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Last week, we launched the teaser version of our new website. In short, our intention is to 'bring a Moneyball approach to [primary challenges], and help progressive activists target their resources on the lowest-value members in the lowest-risk districts.'

One of the reasons we released a teaser instead of waiting to release our new website in full was because we were looking at this month as a type of beta test to see if our algorithm accurately captured who progressives thought deserved a primary in their own districts before the full-release of the site. Luckily, we had a great first week and heard from a lot of people. The response was overwhelmingly supportive, but we also had many smart people email us in our quest to further perfect our algorithm.

How Our Scoring System Works

We arrive at these primary scores through a two-step process: First, by weighting and averaging various partisan scores like Progressive Punch, DW-Nominate, and their party-line vote percentage, we get a clear picture of each member’s voting habits. Then we compare that value to other members representing similar districts in the current Congress. This is crucial, since members aren’t being judged against some woolly progressive ideal. For example, a Democrat representing a district with a D+4 partisan lean is compared to other Democrats in D+4 and similar districts — and the more conservative they are than those colleagues, the higher their primary score. This, along with the rest of our methodology, creates an algorithm which allows activists to find out where they can replace Democrats too conservative for their state or district with real progressives — with little to no fear of losing to said seat to Republicans.

Perfecting This Algorithm

As previously mentioned, we had conversations about this algorithm with progressives across the country looking to tweak any potential reoccurring issues people saw.

  • Swing-District Democrats

    The most common criticism was that our score was a bit harsh on Democrats in swing districts. Since our objective is to target Democrats too conservatives for their district along with a bit of reassurance that a Republican won't pick up the seat, we starting digging in a bit more.

    Originally, our thought-process with regards to these conservative-voting members in D+4 and more Republican districts was (a) that their voting record was bad enough that a primary was worth the risk, because we could still get a Democrat in that seat who votes far more progressive and can stay safe based on their colleagues who are safe in similar PVIs. We still think this is right also -- which is why these swing members who were an 8/10 or a 9/10 primary score (must be primaried) last week didn't drop off completely, but dropped to a 4/10 or 5/10 (could be primaried). And (b) we were already giving candidates in R+ districts additional slack to populate our primary score, but it was a linear formula giving additional slack based on the x in an R+x. Expanding on this, we decided a polynomial formula was much more fitting to giving swing-district members additional slack based on the probability of a Republican picking up a seat with that PVI -- which we think made our scores even more accurate.

  • New Members

    The other less-regular but also understandable critique we heard were that these primary scores are a bit unfair to newer members of congress. We are open to more arguments, but this is our reasoning for treating new members the same as veteran members: First, our scores are updated weekly. While you're obviously not going to get a very clear picture of a MOC after just a few weeks of being in office, our regularly-updated scores will give a better sense of each representative's current trajectory -- which is the important thing early-on. And more specifically, the scores are heavily weighted on the current congress rather than lifetime scores -- regardless of whether you've been in office for one year or 20 years. So the only difference between new members and veteran members in this sense is that veteran members who voted progressively in previous years are given more slack in our scores if they're not voting as well in this current congress -- whereas, inversely, members that vote progressively in the current congress but have a history of voting more conservative, our scores are a little more tough on. Nobody should make a decision to primary somebody based on a voting record of a month or two, but by the time those decisions are getting made, each member would have cast enough votes to know whether they're likely to be a friend or foe of the progressive movement.

  • Other thoughts?

    Please let us know! We feel strongly that these scores accurately represent each member of congress that we attribute a score to. But ever since starting this project, we've been adamant about openness -- both with regards to explaining our algorithm along with our openness to tweak things about our methodology based on strong points from progressives who are looking to help.

Check Out The Teaser Site!

Check out our teaser site and sign up to see the 48 Democrats who are delivering the lowest value for progressives. We update the scores on our site every week based on new votes. And stay tuned for the full Primary Colors site, dropping at the end of the summer!


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Comment Preferences

  •  Nice! (5+ / 0-)

    "Lowest value members in lowest risk districts." Beautifully stated.

