ANALYSIS

MTV’s election game is largely fantasy when it comes to Maine’s candidates

Posted Aug. 30, 2012, at 12:59 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 30, 2012, at 6:24 p.m.
Cynthia Dill
Cynthia Dill
Angus King
Angus King
Charlie Summers
Linda Coan O'Kresik
Charlie Summers

AUGUSTA, Maine — MTV, the network with “Rock the Vote” content that provided answers to such essential political questions as to whether Bill Clinton preferred boxers or briefs, has upped its game in 2012.

“Game” is the operative word. To coincide with this year’s elections, the network’s website, in collaboration with HYFN, is hosting “Fantasy Election ‘12.”

Following the same premise as fantasy football and baseball leagues that allow players to draft their own teams and compete based on sets of arcane statistics, Fantasy Election ’12 invites players to select teams of candidates, then vie against other teams by accumulating points in five categories: honesty, transparency, engagement, public opinion and civility. The MTV website reports that the network partnered with 15 nonpartisan organizations to collect data used to assign values.

The game offers prizes of up to $25,000 cash and aims to “help get us closer to the democracy we deserve.” In the name of broadening civic engagement, MTV Fantasy Election ’12 also invites players to test their political knowledge with challenges such as “Rapper or Republican” and “Democrat or Diva.”

“Fantasy Election ’12 mimics a lot of what people love about fantasy sports, but instead of rewarding touchdowns and penalizing interceptions, it rewards honesty and penalizes incivility,” the website’s rules state. “In Fantasy Election ’12, presidential and congressional candidates are rewarded when they exhibit the behaviors we should expect from those pursuing elected office and penalized when they don’t.”

Despite MTV’s assertion that network officials “worked with more than two dozen experts in political accountability and civic engagement over the last year to develop this scoring system” and that the game’s creators’ highest priority “was that each of the values be indisputable,” the assignment of values seems a bit silly and arbitrary. In other words, it closely mirrors much of today’s political discourse.

Teams consist of 12 members: two presidential candidates, five U.S. Senate candidates and five candidates running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Each week, players can start one presidential, three senatorial and three House candidates. Scores are updated in real time, and specific rules apply to when trades take effect.

A look at the game’s list of Maine candidates reveals some flaws. The two highest rated candidates are Rick Bennett (1,942 points) and Bruce Poliquin (1,348 points), who lost out to Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers in June’s Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat that opened when Sen. Olympia Snowe chose not to pursue re-election.

Another candidate for that seat, independent former Gov. Angus King, tops the list of Maine candidates whose names will actually appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. As of 9 a.m. Thursday, King was worth 940 points to his fantasy league “owners.” King’s value rose by 181 points during the past week, largely because he accumulated multiple 10-point clusters for “engaging constituents on Facebook and Twitter.”

Democrat Mike Michaud, who is seeking re-election to the U.S. House from Maine’s 2nd District, ranks next with 517 points, although he dropped 76 points during the past week.

Independent U.S. Senate candidates Andrew Ian Dodge and Steve Woods both register zero. “There is no recent activity for this criteria” is all that appears on their MTV Fantasy Election ’12 profiles. Danny Dalton, whose name also will appear on the November ballot as an unenrolled candidate in the U.S. Senate race, does not merit a mention.

Other Maine congressional candidates receive negative scores.

Republican Jon Courtney, the Maine Senate majority leader who is challenging Rep. Chellie Pingree in Maine’s 1st U.S. House District, pegs in at minus 869. Courtney lost 56 points this week for achieving a 76.1 percent disclosure rate on OpenSecrets.org.

OpenSecrets.org bases its disclosure rating on donor information listed in reports to the Federal Elections Commission. OpenSecrets.org classifies information on donor lists as “full disclosure” if the information includes a donor’s full name, occupation and employer; “incomplete disclosure” for vague occupation descriptions such as “businessman,” “entrepreneur,” “self-employed” and “executive;” and “no disclosure” if a donor’s employer or occupation is not listed.

Summers registers a total score of minus 1,723. He lost 168 points this week. Summers scores on the positive side for engagement and public opinion, largely because — according to the MTV Fantasy Election tally — he engages constituents via social media. A transparency score of minus 2,303 holds him back.

Republican Kevin Raye, the Maine Senate president who is challenging Michaud in the 2nd District, follows Summers at minus 2,447. A 58.4 percent disclosure rating from OpenSecrets.com diminishes Raye’s value in MTV Fantasy Election ’12.

State Sen. Cynthia Dill, the Democratic party’s candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat, trails Raye at minus 2,835. Her “engagement” score sits at 400, built on steady use of social media. A low disclosure rating and 40-point drop in the “public opinion” category for slipping in the polls a month ago, according to RealClearPolitics.com, sank Dill into a deep hole.

Pingree brings up the rear in the MTV Fantasy Election ranking of Maine candidates. She garnered a minus 4,691 score. Pingree does earn “engagement” points for her use of Facebook to communicate with constituents, but OpenSecrets.org disclosure ratings that consistently fall below 50 percent saddle her with massive negatives on the Fantasy Election scoreboard. However, in the real world, Pingree holds perhaps the most commanding lead of any Maine candidate on the November ballot.

Nationwide, Frank Pallone Jr., an incumbent Democrat seeking re-election to a U.S. House seat from New Jersey, holds the highest MTV Fantasy Election value at 5,462. Republican Lynn Jennings, an incumbent U.S. representative from Kansas, registers the next highest value at 5,210.

Republicans held nine of the top 12 values as of 9 a.m. Thursday.

Among presidential candidates, incumbent President Barack Obama, a Democrat, scored 3,594 points, although values change frequently.

Republican Mitt Romney, perhaps preoccupied by preparing his acceptance speech for the Republican National Convention, trailed Obama with 713 points. However, Romney’s value has risen 1,250 points this week.

The MTV Fantasy Election ’12 roster lists three other presidential candidates. Libertarian Gary Johnson, who is described as a Republican, nets 27 points. Virgil Goode, for whom no party affiliation is listed, registers zero and Jill Stein, a Green party candidate, lags behind with minus 308.

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