Jeb's e-mails: a first glance

Ben Schmidt, March 29, 2015

All the brouhaha about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails has been based on the assumption that the “historical record” is being imperiled. These concerns were best expressed in a March 13 New York Times article which features a raft of presidential historians fretting about the loss of their sources.

But actually, there’s hardly anyone in the profession (Micki Kaufman being the outstanding exception) who’s put any work at all into figuring out what it would actually mean to work with the e-mails being created at state agencies or even by individual figures. Jeb Bush has loudly trumpeted his own openness in sharing his e-mails freely. I know nothing about Bush and Florida, but let’s try a little experiment. You let me know what you think might be interesting to investigate, and I’ll see if I can share it in a useful way.

The big problem here is that e-mail is boring. Doris Kearns Goodwin puts it the most succinctly.

“What will be missing in the future is the best of the material we have today, which is handwritten letters and diaries,” she said.

She’s probably right–these sources are going to require completely new methods of analysis. And while they’ll tell us a few things, they’re not of the same sort that the personal testimonies of the Theodore Roosevelts of the world left behind.

There’s some consolation: we can learn very different things.

Let’s start just by looking at time.

The first is hardly worth plotting, but worth having for completeness: when did Jeb Bush get e-mails? Plotted by month, the chart looks like this.

All jebmails by date sent

{"database": "jebworm",
    "plotType": "linechart",
    "aesthetic": {
        "x": "date_month",
        "y": "TextCount"
    },
    "search_limits": {
        "date_year": {            "$gte": 1000        }
    }}

There are three notable spikes, all coinciding with letterwriting campaigns in July 2000 (HB 1911, “the bill currently on your desk regarding the right to choice on wearing motorcycle helmets”), in March 2005 (when the Terri Shiavo story led to a deluge of pleas from around the country), and in October 2005, when he was subjected to a form letter campaign expressing umbrage that, to quote one, “Florida Retirement System defends their position to be invested in Movie Gallery, the nation’s largest retailer of hardcore porn videos.”

What’s missing?

Perhaps just as noticeable is the drop in November of 2000, when Bush’s state was embroiled over the question of whether to recount ballots likely to push the election away from brother George. (I have been spending enough time with undergraduates that it seems conceivable for me that someone might not know about this.) He sent/received less e-mail that month than at any other point outside the first year of his governorship.

Let’s zoom in on that particular period with higher resolution–one point for day, moving left to right.

Jeb stops getting e-mails right around recount time.

{"database": "jebworm",
    "plotType": "linechart",
    "aesthetic": {
        "x": "date_day_year",
        "y": "TextCount"
    },
    "search_limits": {
        "date_year": [2000]
    }}

If this tells us anything, it’s that we need to separate out the piles of e-mails into some useful bins. I’ve taken a first pass by doing that by sender.

I separate it into Bush himself: (“Jeb”); his top 20 or so e-mail correspondents (the “Inner Circle”); other Florida Government employees; and the unknown.

Here’s a chart of the total number of e-mails sent by each of those groups in the last third of the year 2000.

E-mails sent by four major groups during the last third of 2000.

{"database": "jebworm",
    "plotType": "linechart",
    "aesthetic": {
        "x": "date_day_year",
        "y": "TextCount",
		"color":"sender_group"
    },
    "search_limits": {
	"date_day_year":{"$gte":270},
    "date_year": [2000],"sender_group":["Jeb","Inner Circle"]
}}

At a daily resolution, the suggestiveness is considerably less notable.

Personal life.

There’s some interesting patterns, though, to be gleaned from the most common senders.

We can quickly see when different aides were communicating with Bush over his governorship.

Some of these people may move on to different e-mails as time goes. This is perhaps worth normalizing for.

Bush’s top e-mail correspondents, by month

{"database": "jebworm",
    "plotType": "heatmap",
    "aesthetic": {
        "x": "date_month",
        "y": "sender",
        "color": "TextCount"
    },
    "search_limits": {
		"sender_group":["Inner Circle"],
        "date_year": {            "$gte": 1000        }
    }}

There are some aspects of personal life we only have access to through e-mail. Take when Jeb likes to get his work done.

When is Jeb sending e-mails?

{"database": "jebworm",
    "plotType": "heatmap",
    "aesthetic": {
        "x": "date_month",
        "y": "date_hour_day",
        "color": "TextCount"
    },
    "search_limits": {
		"sender_group":["Jeb"],
        "date_year": {            "$gte": 1000        }
    }}

This is the thing I have learned about Jeb so far: that he used to site as his computer betwen 7 and 10, and tap away at the e-mails.

That one month the spring of 2001, he tried responding throughout the day; but that it didn’t work for him.

That perhaps, in March of 2004, 2005, and 2006 he resolved to get up earlier and started responding to e-mails at 5am; but each year, the resolution quickly faded.

And that in 2004 he began to go to bed early.

What about the rest of the population? Terri Shiavo destroys the pattern, so we’ll skip the year 2005.

When are the general public sending e-mails?

{"database": "jebworm",
    "plotType": "heatmap",
    "aesthetic": {
        "x": "date_month",
        "y": "date_hour_day",
        "color": "TextCount"
    },
    "search_limits": {
		"sender_group":["Inner Circle","Government"],
        "date_year": [1999,2000,2001,2002,2003,2004,2005,2006,2007,2008]
    }}