Republican party (including Bush) that has changed its voting behavior over the past few years and not McCain. Republicans have gotten hammered in the past couple elections (rightfully so) and there has been a strong movement to return to fiscal responsibility. It would be interesting to investigate such patterns. In any event, it seems clear that Obama is not the agent of change his rhetoric would suggest.


We may be after change but blindly voting for change itself makes little sense.

What is being said that instead of picking a president who's voted with the Republicans x% of the time we'll pick a president who has voted y% of the time with the Democrats. Some choice.

When can we get a candiate of any party and for any position take a more empiric, scientific approach to law making and money spending?


Well, I guess Barack won't be courting the Bayesian vote this year.

Joseph Kingsbury

Can you clarify for readers what those numbers actually mean? My guess is that a large portion of those votes are fairly trivial procedural matters, in which case the meaningful numbers are the instances where either candidate crossed party lines or the White House on a significant issue.