5 Online tools for following US government officials

The 2008 U.S. election season may be over, but the real work has only just begun. The following tools are tracking the every move of President Barack Obama and Congress in easy to use online tools that can turn any user into a political watchdog.

Congress Speaks

It’s safe to say that the members of Congress talk a great deal while in session. In total, more than 14.5 million words were spoken in the 110th Congress. Congress Speaks is a fun, interactive guide to who was speaking those words and how often. From the site we know that California Congressman Joe Baca spoke more than 24,000 words during the session and, from the small word cloud that accompanies each Congressperson, his focus was on families, children and food.

Capitol Words

A more timely and serious approach to tracking Congress, Capitol Words, a project of the Sunlight Foundation, tracks the most frequently spoken words said on the Hill. The data can be viewed a number of ways, including a bar chart that highlights the most commonly spoken words, a heat map that visualizes the most vocal states, and few other bar charts that highlight the most and least vocal Congresspeople. The words are also sortable by day, week, month, session, Congressperson and are searchable by topic.

The Washington Post: POTUS Tracker

The Post has made it easier to find out where the president has been at any given time with its POTUS Tracker, an interactive database that uses a tree map to visualize where the president has been and what issues he discussed. The database can be sorted by issues, the type of meeting or venue, and by those in attendance. Clicking further into the project reveals a tailored list of the president’s actions in relation to the selected category. The database also has an accompanying RSS feed for keeping track of President Obama 24/7.


After the 2008 election, the now Pulitzer-prize winning site PolitiFact shifted its focus to President Obama and the rest of Washington. The site’s Obameter tracks the campaign promises the president made during his campaign on categorizes them as Kept, Unkept, No Action, and a few other categories. The tool is remarkable in that traditional media have long been passive about holding candidates accountable for the promises made to voters.

The site still features its Truth-O-Meter, a holdover from the campaign season that analyzes the statements of key political figures and rates them on a scale from True to “Pants on Fire.”

USA Today: Presidential Approval Tracker

There are obviously a lot of words flowing from lawmakers’ mouths, but what does the American public actually think of its current and past Commanders in Chief? USA Today has created an insightful interactive chart that compares past presidents’ approval ratings — from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. Users can select and two or more presidents and compare their standings while in office and adjust the graph by date.

For more online political tools and visualizations, including perspctv and FiveThirtyEight, check out the previous post 15 Ways to follow the 2008 election online.

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