    “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

    by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 12:14:24 PM PDT

  •  let's see what's wrong (7+ / 0-)

    Bill Foster served one term, was defeated, and is back.

    Dan Maffei served one term, was defeated and is back.

    Both won in presidential years and lost in off years.

    You primary them, you may well lose the seats.  Both of them.

    Gene Green is probably as good as you are going to get in that district for now.  He will hold the seat.  If you primary him and beat him in the primary, you will probably lose the seat.

    Since we cannot afford to lose seats we currently hold if there is any hope of taking back the House, all I need to do is look at these three districts, where by the way I have at least an acquaintance with all three, to say there is no way I can support what your doing if this is what you produce.


    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 12:23:04 PM PDT

    •  Local conditions likely will dictate (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Deep Texan, Sylv, Simplify

      primaries, not some post on a blog.  

      I don't have time or money to waste, so I'll likely pass for the most part.  

      You know, I really liked Darcy Burner.  Kept contributing to her each time (not a fortune, just a few 25s each time), and she kept losing.   I have priorities, a new family (my partner's kids).  Just don't have the time or money.

      Join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news and views written from a black pov—everyone is welcome.

      by TomP on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 12:31:15 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  It seems to me that you are proving (6+ / 0-)

      the point opposite to the one you think you're making.

      If these Dems aren't strong enough and popular enough to hold their seats in off-year elections, you'd be better off looking for Dems who can.

      My experience is that when you have track records like that, the Dem is so uninspiring that they have to rely solely on Presidential coattails.

      “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” FDR

      by Phoebe Loosinhouse on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 12:34:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm in Foster's new district IL11 (4+ / 0-)

      He's a good fit so far.  Primary him and yes, it will go red.

      He made his bed on love denied. He played Jekyll and Hyde till the day he died.

      by chicago minx on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 12:42:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Maffei's is an interesting case. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HeyMikey, kurt, FreedomDemocrat

      The Democratic machine has obviously determined that Dan needs to run right for the midterm.That is why he is in the local paper touting GOP memes re: business,highlighting how often he votes with the GOP(for example,he recently voted against the individual mandate), and blathering on about his Third Way/No Labels pragmatism. Makes sense because Maffei was narrowly defeated by a dim bulb teahadi-lite in 2010. (That teahdi,btw,Ann Marie Buerkle, was recently nominated and actually confirmed as a Republican commissioner on the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission...chess!) How much sense his embrace of RW framing makes in a district that voted 8% Green in 2012 is TBD.
      One bit of advice for the woefully uncharismatic Maffei from this constituent. Better improve your constituent services.

      "George RR Martin is not your bitch" ~~ Neil Gaiman

      by tardis10 on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 01:39:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Assuming you are the Maffei constituent... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        tardis10, kurt

        Do you think that having somebody more liberal in that seat would doom a qualified progressive candidate in a general election? Or do you think our algorithm's assumption that Maffei's about a 5/10 -- 10 being the most deserving of a primary.

        Like I said about him a few minutes ago: He's in a D+5, a Democratic lean where only one Republican (Gary Miller [CA-31]) holds in the country -- where Barack Obama won 57-41. And Maffei votes ~66% progressive, when he should be voting more like ~81% progressive.

        I think, in a lot of districts, Democratic enthusiasm for a progressive candidate overtakes the appeal for moderate, boring candidates.

        •  Maffei is to the right of (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          PrimaryBlog, Alice Olson, kurt

          many of those that vote for him. A commonplace across the country. But he has the money,the machine and the power of incumbency on his side. As someone far (way far) to Maffei's left,I pray every night he will be offered some better position or have a huge,sex scandal or a sudden desire to spend more time with his family....because a more progressive candidate with integrity could win here if the party wanted to run same. Since they don't,there may be some Green spoilage in years ahead.
          Look forward to reading your site.  

