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