Friday, September 17, 2010

FACT CHECK: Gosar's Declaration of Kirkpatrick's Non-independence; Accusation of Misleading Is, Itself, Misleading

The Tweet from Paul Gosar this morning caught my attention - as Tweets are supposed to do.  The Republican candidate for CD1 stated: "Kirkpatrick doesn't like it when voters tweet about her votes in DC so here are all of them, including Obamacare ." 

Well, that seems kind of odd.  First, I have not heard about Kirkpatrick not liking "it" or getting involved.  Heck, she probably has the only campaign in the state that does not even use Twitter.  Search for "Ann Kirkpatrick" on Twitter and you will find a bunch of people with that name, but none of them seem to be a Representative running for re-election. 

Second, what kind of point is Gosar making posting her entire voting record?  I love Project Vote Smart as much or more than the next guy - heck, it was even started by former Arizona Corporation Commissioner and U.S. Senate candidate* Richard Kimball - but glancing quickly at Kirkpatrick's record there just gave me the impression that she votes AGAINST the majority quite a bit.

I searched Gosar's website for additional clues.  Not surprisingly, I found a news release from Wednesday, with this headline that just begged for some fact checking: "Kirkpatrick Misleads Voters Again; 86% Voting Record with Nancy Pelosi is not 'Independent'".  To support the claim that she votes for the "Obama-Pelosi agenda time and again", the Gosar campaign cites Kirkpatrick's vote for the stimulus plan and the budget.  Finally, they cite a fact check that the Arizona Daily Sun did earlier this week on a Kirkpatrick ad;  Gosar claims that the Sun called the ad "misleading".

However, the Daily Sun did NOT call the ad (or the specific claim of "independence")  "misleading";  it said: "Accuracy: Most points are accurate, but the ad lacks context, and one point is debatable."  The declaration of independence is apparently the point that the reporter concludes is "debatable".

So, let's "debate" that now.  Unfortunately, it is going to be difficult to do this without throwing a bunch of numbers at you - but, we will try to explain them clearly.  Is voting with the majority 86% of the time an indicator of dependence or independence? 

Some context is needed.  Most of the votes are non-controversial, and she may have even been voting on 435-0 votes;  that skews the percentages.  Kirkpatrick's percentage is based on 1,479 votes!  It is thus necessary to compare the 86.2% number with other members.  At the top of the Washington Post's page, the averages for members of each party are given.  In this 111th Session of Congress, the AVERAGE voting-with-party's-majority percentage is 90.6%.  (Parenthetically, the median - which may be more useful because the average can be easily skewed by some of the more "independent" members - is even higher, at about 95.7%.) 

There are 435 members of the House of Representatives.  Of them, only 18 voted with their party's majority a lower percentage of the time.  By the way, two of those are also members of Arizona's delegation: Jeff Flake (Republican, 84.9%) and Harry Mitchell (Democrat, 79.6%). 

(On the other side of the ledger, two of Arizona's Democrats and two of our Republicans voted with their the majority of their party a higher percentage of the time than the average: Ed Pastor (Democrat, 98.2%) and Raul Grijalva (Democrat, 96.6%), Trent Franks (Republican, 92.9%) and John Shadegg (Republican, 90.8%).)

You might notice that the Democrats have a higher average percentage than Republicans (92.2%-88.4%), which would seem to mean that the Democrats march more lock-step than Republicans.  However, it would seem that that could be explained by members of the minority party being more likely to crossover to be able to vote on the "winning" side.   And, sure enough, looking back to the 107th Congress, when Denny Hastert and the Republicans were in the majority, the numbers were nearly-perfectly flipped (85.8%-90.0%).

CONCLUSION:  In a world without context, a claim that someone voted with their party's majority 86.2% of the time might be a reasonable statement.  And, over the past several campaigns, we have increasingly seen challengers use the vote-with-party's-majority percentage against incumbents; I suspect we will see it more in the next few weeks.  However, we should live in a world with context.  And, with that context, Gosar's accusations are completely misleading.  Throw in the outright lie about the Daily Sun's article (and the snarky comment about Kirkpatrick not liking Tweets about her voting record), and Gosar earns an "F".

* Kimball was the Democratic nominee in 1988 for the open Senate seat; he lost to Rep. John McCain.  Kimball later asked McCain to be on the Board of Project Vote Smart.  McCain accepted, though that relationship has had its ups and downs.

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