          "George RR Martin is not your bitch" ~~ Neil Gaiman

          by tardis10 on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 02:55:13 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Thanks, teacherken! Let's Look at Those 3 Seats (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HeyMikey, tardis10, oohdoiloveyou, kurt

      Bill Foster (IL-11) is in a D+8, a Democratic lean that no other Republican holds in the country -- where Barack Obama won 59-41.

      Dan Maffei (NY-24) is in a D+5, a Democratic lean where only one Republican (Gary Miller [CA-31]) holds in the country -- where Barack Obama won 57-41.

      And Gene Green (TX-29) is in a D+12, a Democratic lean that no Republican holds or will hold -- where Barack Obama won 66-33.

      Based on our math (which is pegged from their colleagues in similar districts), Foster votes progressive ~69%, when he should be voting more like ~82% progressive. Similarly, Maffei votes ~66%/should be ~81% and Green votes ~72%/should be ~84%.

      And while it's certainly fair to talk about the Foster/Maffei losses in 2010, I'm not sure (a) we should compare a lot to the worst election for Democrats in 60 years, and (b) why a more progressive candidate wouldn't be able to hold these seats just because they lost in '10? Democratic enthusiasm could easily overtake moderate appeal in many elections across the country. And, again, based off of their colleagues, we're not asking them to vote far more progressive than anybody else; we're just asking for them to at least keep up.

      But we obviously appreciate the feedback! I don't think we necessarily agree on this (at least these three), but you clearly know what you're talking about -- and if you have any methodology suggestions that would let us gain your support, that would be great! For example, I certainly don't think that the idea that we're potentially weighting too much of our scores on Presidential years (and therefore PVIs) is unfounded. Email us at if you'd like to have a conversation about it. Thanks again!

      •  it is about far more than the statistics you cite (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Alice Olson, willyr, kurt

        it is about the issues as they play out in an off year

        it is about the media landscape and what is available on free media

        In Gene Green's case there is a further issue you seem willing to ignore, that he held that seat when it was not so friendly, that he has built up credibility and trust.

        Perhaps it is that I personally know as many Members as I do, and on occasion here them talk about things beyond what you see in raw data.  

        I also think it is more than ridiculous to be listing Gary Peters when he is running for the Senate not to retain his House seat, that he held that House seat even when being heavily targeted by Republicans, and oh by the way he has the thorough backing across the Democratic spectrum for his Senate run.

        I would far rather see efforts made on defeating Republicans in districts won by Obama.  That's where I'd start.  Given the number of seats we need to take control, any efforts made at primarying those who are fairly solid Dems even if not as progressive as you - or I - might prefer - is merely causing self-inflicted wounds.

        When a Dem endorses a Republican, or breaks faith with the party on key votes and it makes a difference, that becomes a different story.  I had no trouble primarying Lieberman for example, nor did I have any trouble when Don McEachin primaried and defeated a sitting but disloyal Democratic state senator in Virginia.

        "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

        by teacherken on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 02:33:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  There's Always More (0+ / 0-)

          But our objective is to give progressives scores on each member of congress based on their progressive (or non-progressive) voting record. You're also off a bit regards to the fact that these scores are based off how progressive you or I would like each of these members to be. (I think we would probably like them to be much more progressive.) It's based off of Democratic members voting records in similar districts to mathematically state the minimum in which they can and should be voting progressive.

          And what we're looking to do is factor in as much relevant data as possible to gain a clear picture as to whether or not a member is of high progressive yield based on their district or low progressive yield. If they're low, we assign them a primary score. We don't expect to have our primary score be the be-all-end-all either. Nobody's going to primary a person based off of a number. But we want to be there to provide as much context as possible. Also, if Democrats in whichever member's district like that person as their representative, it's fairly unlikely that a primary challenge will pop up.

          There's also no reason to think that primarying Democrats that should be more progressive and helping Democrats win current Republican seats should be mutually exclusive. Not everybody lives in the same district.

          Again, you can point to Democratic enthusiasm just as much (if not way more, in these districts) as you can point to moderate appeal with regards to November electability.

