Navigating the murky trenches of fiscal policy promises made by presidential candidates is confusing and disheartening. Don’t worry. You’re among friends.
The debate is made even more confusing by the fact that it’s still pretty one-sided. We know Obama’s policies, but Romney hasn’t divulged the nitty-gritty of his tax plan. Will he chop the mortgage interest deduction? What will he do with municipal bonds? Nobody knows!
To help the common voter figure out how each candidate’s plan for the country’s future will affect him or her, a team of UC Berkeley students has created Politify.com. The site is downright delightful and so easy to use that you’d never know there was a whole matrix of research, analysis, and algorithms that went into the production of the Web app.
The site offers three impact categories: personal, local, and national. If you click on the personal impact tab, you can plug in a few tidbits about yourself, like your age, income, filing status, and zip code to see how each of the candidates’ fiscal plans would affect you in the coming years.
Or you can click on the local tab and plug in any zip code to find out how the fiscal policies would affect specific neighborhoods.
And if you want a broader look at how each of the candidates’ policies would affect all U.S. families, you can click on the National tab.
It’s pretty easy to sum up: if your family earns less than $200,000, you’re better off with Obama. If your family earns more than $200,000, you’re better off with Mitt Romney. ‘Nuff said.
The results are so cut-and-dry that it would be easy to assume that the Politify team simply gamed the algorithms to cast Romney’s policies in the worst possible light. But the team anticipated such questions and cited their sources meticulously. Politify pulled its information directly from the candidates’ sites and broke down potential impact of those fiscal policies using data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (which provides information on how families across the U.S. use federal resources) and the IRS’s Individual Income Data. The team merged the data based on the standard practices of the non-partisan Tax Policy Center.
Politify originated with UC Berkeley grad Nikita Bier, who majored in Business Administration and Political Economy. The idea behind Politify: break down policies and candidates’ plans into bite-sized chunks so people could see the personalized impact of those policies on their own finances. Bier went on to recruit fellow student Jeremy Blalock, who is the lead engineer, as well as several other engineers and data analysts. The team is being advised by Pandora co-founder Will Glaser and economist Emmanuel Saez.
Mihir Deo, the team’s communications manager and a student at UC Berkeley, tells me that the team took great pains to make the app completely unbiased and non-partisan, so the site only plugs the candidates’ plans into its algorithms without providing analysis or speculation.
The data that the team mined is impressive, but it’s based only on what we know so far about Romney’s and Obama’s plans. Romney hasn’t provided anyone with a complete picture of his tax plan, so until he does, it will be impossible to know exactly how individual households would fare under the Romney administration.
Earlier this month, the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center released a damning paper that analyzed Romney’s tax plan and deduced that the features in the plan would cut taxes on high-income households while raising taxes on low- and middle-income households across the board—even in the event of “implausibly large growth effects” in the economy.