Inside the Meter

About our Obameter rulings

To create our list of promises, our staffers pored through hundreds of pages of Obama's speeches, TV appearances, position papers and his campaign Web site. Ultimately, we identified more than 500 on everything from ending the Iraq war to buying his daughters a puppy.

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."

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 six levels. The first three provide a broad picture of whether Obama is making progress; the final three indicate whether he kept the promise:

No Action – 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 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 put tremendous effort for 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.