          Finally, like Enhydra Lutris, I also see no reason why primarying somebody and winning or primarying somebody and losing must result in an automatic loss. If they're a good fit for the Democrats of the district and the voters of the district, then they shouldn't have a problem.

      •  You would primary Gene Green, who is (0+ / 0-)

        with us on 18 out of 25 votes (72%)?  And his imaginary replacement would hopefully cast 21 out of 25 votes on the "progressive" side (84%) - a smidgen better, but not deserving of a primary based on only these numbers.

        •  Rep Green Isn't Super High On Our List (0+ / 0-)

          But our algorithm is saying that his Democratic colleagues in similar districts to Mr. Green are voting more progressive than he is -- so why shouldn't he be held to the same standard?

          Plus, I would totally agree with you about the smidgen stuff if members only voted on 25 bills per congress -- but, in an extremely general sense (because these algorithms don't take into account unanimous votes, etc.), even the [insanely unproductive] 112th congress, they brought up 6,723 H.R. bills. These are crude numbers -- but voting progressive 84% of the time vs. voting progressive 72% of the time could mean a difference of 806 votes. Again, the algorithm doesn't weight each vote the same, so it would be less than that, but I just wanted to demonstrate with real numbers why I don't think that's quite a "smidgen."

        •  Also (0+ / 0-)

          Since you were dealing with the smallest number possible [25], I went with the biggest [6,723] -- but I also wanted to be more realistic. The number of bills Mr. Green was eligible to vote for in the dead-weight 112th congress was 1,606. Though not all bills are created equally, that could have been upward of 193 more progressive votes.

    •  Is there a logical reason that can be stated as (5+ / 0-)

      to why either
      1) a successful primary of any of these or
      2) a failed primary of any of these

      will magikly result in a lost seat. Those statements, especially in blue districts always reek of being nothing but self fulfilling prophecies coming from a "never mess with the status quo" perspective.

      That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

      by enhydra lutris on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 02:36:16 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Foster lost in the old district, not the new one. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      So that's a bad example. His new district is pretty solid blue.

    •  Easy Pass (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It is too easy to give members a pass who lost in previous elections or are dependent on Presidential coattails in order to win. Their dependency on the President for victory (and favorable redistricting) is a sign that they are too weak to win on their own. They need money, and lots of it, and a pale voting record that gives no space for the GOP to attack them in order to win. That's one way to win, yes. Maybe there are other ways?

  •  Not interested in spam. Keep diarying! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Alice Olson

    Please keep posting on DailyKos. I am not going to "sign up" because I don't want to get bombarded with spam.

    "The true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals." - Barack Obama

    by HeyMikey on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 02:10:07 PM PDT

  •  You might consider adding extra information (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Had Enough Right Wing BS

    for the selected candidates, such as their LCV score and other such scores.

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 02:39:51 PM PDT

  •  Smart! (4+ / 0-)

    This is the kind of thing the party establishment doesn't want to talk about when they're asking people to vote out of party loyalty. There are conservative Democrats in liberal districts. It's good to identify where they are.

    I'm surprised Dan Lipinski isn't higher on your list. Is he not as conservative as I think he is or is there some other reason?

    I'm surprised Bill Enyart isn't included. Cheri Bustos makes sense. The Illinois party establishment feels safe recruiting conservatives and typically does the bare minimum when a liberal wins a primary.

    •  Thanks! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      We're going to show more of these scores/methodology when we release the full site, but with regards to those two:

      Dan Lipinski: Votes ~68.7% progressive and we'd expect ~81% in a D+5. That's a progressive value of -12.3. So he's our 16th most deserving of a primary. That's pretty conservative -- but he's also in a D+5, which has other D+5 Dems like Jim Cooper (TN-5) who we'd also expect about ~81% from, but he's only voting ~65.5%. So, generally, he's pretty conservative -- just not as conservative as some of the others in similar districts.

