PolitiFact is a project of the Tampa Bay Times and its partners to help you find the truth in politics.
Every day, reporters and researchers from PolitiFact and its partner news organization examine statements by members of Congress, state legislators, governors, mayors, the president, cabinet secretaries, lobbyists, people who testify before Congress and anyone else who speaks up in American politics. We research their statements and then rate the accuracy on our Truth-O-Meter – True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False and False. The most ridiculous falsehoods get our lowest rating, Pants on Fire.
We rate the consistency of public officials on our Flip-O-Meter using three ratings: No Flip, Half Flip and Full Flop.
We also track campaign promises of President Obama, congressional Republicans and many governors and mayors using promise meters such as the Obameter and the GOP Pledge-O-Meter. For each meter, we have collected a database of promises made by the officials during the campaign. We research and rate their status as No Action, Stalled or In the Works and then ultimately determine whether it earns a Promise Kept, Compromise or Promise Broken.
How the Truth-O-Meter works
The heart of PolitiFact is the Truth-O-Meter, which we use to rate factual claims.
The Truth-O-Meter is based on the concept that – especially in politics - truth is not black and white.
PolitiFact writers and editors spend considerable time researching and deliberating on our rulings. We always try to get the original statement in its full context rather than an edited form that appeared in news stories. We then divide the statement into individual claims that we check separately.
When possible, we go to original sources to verify the claims. We look for original government reports rather than news stories. We interview impartial experts.
We then decide which of our six rulings should apply:
True – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
Mostly True – The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.
Half True – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
Mostly False – The statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
False – The statement is not accurate.
Pants on Fire – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
How the Flip-O-Meter works
Like our Truth-O-Meter, the Flip-O-Meter begins with good journalism. When a candidate is accused of flipping, reporters and researchers examine the candidates' statements and voting records. Have they hedged their words over time? Shifted their tone? Changed their voting patterns?
Then, we rate whether the candidate has truly flipped:
No Flip - No substantial change of position. The candidate has been consistent.
Half Flip - A partial change of position or inconsistent statements.
Full Flop - A major reversal of position; a complete flip-flop.
We are not making a value judgment about flip-flopping. Some people say it shows inconsistent principles and lack of backbone. Others say it's just pragmatism and willingness to compromise.
As we did with the Truth-O-Meter, our goal with the Flip-O-Meter is to provide you with a helpful tool so you can make a more informed decision when you vote.
How the promise meters work
To create our lists of promises, our staffers pored through speech transcripts, TV appearances, position papers and campaign Web sites. To make sure we selected promises that could be measured, we set some definitions. We said a promise "is not a position statement. It is a prospective statement of an action or outcome that is verifiable."
For the Obameter, for example, we decided to include anything that fit our definition, regardless of how easily Obama could keep the promise. (We felt we couldn't discard a promise simply because it was an easy one to achieve.) So you'll find a fair number that are the presidential equivalent of easy lay-ups, promises that Obama is virtually certain to keep. They include some very general ones such as "Pursue a wildfire management plan" and his plan for "additional personnel, infrastructure and technology" along the U.S. border.
But you'll also find many that will be harder to achieve and could be a little tricky for us to rate, such as his pledge to "attract more doctors to rural areas."
We are checking the full promise, not just the headline that appears on our summary. All of our promises list the source, so you can see the full promise in context.
We gave the Obameter (and the other promise meters) six levels. The first three provide a broad picture of whether Obama is making progress; the final three indicate whether he kept the promise:
Not Yet Rated – Every promise begins at this level and remains here until we see evidence that President Obama has made a formal proposal or taken executive action to move the promise along.
In the Works – This is our broad category to indicate the promise has been proposed or is being considered. We move the status to In the Works when Obama makes a formal proposal, as he did with economic stimulus plan, and it could remain at that status until it is ultimately approved or rejected by Congress. For some promises, it's possible that the status could initially go to In the Works, but then move back to Stalled if we decide the proposal has hit a lull, and then go back to the In the Works.
Stalled – We expect a fair number of Obama's promises will stall at some point because of limitations on money or opposition from congressional Republicans. Some may stay stalled and ultimately be rated Promise Broken, but others will probably move back to In the Works.
Promise Broken – There are several ways a promise could earn this rating. Congress might reject the proposal outright through votes in the House or Senate. It's also possible that the proposal could be determined to be dead before an actual vote. It might be referred to a committee but never get a vote, or congressional leaders might announce that the proposal won't be considered.
Compromise – Promises will earn this rating when they accomplish substantially less than Obama's original statement but when there is still a significant accomplishment that is consistent with the goal of his original promise.
Promise Kept – They'll earn this rating when the original promise is mostly or completely fulfilled.
An important point about Obameter ratings: A Promise Broken rating does not necessarily constitute failure or mean that Obama failed to be an advocate for his promises. He could exert tremendous effort to fulfill any given promise but it could still die because of opposition in Congress. That might be a perfect example of the legislative checks and balances on the executive branch, or the impact of public opinion. A promise that was popular during the campaign could be less popular now because of changes in the economy. But for consistency, we are still rating every promise he made during the campaign. Individually and collectively, our ratings show the progress of Obama's presidency during changing times.
Many promises include a time frame, which gives us an end point to judge whether the promise kept. But many others don't, so we'll revisit the item when we conclude Obama has had a reasonable time to fulfill the promise.
This is a work in progress and we welcome your tips and suggestions. If you think we failed to include a promise he made during the campaign, let us know. If you think we need to update the status of one, tell us why. We simply ask that you be nice about it. Political discussions on the Web too often become mean-spirited. But we welcome constructive criticism and friendly suggestions.