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Rating the Raters: Unmasking WYCAP’s ‘Conservative’ Scores – A Tale of Transparency, Twists, and Tenuous Truths

Have you come across the latest ‘transparent’ conservative rating site? It claims to be a beacon of truth, but a closer look reveals a different story. In an unexpected twist, the Wyoming Conservatice Accountability Project (WYCAP) legislator rating system ranks all five Democrats as more conservative than those often labeled as ultra-conservative, MAGA Republicans, or far-right. This surprising outcome raises questions about the system’s accuracy and methodology.

My experience in political analysis informs my view that WYCAP is more style than substance.  For over a decade, my website, EvidenceBasedWyoming.com, has been a resource for rating legislators and their voting patterns, utilized by various politicians and rating sites, even those with differing political views.  Pioneering in this field, I’ve endeavored to make my analysis scientifically robust and unbiased.  This commitment to integrity has been acknowledged even by critics, like Gail Symons of Sheridan, who recently tweeted, ‘You have been the sole bright light in a field of shadowy and sketchy sites.’ While my approach may only sometimes be popular, its integrity is widely recognized.

To understand the skepticism surrounding Wyoming’s legislative rating sites, consider the perspective of a Liz Cheney Republican.  Many moderate to liberal Republicans are critical of these sites, finding some to be inflammatory while others lack transparency about their creators.  This criticism often mirrors the broader political discourse, particularly the divisive ‘I hate Trump’ sentiment, with a proverbial cowboy hat.  The contention isn’t just about differing viewpoints; it’s also about the changing dynamics of power, especially as the Wyoming State Freedom Caucus begins to challenge long-standing political norms.

I understand the discomfort some may feel towards the contentious nature of specific political sites and the broader political arena.  However, politics, by its nature, is a field of robust debate and strong opinions.  Those unable to ‘take a hit’ might find themselves out of their depth.  In my own experience, I’ve faced criticism for my political writings and analyses, even from well-performing conservative legislators who disagree with me.  Yet, I respect their contributions and dedication to their causes.  The complaints about incivility or a hostile political tone often stem not from a place of reasoned debate but from frustration over losing ground in the political landscape.

The reluctance to embrace rating sites that don’t disclose their backers stems from a lack of identifiable targets for criticism or rebuttal.  This anonymity fuels a narrative where opponents are left guessing who to challenge or discredit, leading to suspicions of a hidden agenda or a ‘sinister cabal’ behind each rating site.  It’s a simple yet unfortunate reality of the current political climate.

In evaluating a legislator rating site, two key factors are paramount: first, the site must clearly articulate its methodology for compiling ratings; second, the ability to reproduce these rankings using the stated method.  A transparent approach allows for the replication of results and establishes the credibility of the rating system.  However, it remains essential to assess the methodology and the accuracy of its claims critically.

The WYCAP rating system exemplifies a model I generally avoid due to its potential for inherent bias.  This system deems a legislator conservative based on their stance on merely ten selected bills from over 200 considered in the 2023 legislative session.  This narrow focus, representing only about 5-10% of all legislative activity, hardly seems sufficient to define a legislator’s entire political philosophy.  A more credible approach would involve a more focused approach on single issues, such as pro-life stances, tax policies, or Second Amendment rights.  By reducing a legislator’s entire voting record to just ten selected votes, WYCAP’s methodology allows for selective interpretation, which can be tailored to support any predetermined conclusion.

While WYCAP’s rating system meets the essential criteria of detailing its work and being reproducible, it falls short in its conclusions.  The results derived from their methodology do not align with those from other established systems, such as the 2023 rankings from Evidence-Based Wyoming, WyoVote.org, HonorWyoming.com, or Institute for Legislative Analysis, an out-of-state ranking site.  This discrepancy is more than just a difference in perspective; it leads to demonstrably inaccurate conclusions.

This discrepancy becomes glaringly apparent when applying WYCAP’s criteria to the House of Representatives.  The results obtained under their framework do not withstand scrutiny.

Consider the case of Rep. John Bear, the leader of the Freedom Caucus.  Often labeled as a MAGA Republican, far-right, and extreme conservative by figures like Speaker Sommers and the media, Bear’s political alignment would suggest a high conservative rating in any two-party dichotomy.  However, under WYCAP’s system, John Bear’s ranking is surprisingly low.  He scores only 40%, placing him at 46 out of 62 legislators.

In a striking contradiction, WYCAP’s system anomalously places every Democratic legislator above Rep. Bear in terms of conservative ranking. For instance, Rep. Chestek scores 50%, Rep. Sherwood 55.6%, while Reps Yin and Storer each tally 60%, and Rep. Provenza leads with 66.7%. This assessment implies an unlikely scenario where these Democrats are purportedly more conservative than the leader of the Freedom Caucus. Intriguingly, WYCAP refrains from scoring Democrats, perhaps because doing so would undermine the credibility of their entire rating framework. This omission became evident when we scrutinized their methodology, revealing significant flaws. In Wyoming’s political landscape, it is a well-accepted notion that Democrats lean more liberal than Republicans. Therefore, a rating system that fails to mirror this fundamental distinction can hardly be considered a valid measure of conservatism.

Another angle to assess the WYCAP ranking system’s credibility involves its inclusion of House Bill 1. A fundamental political principle holds that conservatives generally advocate for reduced spending compared to liberals. Therefore, one would expect conservative legislators to cast more votes against increased expenditures, whereas liberals would likely support them. This principle is precisely what Evidence-Based Wyoming’s Budget Conservative Analysis for 2023, encompassing HB-1 and SF-1, aims to reflect. The outcomes should align with these expectations in an ideal and accurate ranking system that mirrors WYCAP’s claim to measure conservatism. However, a critical flaw emerges in WYCAP’s approach: it paradoxically ranks legislators known for higher spending above those recognized for fiscal responsibility. This inversion questions WYCAP’s methodology and challenges its claim of accurately representing conservative values in financial matters.

WYCAP’s rating system fails to accurately reflect the political leanings it purports to measure.  However, to claim these ratings as a measure of conservative values is a stretch too far from reality.

In conclusion, the WYCAP rating system, while purporting transparency and accuracy in assessing political conservatism, exhibits significant shortcomings upon detailed examination.

Its reliance on a select few votes does not adequately represent the full breadth of a legislator’s political stance.  This becomes particularly clear when compared with more comprehensive systems like EvidenceBasedWyoming.com.  A notable instance is the case of Rep. John Bear, whose WYCAP rating sharply contradicts his well-known political positions and voting record, undermining the system’s credibility.

Ultimately, WYCAP’s rating system needs to improve.  It fails to reflect the claims it makes accurately, does not align with various other ranking systems, and seems more like an effort to influence voters ahead of next year’s election rather than provide a reliable measure of conservatism. 

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