When we set out to create RI Rank, we made it a point to avoid the promotion of “tribal politics” by omitting party affiliation from our rankings segments. We reasoned that for what we are trying to accomplish, listing party affiliation provided no value, and in fact detracted from our mission. By listing an “R” or a “D”, this risks forcing Senators and Representatives into “buckets”. For example, if all of the top ranked Senators in a segment are Democrats, one might then assume that Democrats are better elected officials. But each of these members of the General Assembly represent their constituents, not a political party (at least that is the way it should be). Their ideals can vary significantly, and the difference between the most progressive Democrats and the least progressive Democrats is substantial. For this reason, it is dangerous to throw all members of a political party into a single bucket. If the rankings happen to bear that out, it’s fine. But our goal is not to prove that elected officials with a “D” or an “R” next to their name collectively are better at governing.
Going back to RI Rank’s mission, in an October blog post I wrote: “Voters do not have enough information about their state representatives to know who to vote for, so in turn they vote by party. Due to this information gap, most Republican candidates for the State House in turn run as Democrats, banking on the State’s large Democratic voter base and lack of information that would expose them as conservatives.” Our FAQ further explains that a “D” or “R” next to an elected official’s name is largely meaningless in Rhode Island. Committee and floor voting records show that while many of our elected officials run as Democrats, they often do not vote the progressive (or “traditionally Democratic”) position on major bills. However, the opposite seldom occurs. Progressive Democrats do not historically run as Republicans in RI. The reason of course is that if the state’s base typically votes Democratic, it would make no sense to run as a Republican if your values align with the party many voters will default to when they do not know the candidates well.
RI Rank’s goal is to move voters to ignore party affiliation and vote for the person running based on their real-world performance. We do not want our visitors to use RI Rank to reinforce their existing biases. Instead, especially in Rhode Island, each elected official should be judged on their actions and their record – not the party they belong to.