      Bill Enyart actually was included until we tweaked the score for our EVEN districts to give them a bit more slack before stating that they needed a primary -- since the risk for them is so much greater. So we now expect a ~66.3% progressive voting record from an even Democrat, and he's currently voting around a 67.8%.

      Illinois certainly has got a lot of Dems that can be voting a lot better without sacrificing their safety. And Cheri Bustos actually started out as our 10/10! So we follow her closely. But in the past couple of months, she's been voting [just a little bit] better, while Henry Cuellar has gotten worse-and-worse.

      •  Interesting. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I think of Lipinski's district being more Democratic than it was last time. It's the sort of place that would elect a socialist as long as he's Catholic and moderate on social issues.

        People noticed Bustos' vote for the Keystone pipeline and remember that the party cleared the primary field by pushing out two progressive Democrats who were both better known in the district.

  •  The danger inherent with primaries (0+ / 0-)

    Against elected officials from your own party is losing. Not the election, but the primary. Coup d'etats have a nasty habit of backfiring on your issues when you lose.

    Primaries are a part of the process, and I encourage everyone to participate in the process, just don't be surprised if you make enemies who take their revenge by voting against your issues. That's politics.

    However, the idea that you primary a guy like Dan Lipinski shows a serious design flaw, and is also indicative of someone who's never spent more than five minutes in Oak Lawn. The Chicago Third is dominated by Polish, Mexican, and Irish Catholics. It's culturally conservative, filled with working class Reagan Democrats, but remains a primarily Democratic stronghold because of generational party affiliation.

    I've seen some hardboiled eggs in my time, but you're about twenty minutes

    by harrylimelives on Mon Aug 05, 2013 at 04:22:31 PM PDT

    •  With Regards to Dan Lipinski (0+ / 0-)

      If you read above, Willinois -- who is from the area -- was surprised that Lipinski's score wasn't higher. Like I said before, he votes ~68.7% progressive and we'd expect ~81% in a D+5 (based on his colleagues in similar districts). That's a progressive value of -12.3 -- which translates into his 4/10 Primary Score.

      We're not claiming to be from every district in the country. We're just using as much relevant data as we can to help progressives have a more clear understanding of who more deserves a primary and who doesn't based on what you'd expect from their district.

      And IL-03 certainly isn't immune from flipping red, but based on its recent history, it's hard to believe that it's only blue because of Lipinski. Obama won there 56-43 in 2012 and 58-40 in '08.

      Lipinski should either start voting more like his colleagues in similar districts or it might be worth it to take the (fairly low) risk (because there's literally only one House Republican currently in a D+5) on a primary to get a Democrat that can vote more progressive and still be safe.

  •  Are you sure this isn't similar to the "purity".. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    tests that screwed up Republicans over the last few elections?

     I.E. Mike Castle wasn't conservative enough to be the Republican senator from Delaware, and Christine O Donnell won the primary... and for that we are thankful...

    I'd like to have more progressive democrats in the House just like everybody here, but I agree with some other posters that we need to focus more on getting control of the house back, and that means replacing the 17 most vulnerable Republicans with Democrats, and any Democrats. If we have room to work with in 2016, then take a look at primary-ing conservative democrats, as long as it doesn't turn the district red!

    •  We're sure! (0+ / 0-)

      We're not basing these scores off of purity in the least. Neither that nor basing them on how progressive we'd like them to be. If this site were designed to primary anybody who we thought wasn't progressive enough, it would have much different results.

      All of these scores are based on Democrats in similar districts. A very basic sense of the algorithm's thought-process is that if multiple Democrats are voting more progressive in districts with the same partisan lean that said member can vote that much more progressive. That's what populates the primary score. Then we give additional slack beyond that to any member in a swing or Republican-leaning district.

      Going off your Mike Castle example, Delaware is a D+8. Since we're using the inverse, let's assume we're talking about an R+8. Our algorithm would never advocate a super liberal primarying somebody in an R+8. Would be a death wish.

      Finally, I agree with you that we need to take the House back from Republicans. But I also don't see these two as mutually exclusive.

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