It's All Politics
Sat January 19, 2013
On Campaign Promises Report Card, Obama Did 'Pretty Well'
PolitiFact has been keeping a list — a very long list — on the president's first term.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning political watchdog assesses the veracity of political claims, and this week, it released a report card on the promises Obama made during his first presidential campaign.
PolitiFact deputy editor Angie Holan tells weekends on All Things Considered host Jacki Lyden the results are mixed, but on the whole he did pretty well: Some 47 percent of promises were kept — good by politician standards — and only 23 percent were rated as broken.
"Another 26 percent he made partial progress on, we rate those promises as a compromise," Holan said.
A boon to Obama's promise-keeping came from the passage of big-name programs like the economic stimulus package and the education program Race to the Top.
"[Race to the Top, which] set up states in competition for federal money, ended up prompting states to do all kinds of things to meet goals that Obama said he wanted to meet," Holan said. "And these are things like getting more teachers into the classroom, getting kids interested in math and science, a lot of technology-related promises."
Of course, there were some big presidential flops over the last four years, too. Promises to close Guantanamo Bay, for example, didn't really work out.
"We rate promises just based on fulfillment, which our readers sometimes don't like," Nolan says. "But if he tried really hard and it didn't happen, we gave it a promise broken."
What definitely did not make it into the "promises kept" column was Obama's promise to bring a new bipartisan tone to Washington.
In 2010, House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell famously announced that the top priority for congressional Republicans was to make Obama a one-term president.
The president has been snappy himself at times. Just last week, he accused Republicans of holding "a gun to the head of the American people" for trying to tie the debt limit debate to a referendum on the deficit.
In some instances, keeping his campaign promises actually made the bipartisan divide worse, Holan says.
"The [Affordable Care Act] got him a lot of "promise kepts" on our meter, but that may also have contributed to Republicans who didn't want to work with him," Holan says. "So I think there might be a tension there between bipartisan compromise and trying to pursue a legislative agenda."
Holan says PolitiFact is preparing to add some new promises from the 2012 campaign and will keep following his 2008 promises for the next four years to see if any of them switch columns.
JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
If you've just tuned in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Jacki Lyden. We've been discussing the scope of President Obama's second term, but PolitiFact has been keeping a list, a very long list on the president's first term. PolitiFact, as you may know, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning organization which assesses the veracity of political claims. This week, PolitiFact released the president's final report card on campaign promises kept and broken. Deputy Editor Angie Holan says, PolitiFact started tracking the president back in 2007. And fact checking has really become part of the political scene since then.
ANGIE HOLAN: We wanted to do something to bring that fact-checking style of reporting to the presidency. And we decided to look at campaign promises and we created a new meter - we call it the Obameter - and we rate the campaign promises to see if the candidate is keeping his promises.
LYDEN: Well, first, let's look at the rating, and then maybe we'll bear down on a couple of individual promises. So how well on the Obameter did Barack Obama, the president, do?
HOLAN: He did pretty well. He made 508 promises. And we found that he kept 47 percent of those, so almost half. Another 26 percent, he made partial progress on. We rate those promises a compromise. And then in the promise broken category, we found just about a quarter of his promises. It ends up at 23 percent of his promises be rated promises broken.
LYDEN: So give me an example of a promise that President Barack Obama has kept.
HOLAN: The economic stimulus law was something that allowed Obama to keep many, many promises. And there, the topics ranged everything from energy, to transportation, to education. The Race to the Top program that set up states in competition for federal money ended up prompting states to do all kinds of things to meet goals that Obama said he wanted to meet. And this - these are things like getting more teachers into the classroom, getting kids interested in math and science, a lot of technology-related promises. So that stimulus really reflected Obama's campaign agenda in very detailed ways.
LYDEN: The president, of course, had some very high-profile broken promises, and closing Guantanamo Bay certainly springs to mind. What happened there?
HOLAN: Well, what happened there was that Congress said, you can't spend any money to bring any remaining prisoners to the United States, so they weren't able to close Guantanamo Bay. Now, I should add, we rate promises just based on fulfillment, which our readers sometimes don't like that. But if he tried really hard and it didn't happen, we gave it a promise broken.
LYDEN: One of the promises the president made when he was campaigning, most ardently, was that he was going to bring a new bipartisan tone to Washington, and that has not, in fact, occurred.
HOLAN: He wanted to get a lot of things done. And so the health care law got him a lot of promise kepts on our meter, but that may also have contributed to Republicans who didn't want to work with him. So I think there might be a tension there between bipartisan compromise and trying to pursue a legislative agenda.
LYDEN: So with the president's second term approaching, what's the future of your project?
HOLAN: We are preparing to add some new promises that we found during the 2012 campaign, and then we'll - we're going to keep following his 2008 promises for the next four years and see if any of them change rating, if maybe there's a promise broken that he'll end up keeping or maybe there's a kept that will go to broken, but we're going to be watching and see what happens.
LYDEN: Angie Holan is the deputy editor of PolitiFact and the editor of PolitiFact Florida. And you can see the article we've been discussing at politifact.com. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.