BUFFALO, N.Y. — It's not always easy for people to determine how the priorities of their federal representatives compare to their own.
"Individual members of Congress do a lot of things and we wanted to make it easier for people to be able to track them," ProPublica news apps developer Derek Willis said.
More than a year and a half ago, the investigative website launched its Represent application, a searchable database with information like how lawmakers vote.
"It is a rabbit hole kind of app, which we really want to encourage people to do," Willis said.
This week, the nonprofit newsroom added another wrinkle to Represent. Using an algorithm, it can determine the topics U.S. senators and members of the House focus on in their press releases.
"We try to take it a step further and try to identify not only sort of broad topics but what broad topics that members talk about the most and then also what broad topics they talk about that other members don't talk about as often," Willis said.
Whether it be Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer's focus on Transportation and Public Works, Downstate Representative Peter King's keen interest in taxation or Western New York Congressman Chris Collins, who is often talking about water resources development, Willis said some results are predictable, while others can be a surprise.
"They also try to carve out maybe a national identity on an issue or a topic and we wanted to be able to see when people were doing that and on what issues they were trying to carve out that kind of identity," he said.
Willis said the research often requires a deeper dive. Whereas Democrats and Republicans may be talking about the same things, the tone can be vastly different.
"There are a lot of Republicans who, for example, talk about immigration, but they don't talk about it in the same way that many Democratic members of the House, in particular, do," he said.
ProPublica said the app is still evolving and could soon include more information, like what representatives are talking about on social media or their speeches on the floor, as well as more sentiment analysis.