In just over 10 years of existence, the Idaho Freedom Index (IFI) has proven to be the Tesseract of Idaho politics. Score well, and your political profile is good; score low, and you have some explaining to do. Haters want to destroy it, but its power goes on. So, why is there so much love and so much hate at the same time? Here’s a look at the IFI and at what good, independent, and effective research can do for a legislature.
The Idaho Freedom Index is an objective measure of how well legislators vote according to the principles of freedom and limited government. The index calculates the percentage of times each legislator votes for legislation with positive ratings and votes against legislation with negative ratings. Legislation is rated on a strict, objective set of standards including the following. Does the bill:
- Grow or shrink government?
- Shift private sector activities to government?
- Add or subtract regulations?
- Impose or reduce barriers to entry into the market?
- Increase or reduce taxes/fees?
- Increase or decrease government redistribution of wealth?
- Increase or decrease government spending or debt?
- Add to or limit government transparency and accountability?
- Promote or violate equal protection under the law?
- Increase or decrease penalties for victimless crimes?
- Violate or strengthen the US or Idaho Constitutions?
- Limit or expand the role and influence of the federal government in Idaho?
The Idaho Freedom Foundation uses these simple metrics to assign positive, negative, zero, or no ratings for each relevant bill proposed in the legislative session. The legislators, based on their votes in the Senate or the House, determine their own IFI score, which is updated throughout the session and published as a final index score at the end of the legislative session. That’s worth repeating, the IFF rates bills, not legislators — the legislators determine their own scores by their own voting. A legislator who gripes about a particular rating on a single bill or even a few bills here or there cannot claim that such a rating made them score low on the index. The index includes votes on hundreds of bills.
The Idaho Freedom Index is a powerful indicator of how legislators vote. It adds transparency, accountability, and proper incentives, and it is a mechanism for improving Idaho laws while expanding freedom and limiting government. Here are some key ways the IFI makes Idaho a better state:
- The IFI is a means for holding legislators accountable to the voters. Many legislators describe themselves as “conservative” in their campaigns or in public appearances in front of constituents. But are they really conservative? Without the IFI, citizens would need to take their legislators’ words for it, research a bunch of bills on their own, or rely on campaign opponents to point out sketchy votes. The IFI is well-researched, based on looking at all bills’ potential impacts on freedom, and is a reliable measure of how legislators actually vote, rather than what they say or think about their own conservative credentials.
- Of note, many legislators who denigrate the IFI are those who score low despite their claims of being “conservative.” It’s not hard to see who the low-score IFI legislators are — just observe who among them is complaining the most. Whiners whine, but IFI scores don’t lie.
- The IFI influences what kind of legislation is introduced, advanced, and defeated in the legislature. Many times during a legislative session, legislators will reach out to the Idaho Freedom Foundation with their bill ideas to inquire how they can draft the legislation to achieve positive ratings on the IFI or at least to achieve smaller negatives. They want their legislation to pass, and they know strong negative ratings jeopardize the success of their bills due to the next item below. It is not uncommon for a legislator pushing a bill with a negative rating to contact the IFF to see how to make the bill better in a way to get a zero or positive rating. Some bills with very negative ratings get stopped early in the process because legislators see how harmful a bill may be for Idahoans and their freedoms.
- The IFI influences how legislators vote. Many legislators, knowing that their index score will be a respected indicator of their conservative actions, will vote on legislation to keep their scores high and respectable. That means supporting bills with positive ratings and opposing bills with negative ratings. This boils down to good bills with positive ratings getting passed more often while bad bills with negative ratings being defeated more often. The IFI improves legislative outcomes.
- The IFI scores help inform Idahoans come election time. Many challengers in primary and general elections for state senate and state house will advertise their opponent’s low IFI scores as reasons for going in a better direction. As stated above, candidates will almost always tout their conservative credentials (especially in conservative districts), but the IFI score tells the true story. Over the years, the IFI has been a powerful factor in how high-scoring legislators get re-elected and low-scoring legislators get defeated in their elections.
- In addition to the IFI, the Idaho Freedom Foundation uses two other indexes to give information about how legislators vote according to education freedom (the Idaho Education Freedom Index) and according to containing government spending in budget bills (the Idaho Spending Freedom Index). These are objective measures of legislators’ voting records on the important issues of improving Idahoans’ choices for education and limiting government spending (and thereby reducing taxes).
In short, the Idaho Freedom Index is perhaps the most powerful tool in the Idaho Legislature for influencing what legislation comes before the bodies, determining whether bills pass or fail, and for holding legislators accountable to the people based on their actual votes rather than their perpetual claims of being a “true conservative.” Whenever a legislator or candidate is complaining about how the IFI is not a good measure or that the IFF is biased somehow, it should be a giant red flag for voters. Idaho, beware the freedom faker. The Idaho Freedom Index is truth, not rhetoric.