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The Top Five Smart Politics Reports of 2011

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A look back at some of the most illuminating and controversial of the 200+ Smart Politics reports published this year

republicanparty03.gif (Homepage Feature)After sifting through more than 225 of the at times serious, historical, or whimsical but always data-driven reports penned at Smart Politics this year, below are a handful of stories that perhaps raised the most eyebrows or ruffled the most feathers in 2011...

1. Selection bias at PolitiFact

A study coding 13 months of PolitiFact reports that found the St. Petersburg Times operation giving Republican officials 'pants on fire' or 'false' grades at more than three times the rate as their Democratic counterparts, was a prism by which partisans saw exactly what they wanted to see. For Democrats and the liberal media, it was "proof" that Republicans lied more. For Republicans and conservative outlets, it was long-awaited evidence that one of the nation's most high profile political watchdogs was not a fair, unbiased arbiter. The end result is the study received enough attention to prompt PolitiFact editor Bill Adair to quickly issue a statement on the Principles of PolitiFact in an attempt to shine a little more light on the selection process of the statements they grade.

2. Congressional response to Osama Bin Laden killing

This partisan divide was quite evident in the halls of Congress after the special forces killing of Osama Bin Laden. Smart Politics reviewed the nearly 400 press releases made by U.S. House members after the killing and Democrats were more than twice as likely as Republicans to give Obama commendations for the mission, while Republicans were eight times more likely than Democrats to acknowledge the efforts of President George W. Bush.

3. House Republican freshman all-stars

House freshmen took center stage and flexed their muscle throughout the legislative process of 2011, but only a few of the dozens of new faces dominated the news coverage. A Smart Politics content analysis of ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and NPR reporting found that Republican U.S. Representatives Allen West (FL-22), Joe Walsh (IL-08), and Tim Scott (SC-01) received as much attention as 70 of their freshman colleagues combined.

4. Barack Obama's State of the Union Address

Although he has been lauded for his great intellect and oratory by his supporters and even some opponents, Smart Politics found President Obama's most high profile speeches continued to be written at near record levels of simplicity. Smart Politics studied the 69 orally delivered State of the Union Addresses since the mid-1930s and found the text of Obama's 2011 speech to have notched the second lowest score on the Flesch-Kincaid readability test recorded by a U.S. President. Obama's speech had a Flesch-Kincaid grade level score of just 8.1 - which is a half a grade lower than the 8.8 he tallied in 2010 (which was the fifth lowest during this span). President Obama now has the lowest average Flesch-Kincaid score for State of the Union addresses of any modern president - with his 8.5 grade level falling just below the 8.6 score recorded by George H.W. Bush during his presidency.

5. Gubernatorial portraits

And finally, plucking one story from the whimsical files, comes a Smart Politics report on the symbols of partisanship and patriotism. Smart Politics content analyzed the official portraits of the nation's 50 governors and found that Republicans were more likely to pose with a state or U.S. flag than Democrats and more than eight times as likely to decorate their suit with a lapel flag pin. Republicans were also three times as likely to choose a red tie over a blue tie, whereas the red-vs.-blue tie selection was virtually split down the middle among Democratic governors.

Smart Politics thanks its readership for another record-making year in site traffic, as well as the media, whose growing appetite for creative, non-partisan data-driven reporting generated hundreds and hundreds of feature stories on and citations to Smart Politics reporting across dozens of national and local television, radio, print, and digital outlets.

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2 Comments


  • SP is a daily read for me. Thanks for all that you do, and please keep it up!

    Sincerely,

    A devoted reader in Cleveland, Ohio

  • It is very interesting the Flesch-Kincaid analisys of Obama speechs. Maybe a good presidential staff should have been considered the same analysis before submitting the speech to the public and not only after.

  • Leave a comment


    Remains of the Data

    Gender Equality in the US House: A State-by State Quarter-Century Report Card (1989-2014)

    A study of 5,325 congressional elections finds the number of female U.S. Representatives has more than tripled over the last 25 years, but the rate at which women are elected to the chamber still varies greatly between the states.

    Political Crumbs

    Small Club in St. Paul

    Mark Dayton is one of just three Minnesotans ever elected to three different statewide offices. Dayton, of course, had previously served as State Auditor (1991-1995) and U.S. Senator (2001-2007) before winning the governorship in 2010. At that time, he joined Republicans Edward Thye and J.A.A. Burnquist on this very short list. Burnquist was elected governor in 1914 but then became governor after the death of Democrat Winfield Hammond in 1915. He then won the gubernatorial elections of 1916 and 1918 and eight terms as attorney general two decades later (1939-1955). Thye was similarly first elected lieutenant governor of the Gopher State and became governor after the resignation of fellow GOPer Harold Stasson in 1943. Thye won one additional full term as governor in 1944 and then two terms to the U.S. Senate (1947-1959). Twenty Minnesotans have been elected to two different statewide offices.


    Respect Your Elders?

    With retirement announcements this year by veteran U.S. Representatives such as 30-term Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, 20-term Democrat George Miller of California, and 18-term Republican Tom Petri of Wisconsin, it is no surprise that retirees from the 113th Congress are one of the most experienced cohorts in recent decades. Overall, these 24 exiting members of the House have served an average of 11.0 terms - the second longest tenure among retirees across the last 18 cycles since 1980. Only the U.S. Representatives retiring in 2006 had more experience, averaging 11.9 terms. (In that cycle, 10 of the 11 retiring members served at least 10 terms, with GOPer Bill Jenkins of Tennessee the lone exception at just five). Even without the aforementioned Dingell, the average length of service in the chamber of the remaining 23 retirees in 2014 is 10.2 terms - which would still be the third highest since 1980 behind the 2006 and 2012 (10.5 terms) cycles.


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