Voter Center Methodology

Published on September 26th 2018

Welcome to the USAFacts Voter Center, created in partnership with our friends at Countable and BallotReady. Below is an explanation of how the key elements of the voter center were created. Please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected] with any additional questions or feedback.

HOW WE ORDER INFORMATION

Order of Issues

Issues in the voter center appear in the order of importance according to the USAFacts State of the Facts poll that surveyed 2,501 people in September 2018. For more information about the poll and public opinion about these issues, check out the full results.

Order of Candidates

Candidates appear in random order to avoid biasing users to candidates listed first. For consistency and to prevent confusion, users will see candidates in the same order during their time using the voter center, but the order may be different from the order shown to other users. Incumbents are noted throughout.

WHERE WE GET DATA

For consistency and to reduce bias, USAFacts only uses government data — not data curated by think tanks, academics, or any outlet expressing a viewpoint about the data. The US government maintains a network of statistical agencies whose purpose it is to collect objective information on government operations and the lives of the US population. USAFacts feels this is the best source of information for unbiased, data-driven decision-making. However, government data is not perfect. USAFacts works to publish the most up-to-date numbers available from the government. However, government agencies release data at different times and with different frequencies. USAFacts will update as data becomes available and tell you what release of data is being shown from each source. Due to funding or staffing levels, collection and release of data can have a significant delay. For example, the Census Bureau does not plan to release 2015 government employment data until 2019 and the Department of Homeland Security has only published figures on the unauthorized immigrant population through 2014.

The Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM) data store powers USAFacts and is responsible for expanding and maintaining the data used by USAFacts and for providing USAFacts with tools for curation of associated meta data and data relationships. Data series are categorized from an expanding list of data sources, and various conversions are often applied (e.g., inflation and population adjustments). USAFacts and PWBM are expanding the database, and while the database includes much significant data, it does not yet cover everything. USAFacts and PWBM will continue to expand into different areas and plan to include more detailed state & local data in the future. For more information about the data available on USAFacts, please visit the FAQs.

What are the Sources of Candidates’ Positions?

Candidate information is provided by BallotReady. When researching a given candidate, BallotReady uses information that is publicly available online. In particular, BallotReady primarily considers three different sources of information in an attempt to accurately portray the candidate in the way they present themselves to the public: candidate websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter profiles.

BallotReady does this for two reasons. First, their mission is to aggregate information for a voter to make their own decisions. They do not and will never be in the business of directly or indirectly influencing voting decisions. Second, they link to sources of information so that an interested voter can always examine the material for themselves. They do not use government websites in order to keep campaign information separate from government-funded elected official profiles.

Candidate Photos

BallotReady uses the candidate photos that candidates post as their social media profiles. If a candidate has no social media preference, BallotReady uses their campaign websites. If a candidate has a series of photos available to the public, BallotReady tries and chooses the image that best meets their criteria. A good candidate photo resembles an ID photo. It has the candidate’s face in the center, looking into the camera and does not contain intrusive text or other markings. It should not have any other people except for the candidate. However, if it is fairly apparent who the candidate is in the photo, or there are no other options, BallotReady may take a picture with multiple people.

Issue Stances

When BallotReady collects data on a candidate, much of the effort goes into finding a candidate’s stances on the issues that are important to them. On our site, issues displayed in quotation marks as a direct quote from the candidate or from a source that reflects the views of the candidate like the candidate’s campaign page. Unfortunately, because Facebook pages and posts are harder to source, BallotReady does not take sources from candidates’ Facebook pages.

BallotReady considers an issue stance as a statement that a candidate makes that is succinct, specific, and actionable. In other words, BallotReady primarily looks for statements that clearly indicate a candidate’s stance on an issue, and allow a voter to infer how that candidate will govern in the future. As a result, BallotReady tends to avoid simply listing a candidate’s past legislative accomplishments, as well as broad stances such as “I support veterans” since these do not show a candidate’s stances on specific issues.

As a rule, BallotReady does not take issue stances from third-party sources, including news stories. Even if the stance in question is a direct quote, BallotReady tends to avoid third-party sources to prevent arguments over source attribution and copyright permissions.

In order to present their views as accurately as possible, BallotReady takes the information they find verbatim, rather than change words and unintentionally distort their intent.

BallotReady only pulls statements from candidate websites where a candidate takes a specific policy stance. For example, candidates may talk about their background growing up in the community before explaining why this makes them believe their district needs better transportation option. BallotReady will only display as a stance the candidate’s statement on better transportation options.

Similarly, a candidate may make broad statements, like “education is important for our children’s future.” Since this is not a specific policy statement and is broadly agreed upon, this would not be included on the site. A follow-up statement that “we need to therefore invest more money in high-quality early childhood centers” would be.

Candidate Submission

Sometimes candidate information will be incorrect. No one has ever attempted to compile this much political data in one place before, and that means BallotReady is developing new systems, methods, and procedures for the first time. As a precaution, and an internal check, BallotReady has attempted to contact every candidate that they have obtained contact information for, with an opportunity to correct the information that we have. That being said, if you have a correction for a candidate’s information, and can verify that information using the criteria above, please see our information submission page here. Please visit BallotReady for more info.

WHO MADE THE VOTER CENTER?

About USAFacts

USAFacts is a non-profit, non-partisan civic initiative aimed at making government numbers more available, accessible, and understandable to Americans. It was created by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer after he discovered that government does not provide the kind of comprehensive reporting for citizens that publicly-traded companies are required to do for shareholders. This is the second year USAFacts has created an Annual Report and 10-K — modeled on the form public companies file each year with the Securities and Exchange Commission — to provide a comprehensive view of US federal, state, and local governments’ combined revenues and expenditures, as well as key metrics that measure progress towards objectives established in the Constitution. Ballmer is also chairman of the Los Angeles Clippers.

About Countable

Countable is a civic technology company powering a new wave of political engagement, and providing a reliable source for legislation and news. With the core mission of lowering barriers to political entry and increasing civic participation, Countable publishes unbiased information that’s made actionable by its suite of digital engagement products.

Together with its enterprise arm, Countable Action, Countable partners with leading brands, media organizations, political campaigns, influencers, and organizations to take their civic engagement to the next level. This is accomplished with its digital lawmaker messaging, civic video messaging, and customizable Action Center products, all of which facilitate sustained civic engagement. Learn more about Countable at www.countable.us, or Countable Action by visiting CountableAction.com.

About BallotReady

BallotReady aggregates content from candidates’ websites, social media, press, endorsers and board of elections for comprehensive, nonpartisan information about the candidates and referendums on your ballot. We link everything back to its original source so voters can verify any piece of information, and we make every effort to confirm details with the candidates themselves, giving them the opportunity to share even more information. We started in 2015, making paper voter guides for the Chicago mayoral runoff. With initial support from the National Science Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, BallotReady has continued to grow. Now, in 2018, we’re creating downballot voter guides nationwide and working to help every midterm voter cast an informed vote.

WE NEED YOUR FEEDBACK

This is a public resource, and we want to improve it based on your needs. If there is anything you would like to see included or comments you would like to share, please contact us at [email protected].