Who Is the Most Powerful Member of Congress?


These ratings are from Knowlegis, and reflect the first half of the 110th Congress. The ratings and rankings data are here. Their criteria are described here. Yes, they have caveats.

I’ve rendered their Senate data as a graph. Higher scores on the x-axis indicate more power. Intuitive results abound:

  • Most Democrats are towards the top, and most Republicans towards the bottom. Power depends in part on majority status.
  • Party leaders and committee chairs are toward the top.
  • Seniority matters. Many members at the bottom are freshmen.

The most subjective portion of their ratings is the “Sizzle/Fizzle” factor, which accounts for why Obama, Clinton, and McCain are towards the top—despite little institutional power in the traditional sense—and Larry Craig is at the bottom.

I have plotted the data to highlight the ratings and downplay the rankings. Rankings are often dubious measures because they distort the underlying ratings by placing observations on an interval scale. In terms of ratings, Carl Levin and Robert Byrd are .04 units apart (45.08 and 45.04, respectively) while Harry Reid and Ted Kennedy are about 45 units apart. In terms of rankings, each pair of Senators is one unit apart.

The plot reveals that a lot of Senators have roughly similar amounts of power, despite the rankings. Without any measure of uncertainty, however, there is no sense of how much of a difference is really meaningful.

And, of course, it’s not clear what these power ratings would explain that could not be captured by seniority and leadership positions.

[Hat tip to Scott Adler.]

10 Responses to Who Is the Most Powerful Member of Congress?

  1. Ned March 7, 2008 at 5:57 pm #

    It looks like Joe Lieberman fell off the list.

    Not that I’m complaining or anything.

  2. John Sides March 7, 2008 at 6:55 pm #

    Oops! The two independents got cut, thanks to a clerical error when I made the graph. They’re now up there, in green. Thanks, Ned.

  3. Steve Roth March 7, 2008 at 9:51 pm #

    Can anyone construe any reasonable construction to the fact that Clinton, McCain, Obama, and Kerry are adjacent?


  4. celeriac March 8, 2008 at 12:01 am #

    “Their criteria are described here.”

    “Described” is awfully charitable. As far as I can tell, they (a) gathered some data, and (b) did something with it. I see more useful descriptions of methodology than that in nutritional supplement advertising.

  5. Jeff March 10, 2008 at 5:18 am #

    Did you forget Nancy Pelosi not that she could manage a day care but she doesn’t seem to be on the list either.

  6. TWM March 10, 2008 at 6:12 pm #

    Arthur Spirling, currently finishing his PhD at Rochester, did some work on power in the Senate that I saw at PolMeth last year. Really, much more convincing (particularly because of the transparency of the method). He also does some rigorous examinations of the relationship between power and geography, committee, etc. Here’s his research page:

    No, I am not Arthur Spirling.

  7. Ben Clark March 11, 2008 at 9:02 am #

    Dear “celeriac”,
    Nancy Pelosi, regardless of her daycare management skills, is not a US Senator. In fact she is the Speaker of the House of Representatives, which would make it difficult for her to also be a Senator. And for the record I think she would be a fabulous manager of a daycare center (and then some)

  8. Duane March 11, 2008 at 11:23 am #

    Should be “most powerful person in Senate” as ‘Congress’ is inclusive of both representative houses

  9. John Sides March 11, 2008 at 12:43 pm #

    I will confess that I took a little poetic license with the title to attract attention.

  10. celeriac March 12, 2008 at 9:58 pm #

    Dear “Ben Clark”,

    The name of the poster goes under the post.