How We Analyze and Rate Campaign Ads
At roughly the same moment the ink was drying on the U.S. Constitution – the document that established the means by which our young republic’s officials would be selected – operatives for various political factions began spinning the nation’s first political ads.
Those early campaigns were notable for their invective, slander and hyperbole. Whereas today, more than 200 years later … well, maybe not that much has changed.
In the heat of a political war, no one will be surprised to learn, truth is occasionally the first casualty. So four years ago, we launched Claim Check, a feature in which we conducted a non-partisan, forensic analysis of the claims and charges put forth by all sides in the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races.
Claim Check has since expanded beyond political ads to include fact-checking of scientific studies and media reports. But as the general election approaches for the gubernatorial and U.S. House races in Connecticut, we’re returning to the political world, and offer this primer of what we do and how we do it.
In analyzing political ads, we look only at objectively verifiable claims. A statement that Candidate X “will work hard for senior citizens” or that Opponent Y “is the wrong choice for America” are subjective expressions that don’t lend themselves to fact-checking.
And while we’ll try to provide context, we generally aren’t concerned with the relevance or import of an ad’s claim. If an ad makes assertions about a candidate’s or opponent’s background or record, we’ll leave it to voters to decide how significant the information is.
We’re also not looking to critique or validate a campaign’s platform. If a candidate describes his or her plan to overhaul healthcare, we’re interested in whether the ad accurately and fairly describes the elements of the plan – not whether experts or opponents or anyone else thinks the plan is a good idea.
Instead, we’ll look at specific claims about a candidate’s or opponent’s personal, professional or political record, digging into business filings, vote tallies, government records and other documentary evidence to get at the truth. And where there’s math, we’ll check the candidate’s math.
We’ll also give each ad a rating, using the five categories described here:
True: An ad with no misrepresentations or potentially misleading information.
Generally Accurate: An ad that may shade the truth or spin events or rely on loaded language, but that contains no materially deceptive information.
Somewhat Misleading: An ad that, through inexact language or omissions, could leave voters with an incorrect impression about an important element in the ad.
Significantly Misleading: An ad likely to leave voters with a misleading understanding about one or more major aspects of the spot.
False: An ad with significant information that has no real basis in fact.
Rating systems are an inexact science, and you may disagree with our assessment, believing an ad’s shortcomings to be more egregious or less egregious than our rating would suggest. The good news is: journalism more than ever is a two-way street. So let us know what you think, by posting comments to the individual Claim Check columns, which will be posted here on The Scoop, or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.