Congressional Whip Count Database
This data archive features extensive information about the "whip counts" conducted by party leaders in Congress. My hope is that it will be useful to scholars, students, and ordinary citizens interested in how coalitions are built within Congress on some of the most significant issues and bills in modern American history.
A whip count is an informal poll conducted by party leaders about major business on the legislative agenda of Congress. Typically, whip counts concern upcoming decisions on the House or Senate floor and they usually occur within days or even hours of the decision. Beginning on April 7, 1965, for example, Democratic leaders in the House asked rank and file Democrats for their positions on the bill that created the Medicare program, and the legislation passed on April 8. As is typical on whip counts, these positions were categorized as "yes," "leaning yes," "undecided," "leaning no," or "no." Almost never shared with the public at the time they are conducted, party whip counts can help us understand how the positions of lawmakers change over time and the consequences for legislation and public policy.
At this point, the data archive includes a nearly comprehensive record of the whip counts conducted by House Democrats, 1955-86, and House Republicans, 1975-80, covering a period of remarkable transformation in American politics. These data sets were coded by me and the student members of my research team based on information included in the papers of former House party leaders, which are held by libraries and research centers located around the country. If you are interested in the archival materials that made this project possible, please consult my memo about sources (pdf).
Included in the current data archive are nearly all of the whip count data gathered with the support of a grant from the National Science Foundation (Award SES-0417759). The omissions are from collections that are closed. As the project continues, I hope to supplement these materials.
The data archive now includes evidence pertaining to over 650 whip counts and nearly 150,000 observations of member-level position data, touching on hundreds of the most significant bills considered by the Congress in the forty years following World War II - civil rights, federal aid to education, U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the energy battles of the 1970s, Reaganomics, aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, among many other pieces of legislation.
I do have two requests for users of this database. First, producing it has been a long and difficult task, and the process of detecting and fixing errors and omissions is ongoing. Please contact me if you notice any likely remaining problems. Second, I am currently writing a book based on the project. If you use these data in your own work, please let me know so that I can make the appropriate citations and also learn from your research.
Please cite usage of this database in the following manner: Evans, C. Lawrence, Congressional Whip Count Database, College of William and Mary, January 2012.