Eli Dourado

The effect of re-election on White House petition responses

Last week, I launched WHPetitions.info in order to bring transparency to the We The People petitions the White House has been ignoring. But after launch, I thought it might be interesting to do a bit of social science with the data I had collected, only a tiny fraction of which is displayed on the site.

Using the data provided by the We The People API, it is possible to construct retrospectively a snapshot of the state of petition responses at any moment in time. So I decided to do that beginning on October 23, 2011 at 9:00am EST and every 24 hours thereafter. This gives me 669 daily observations, at 9 or 10am each day, depending on daylight savings time.

What interesting events happened between October 23, 2011 and today? One obvious one is Barack Obama’s re-election. Let’s see if it had any effect on White House petition responses!

The first thing I decided to check was the effect on the number of petitions and responses. Interestingly, there was an increase both in the number of new pending petitions and in the number of responses shortly after election day (represented by a dashed vertical line).

Next, I looked at the average number of days that pending petitions were awaiting a response. That is, for unanswered petitions, how long have they been waiting, on average?

This graph also captures the responses that occurred shortly after the election, which decreased the average waiting time of pending petitions. But note that since that big drop, there has been a steady increase in average waiting time, and the statistic is now at an all-time high.

Next, I decided to investigate whether there is a difference in White House responsiveness to a subset of petitions before and after the election. I calculated at each moment in time how many petitions had been waiting for a response for six months or more.

Using this data, it is possible to see a much greater structural break. The number of petitions waiting for six months or more has grown almost monotonically since election day, and tellingly, it increased very rapidly about six months after election day.

Finally, I constructed an abstract measure, total petition-days for pending petitions, which I think captures the overall state of White House responsiveness.

As you can clearly see, by this measure, there has been a big change in White House responsiveness to We The People petitions since election day.

Are you interested in crunching these numbers yourself? You can download a snapshot of this data here. Please let me know if you have any questions about how the data are calculated, and also if you find anything interesting.