On TheyWorkForYou’s voting records, we have made comparisons with the party consensus visible in more places, and changed how we calculate that consensus.
Since 2015, MP’s summary pages on TheyWorkForYou have highlighted votes which differ from those of the other MPs in their party. Over time, issues have emerged with how this process works, and recently we have made several changes to address these.
This year we have:
- Made party comparisons more prominent.
- Adjusted party comparisons to only compare against MPs who had the opportunity to vote in the same divisions, rather than the all time party record.
This fits into a longer running process of reviewing our public statistics. This update is not the end of our thinking around voting records, and we will have more to say in future about our work in this area.
Making party comparisons more prominent
The intended flow of TheyWorkForYou is that people arrive, search for their MP, are presented by the summary page (with divergences from party highlighted), and can click through to the voting record for more information.
What has become more common is that users skip the intended flow through searching for a search record directly (“[MP] voting record” will usually lead to TheyWorkForYou).
Alternatively, screenshots of a specific policy voting record can be shared directly on social media. As we were highlighting divergences from party in the summary rather than voting records page, this context was being calculated, but we weren’t showing it in all the places where it might be relevant/useful.
Our assumption that the MP’s summary page is seen more than the voting record still generally holds up, but as the graph below shows, during 2019 there were almost as many views of the voting records of MPs as of the summary pages.
In February 2021, we made a change to bring the party context into the voting record page itself and added additional context about the time range of the votes used in a comparison. Similar to the summary page, this highlights votes where an MP differs from the general party consensus. We have now extended this to also indicate when a vote is in line with the party consensus.
Improving the quality of party comparisons
As a side effect of making party comparisons more prominent, some existing problems with the way we displayed data have become more obvious. As years go by, the time range covered by voting records has increased, and this has caused the method of comparing votes to parties to become more strained.
Behind the scenes, the original system compared an MP’s position to a ‘party score’ for a policy area. This was generated from the votes of all current MPs in a party in that policy area. Over time, and with turnover of MPs, this has become less of a useful measure.
For instance, a reversal of a party’s position over multiple parliaments leads to new MPs being compared to a score weighted towards votes in previous parliaments. New MPs were highlighted as being outside the party consensus, while in reality following the party whip.
We have made a change so that MPs are only compared with their direct counterparts: people of their party who had the opportunity to take part in the same votes. The aggregate effect of this is that most MPs are now slightly more similar to their parties (generally making no change to how they are displayed on the site), and MPs who joined in more recent cohorts are recognised as being within the modern consensus. A more detailed analysis of this shift can be read here.
New approaches to party switchers
One problem in presenting voting records is in how to present good comparisons for MPs who changed parties. Historically this does not come up often, but became a more prominent issue in 2019.
Comparing a MP to their new party means they will have a large amount of difference, without reflecting if they followed the party line at the time of a vote. For instance, someone switching from Labour to the Liberal Democrats would be compared to a Liberal Democrat party record that they had frequently voted differently from. This is an accurate reflection of what has happened, but there is obviously extra context that is useful.
Given that most party switchers are now ex-MPs and spent the majority of their parliamentary time with their original party, the default approach is to retain a comparison to the original party, while adding an information box explaining that they have switched parties. This means that party comparisons remain active for MPs who have become independent through losing the whip (which can be a temporary event).
In instances where this approach doesn’t make sense (e.g. Jeffery M. Donaldson changed parties in 2003, and has remained with his new party since), the comparison is reversed to use the current party. This approach has also been taken for the two Alba MPs who moved from the SNP in March 2021.
This change means that MPs whose party status changes will have a better default comparison, while allowing some discretion to choose a different approach for MPs where this does not make sense.
These changes are part of an ongoing process around our public statistics. This time last year we published the thinking behind decisions to publish less information on TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem in general. There are many ongoing questions about voting records and how to best display this information in a way that is both accurate and useful to the public.
This update is not the end of that thinking, and we will have more to say in future about our work in this area.
Header image: UK Parliament flickr