Nudge ratios on Capitol Hill

This spring, Blue Cross Blue Shield invited Congressional members and their staffs to take part in the Capitol Hill Challenge, described as a “healthy competition to see who on Capitol Hill can walk the greatest distance over six weeks while promoting physical activity and benefiting a charity along the way.” Sixty members signed up and kept track of their steps for six weeks. Winning the category of most miles walked was the office of Sen. Ted Stevens (Alaska) with 6,590 miles. The highest average per walker came from the office of Rep. John M. Jr. Spratt (South Carolina) with almost 299 miles walked per person.

To count every step, Blue Cross Blue Shield gave Congressional members and staffers a pedometer, a tool – a visual display that gives immediate feedback – that we at the Nudge blog have always liked.
But the Capitol Hill Challenge also tapped in another theme that interests us: Persuasion. Congressional members were able to sign up staffers in their offices, plus staffers on committees they served on, which meant the surest way to be a top walker was to nudge your aides to walk with you. Through social norms, direct appeals, incentives, or good old fashioned coercive paternalism, members had a variety of different ways to sign up staffers. So which member’s reach extended the furthest?

First, a few words about the calculations themselves. Since Blue Cross Blue Shield provided the total miles walked and the average miles per walker it was easy to work backwards to figure out exactly how many people (staffers plus the member) signed up in each office. From there, using the Congressional Staff Directory, it was possible to add up all of the staff members in each office, plus committee staffers (where there was some overlap as members can serve on the same committees). Dividing the total staff by the participating staff produced a “nudge ratio” that offers one glimpse of exactly how far the member’s reach extended. You could also think of the nudge ratio as the level of office commitment to the challenge.

Obviously, this calculation is not perfect. It does not include interns, who could participate, or new hires who joined after the Directory was published. To save some time, subcommittee staffs were excluded and nudge ratios were only calculated for the top 20 offices for total miles walked.

Member Percentage of Staffers Involved
Rep. Zach Wamp (TN) 38%
Sen. Ted Stevens (AK) 37%
Rep. Kay Granger (TX) 33%
Sen. Elizabeth Dole (NC) 29%
Sen. George V. Voinovich (OH) 27%
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) 23%
Rep. Bob Latta (OH) 23%
Rep. Todd Tiahrt (KS) 22%
Sen. Michael B. Enzi (WY) 19%
Rep. Joe Wilson (SC) 15%
Rep. Nancy Boyda (KS) 14%
Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (CA) 11%
Rep. Solomon Ortiz (TX) 10%
Rep. Bart Gordon (TN) 8%
Rep. Darrell E. Issa (CA) 7%
Rep. John M. Jr. Spratt (SC) 6%
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (NM) 6%
Rep. Lamar Smith (TX) 5%
Rep. Ralph M. Hall (TX) 5%
Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA) 4%

How does this compare to the total miles walked and average miles per walker rankings? The nudge ratio had a reasonably strong positive correlation with the total miles walked (.65), but had a weaker negative correlation with the average miles per walker (-.45).

The nudge ratios and correlations are both a surprise and as expected. Senators have larger offices and serve on more committees than House members, which means they have more staffers to potentially pull into the Capitol Hill Challenge and can rack up more total miles. But having a high average miles per walker does not require signing up lots of staffers. In fact, lots of participators inevitably mean some slackers who drag down the office average. The smaller House offices seem to favor higher nudge ratios. Although Kay Granger of Texas jumped from the middle of the pack in total miles and average miles into the top three nudge ratio, Sens. Stevens, Voinovich, Dole, and Hutchison finished in the top four of miles walked and have high nudge ratios.

Member Total Miles
Sen. Ted Stevens (AK) 6590.06
Sen. George V. Voinovich (OH) 5978.84
Sen. Elizabeth Dole (NC) 4204.8
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) 3827.32
Rep. Todd Tiahrt (KS) 2958.1
Sen. Michael B. Enzi (WY) 2868.54
Rep. John M. Jr. Spratt (SC) 2689.93
Rep. Zach Wamp (TN) 2406.34
Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (CA) 2222.05
Rep. Kay Granger (TX) 2033.07
Rep. Bob Latta (OH) 1824.16
Rep. Lamar Smith (TX) 1704.95
Rep. Ralph M. Hall (TX) 1664.96
Rep. Darrell E. Issa (CA) 1446.83
Rep. Bart Gordon (TN) 1379.31
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (NM) 1299.53
Rep. Joe Wilson (SC) 1197.88
Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA) 1077.12
Rep. Solomon Ortiz (TX) 1003.3
Rep. Nancy Boyda (KS) 836.42
Member Avg. Miles per Walker
Rep. John M. Jr. Spratt (SC) 298.88
Rep. Lamar Smith (TX) 243.56
Rep. Ralph M. Hall (TX) 237.85
Rep. Brian P. Bilbray (CA) 158.72
Rep. Todd Tiahrt (KS) 134.46
Rep. Bart Gordon (TN) 125.39
Rep. Darrell E. Issa (CA) 111.29
Sen. George V. Voinovich (OH) 110.72
Rep. Kay Granger (TX) 107
Sen. Ted Stevens (AK) 101.39
Rep. Zach Wamp (TN) 100.26
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (NM) 99.96
Sen. Chuck Grassley (IA) 97.92
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX) 95.68
Rep. Joe Wilson (SC) 92.14
Rep. Bob Latta (OH) 91.21
Rep. Solomon Ortiz (TX) 83.61
Sen. Elizabeth Dole (NC) 80.86
Sen. Michael B. Enzi (WY) 77.53
Rep. Nancy Boyda (KS) 64.34

Any readers with insights about how offices signed up members are invited to post comments or email the Nudge blog.

(Hat tip to Tucker Morgan for first pointing us to the Capitol Hill Challenge)

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