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Flip-flops demand their own footing

If you look at the Truth-O-Meter rulings we've published on PolitiFact.com (more than 500 since we launched the site a year ago), you'll see the same phrase popping up a lot: flip-flop.

Barack Obama was accused of flip-flopping on public financing, warrantless wiretaps and offshore drilling. John McCain supposedly flip-flopped on drilling and the Bush tax cuts. During the primary campaign, flipping charges were leveled against Hillary Rodham Clinton (torture policy), Bill Richardson (Iraq) and Mitt Romney (abortion).

We checked those accusations at the time and rated them on our trusty Truth-O-Meter. But after checking so many flip-flop allegations, especially lately, we realized they have become a major part of the campaign discourse.

We decided that PolitiFact needed a new device to tell readers when a candidate had truly flipped.

And so, the Flip-O-Meter is born.

When a candidate is accused of flipping, reporters and researchers from the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly examine the candidates' statements and voting records. Have they hedged their words over time? Shifted their tone? Changed their voting patterns?

Then, we rate whether the candidate has truly flipped:

No Flip: No substantial change of position. The candidate has been consistent.

Half Flip: A partial change of position or inconsistent statements.

Full Flop: A major reversal of position; a complete flip-flop.

We are not making a value judgment about flip-flopping. Some people say it shows inconsistent principles and lack of backbone. Others say it's just pragmatism and willingness to compromise.

As we did with the Truth-O-Meter, our goal with the Flip-O-Meter is to provide you with a helpful tool so you can make a more informed decision when you vote. Here are our debut rulings.

Barack Obama

On using the oil reserves

As recently as a month ago, Obama balked at the idea of tapping into the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve to relieve gas prices. But on Monday, he proposed doing just that.

On offshore drilling

Obama has consistently opposed new drilling as a means for solving U.S. dependence on foreign oil and spoke clearly against lifting a federal moratorium on drilling off the Florida coast. Now, he's ready to support a compromise plan that calls for more drilling off Florida while at the same time spending more on alternative fuels.

John McCain

On the Bush tax cuts

In 2001 and 2003, McCain voted against President Bush's tax cuts, citing fiscal prudence and the cost of the war in Iraq. But in 2006, McCain voted in favor of extending the tax cuts.

On offshore drilling

In June, McCain announced an energy plan that included lifting a federal moratorium on coastal drilling so states could allow rigs off their shores. He always said states should decide for themselves, but until this summer he had never urged states to allow drilling.

Flip-flops demand their own footing 08/05/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 11, 2008 3:18pm]
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