I'm trying to determine how to accurately and properly grade a Congress of the United States[2] from a past time period on legislative and governance performance based on stats.

I hear talk about the worst Congress ever[3] being the ones from a time period of January 3, 2011 thru January 3, 2015, a time frame in which majority in the House were Republicans, and the US President was Barrack Obama, and I was wondering if that was an accurate assessment.

What metrics are used to make an accurate assessment of performance of these US Congresses? I hear some statistics can be misleading depending on certain factors, so I'm wonder what strategy in grading a US Congress is considered to result in the most accurate overall measurement of performance.



2 Answers 2


There are 2 main metrics to grade a political power:

  1. Outcome to the polity.

    This is really difficult to grade objectively, because:

    • Desirability of specific outcomes may be quite dependent on ones subjective assumptions and value system chosen. I won't bother with examples, pick any polarizing topic in society where they are split close to 50/50.

    • Objective evaluation of specific outcome is difficult, either due to the fact that it requires passage of time to see how things shake out; or due to the fact that in complicated fragile systems like modern society, causal relationships are nearly impossible to establish for anything but trivial things. Even something as isolated and simple as effect of minimal wage magnitude on low-income employment is inconclusively debated among economists, and this is actually something relatively simple and easy to study, comparatively.

  2. Satisfaction of the populace.

    This one is also really tricky to measure/use for 3 reasons:

    • Everyone is seemingly dissatisfied with Congress... (I'm too lazy to look up exact reference but approval rating was somewhere in low double digits) BUT, surprisingly, seem plenty happy with their specific congresscritters - both in terms of polls measuring satisfaction, as well as one metric that is the most relevant - re-election rates for incumbents.

    • Current popularity doesn't always match historical verdict once the long-term outcome of specific policies shapes out. Witness Venezuela when Chavez was enacting his ideas, vs. Venezuela now, when those ideas led to massive issues the moment oil revenues sustaining the policies evaporated.

    • Any policy or outcome can satisfy and dissatisfy drastically different populations.

      As an example, any policy aimed at preserving Generation's Me-me-me (aka Baby Boomers) Social Security is wildly popular right now because the Baby Boomers who benefit from it (at the expense of the next generations) comprise the majority of population, and those who will be harmed by it aren't realizing it till it will be their time to retire 20-40 years from now. But I assure you, anyone who will be told "sorry, can't pay for your retirement like we promised, because your parents' generation didn't birth enough kids to sustain Social Security pay-ins and refused to dial down their SS pay-outs; so now the Trust Fund is short", won't be happy with the current legislative stance on Social Security, which amounts to "do nothing and hope".


This is a thought provoking question.

I know of no firm metrics (other than voting patterns, which are flawed as participation rates are so low 38% - 62% typically for national elections), though there is a plethora of writing on the effectiveness of government. For instance, you can uses STEPS: Characteristic - Definition

Strength - Relative influence over other stakeholders in the world.

Transparency - Degree of openness in government communication and data availability.

Economics - Soundness of financial footing. Judgment of whether the value delivered is worth the cost of delivering.

Public Goods - Products and services provided by the government to improve quality of life.

Social Goods - Products and services provided by the government to promote social, procedural, and economic justice. Source - Gov't Executive

The World Bank has a publication on Governmental Effectiveness: Governance Scores

Scholarly POV

The overall effectiveness of Government ideas might help refine ideas for metrics of a component of the government - e.g. Congress. That's a way to back into the question.

Otherwise you might evaluate along a number of 2 dimensional criteria - reminiscent of the "Guns vs Butter" dialectic in economics.

Use the constitution and Bill of Rights to come up with criteria: Free Exercise of Religion Freedom of Speech Freedom of the Press Freedom of Assembly Availability/support for petitioning for the redress of Grievances Fifth amendment right indices: How many are "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law?" or does the congress allow "private property be taken for public use, without just compensation"?

Things along this line. This actually seems a very interesting line of discussion.


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