What is Americans Elect doing?
At one level, we know what Americans Elect is doing: it intends to run the first-ever corporate privatized presidential nomination in little more than four months’ time. But on the path to that nomination, it’s rather unclear what Americans Elect is doing; its procedures, rationales, leadership, communications, funding and metrics have all been opaque, hidden from the American people. Putting aside all the American-flag graphics it is the set of nitty-gritty mechanisms, the rig Americans Elect constructs, that will determine who shows up on the presidential ballot this fall.
On the Americans Elect’s “Candidates” web page it rolled out last month, various numbers were tossed up without explanation. A reference to a wildly error-prone slate of candidates’ supposed policies drawn up by Americans Elect contractor “On the Issues” appeared next to various politicians’ names, but the actual calculation by which Americans Elect came up with its “National Match” for each politician has never actually been published. I’ll repeat that in bold: Americans Elect’s system for calculating its numerical rankings of politicians was never shared with the public.
So what? Here’s what: when Americans Elect shoved up a graphic like this one on December 5, clearly promoting Republicans Ron Paul, Buddy Roemer and Jon Huntsman over Barack Obama, the numbers that rank Americans Elect’s selected Republicans over Obama are wholly unexplained:
When I say “wholly unexplained,” I’m not exaggerating. I defy you to find any shred public communication by Americans Elect anywhere — in the newspapers, by public e-mail, on a web page, by daily caller, posted in a hallway of the David R. Grace Memorial East Hackensack Federal Building, or flying overhead by passenger pigeon — that explains why Buddy Roemer is an 88% match with the nation on the economy while Ron Paul is a 57% match and Barack Obama is an 8% match and Jon Huntsman is a 99% match.
After some prodding by reporter Jonathan Tilove, Americans Elect contractor On The Issues released a methodology for its ratings done specially for Americans Elect, ratings that oddly differ from the ratings On The Issues shares on its own main website. But the thing is that the methodology it describes doesn’t actually result in the numbers you see in the chart above.
Take the example of Jon Huntsman on the chart above. In On the Issues’ description of its Americans Elect rating for Jon Huntsman on the Economy, it says that in a series of public statements “Candidate indicated ‘B’ on 6 out of 7 statements.” Response B is support for “More spending cuts than tax increases (mix of both solutions).” That’s 85.7% of the time. But Jon Huntsman is listed as a 99% “National Match” with the American people on the economy. How do you get 99% from 7 statements? Who knows? Someone somewhere in the Americans Elect corporation knows. Not you or me.
Let’s compare Jon Huntsman’s answer on the Economy to Buddy Roemer’s. Buddy Roemer only has 1 statement on the economy listed in his tracking for Americans Elect, but On the Issues also codes that 1 response out of 1 statement as Response B, “More spending cuts than tax increases (mix of both solutions).” 1 out of 1 is 100% of the time. But wait, Buddy Roemer is listed above as having an 88% “National Match” with the American people on the economy. How do you get 88% from 1 statement? Who knows? Someone somewhere in the Americans Elect corporation knows. Not you or me.
Meanwhile, according to the On the Issues documentation for Barack Obama, he’s indicated a preference for “More tax increases than spending cuts (mix of both solutions)” in 4 public statements and “Raising Taxes” in 7 public statements. This, for Americans Elect, somehow results in a 9% “National Match” with the American people on the economy. How? We’re not told. In comparison, Ron Paul is indicated as supporting “Cutting Existing Spending” 14 times out of 14 in public statements. For this, Ron Paul is a 59% “National Match.” That’s odd, not only because no multiple of 1/14 adds up to 59%, but also because Barack Obama’s clearly articulated position — some mix of spending cuts and tax increases — is closer to Buddy Roemer’s and Jon Huntsman’s position than it is to Ron Paul’s. But Ron Paul ends up getting closer to Roemer and Huntsman than Obama in the percentages you see above. Such a result literally does not add up.
The bottom line: these are the only measurements anybody related to Americans Elect has released to the public to explain its ratings, and they don’t match the public ratings that Americans Elect provides in the chart you see above. Those final ratings must be based on something else, but there is no explanation of these numbers anywhere in public. None. So how did those numbers get there? Wipe that question from your mind. Yours is not to question how. Yours is to believe it now.
Actually, don’t believe those numbers now. Now you are to believe the following new numbers, supplied this week on a quiet update that removed all mention of these candidates as the “Top National Matches.” This latest graph of numbers is completely unlabeled, and completely new numbers have been supplied for you to swallow:
Where do these numbers come from? What do they signify? Who knows? There’s no source. There’s no documentation. There’s not even a label associated with them any more. Only four trends are readily apparent:
1. The columns now add up to 100%.
2. The new percentages are not proportional to the old percentages, either within rows or within columns. For instance, Buddy Roemer’s 88% rating on the economy in the old Americans Elect rating system is 12.8% of his column total of 670 points, which doesn’t match his new 8% rating on the economy. In the old rating system, Buddy Roemer garnered 34.7% of all the ratings points on the economy. But in the new rating system, Roemer only gets 13.5% of all the ratings points on the economy. These look like new measures to me.
3. As a result of Americans Elect’s mysterious new ratings system, the rank order of candidates on the issues is different. For instance, in the old system, Buddy Roemer and Ron Paul are tied for #1 on the environment, with Barack Obama at #2 and Jon Huntsman at #3. In the new system, Barack Obama ranks first, with Jon Huntsman #2, Ron Paul #3 and Buddy Roemer #4. In another example, under the old system, Jon Huntsman ranks #1 on the economy, with Buddy Roemer at #2, Ron Paul at #3 and Barack Obama at #4. In the new system, Jon Huntsman ranks first, with Ron Paul #2, Barack Obama #3 and Buddy Roemer #4.
There are changes in order in nearly every subject between the new rankings and the old. Presumably, the candidates themselves haven’t all shifted so quickly, which means something must have changed at Americans Elect. What explains this shift? Did Americans Elect and Buddy Roemer have a fight about the economy and the environment? Are these changes all just a coincidence? Who knows? There is no source. There is no documentation. It’s all a mystery.
4. In the old system, the subjects on which Barack Obama did relatively well were placed at the bottom of the page. In the new system, the subjects on which Barack Obama did relatively well were placed at the bottom of the page, even though they are different subjects differently in the two lists. Is this just a coincidence or intended? That’s impossible to say. The use of graphical manipulation to influence interpretation is called “framing bias.” Americans Elect’s actions, intended or not, result in a framing bias to disadvantage Barack Obama. That demonstrable bias is an action in opposition to a presidential candidate, which Americans Elect bylaws expressly forbid.
Americans Elect would like the American people to believe it is ready to run its own privatized presidential nomination via online vote in scarcely more than four months’ time. Right now, Americans Elect has rolled out successive ratings that are inconsistent and undocumented. If Americans Elect wants to build confidence in its capability and sincerity, it should source and document its various communications that have the result of building up certain candidates and undercutting others. If Americans Elect won’t take this step, it should not be surprised to find that a number of Americans won’t buy what it’s selling.