On contraception mandate, Nebraska a big NO, DC a bigger YES, in White House petitions

Posted: March 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Civic engagement, Open Government, Technology, Transparency | 4 Comments »

Last week, I used a trial run of a new “petition scraping” plugin I’ve developed to see which states most strongly supported the recent White House petition that requested the Administration to rescind the health care reform contraception mandate for Catholic employers.

Today, I can add a second, opposing petition to the analysis. It urged the Administration to “stand strong” on the no cost birth control requirement. From what I’ve seen on the petition site, this is unusual – some petitions garner few signatures, but very few petitions are arranged in pro/con pairs. We can take advantage of this “natural experiment” to compare state responses on either side of the issue. (Signature data for the “Stand strong” petition can be downloaded at the csv link below.)

Nebraska, North Dakota, Kansas Against; DC Engaged

The outliers, highlighted in red in the chart, are the story.

Kansas, North Dakota, and Nebraska – in the bottom right – showed significantly stronger support for the Rescind petition, at 309, 367, and 487 signatures per million, than the national average of 117. In contrast, their support for Stand Strong was fairly close to the national average of 89 per million – they’re well within the “cluster” on the left axis.

Something even more interesting is going on in DC. At 509 signatures per million, it is the standout supporter for Stand Strong. But notice that, at 229 signatures per million, it looks a lot like Kansas, North Dakota, and Nebraska in per capita support for Rescind. (I’d guess that DC’s intensity reflects the pro-contraception response by longterm residents combined with combined with the response from advocacy groups on both sides.)

This table  provides the details for the chart above:

Download as csv file (4k).

The animated map shows how signatures flowed from each state, normalized by its population, with the petition “closing” on February 10. Click on the slider to see how each state contributed signatures starting on February 3.

Petition similarties

In many respects, signers responded similarly to both petitions:

  Stand Strong  Rescind
Signatures 22,945 29,127
Days to reach 500 signatures (visibility threshold) 4 3
Days to reach 50 states and DC 4 4
Percent of signers not providing a place 17% 17%

Download the “Stand strong” signature details as a csv file (660k).

See the previous post in the series for details on the Rescind petition and more information on the mechanics of petitions and signatures at whitehouse.gov.

A note on statistics

Some of the variation of a particular state’s response with respect to the US will be due to chance, rather than a fundamental difference in this state’s political leanings vs the US. For instance, weather patterns or state preoccupation with a sports event might have reduced Mississippi’s engagement; it might generate more signatures per capita on similar petitions at another time.

Statisticians measure how much an indicator departs from the average in standard deviations. The standard deviation captures the variability of a set of numbers. In the case of the petition signatures, if the response of a particular state differed from the US average by less than two standard deviations, e.g. Mississippi, this could occur by chance more than 5% of the time.

The bottom left quadrant contains all the states within two standard deviations of the US average.

The remaining three states and DC are outliers indeed. On the Rescind petition, Kansas’s response is more than two, North Dakota’s almost three, and Nebraska’s more than four standard deviations above the US average. This would occur by chance less than 5%, 0.3%, and 0.007% of the time — i.e., from rarely to never. DC’s response to Stand Strong is 5.7 standard deviations away from the mean, which would occur 0.00001% of the time by chance.

The outliers, in other words, are radically more engaged in these respective petitions than the rest of the country.