The 2012 election is expected to be about the economy, but let's face it, a good portion of the electorate doesn't hold an economics degree. It also doesn't help that presidential candidates' complicated budget proposals eventually devolve into neat little sound bites.
In an attempt to capitalize on voters' short attention spans and help people understand how complex political decisions impact pocket books, Nikita Bier, a senior at the University of California—Berkeley, created Politify.
With a few mouse clicks, users are able to see how every presidential candidate, from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to Texas Congressman Ron Paul, could impact their finances.
Bier says he developed the idea after studying economics and politics in Europe. Bier argues that globally, voters are more aware and informed about what candidates can offer their bank accounts.
"I started seeing that in the U.S. people were picking presidents based off of their moral positions, how they talk and their appearance. They weren't really assessing them on the policies that they were proposing," Bier says. "Nothing was empirical. There was something fundamentally different happening in the political conversation here than the rest of the world."
Fed up, Bier sought the help of start-up guru and Pandora Radio founder Will Glaser to get the non-partisan project off the ground. Bier also consulted economist Emmanuel Saez in order to perfect Politify's methodology.
Then Bier took each of the candidate's budget and tax proposals and developed an algorithm to help people of every tax bracket instantaneously see which candidate would benefit their pocket books the most.
The analysis reveals the change in government revenue voters can expect with each candidate's economic plan, the net personal effect, or how much money individuals gain under each plan, along with the tax benefits.
The visualizations even show the monetary value of federal services that voters use, such as parks, healthcare, roads, education and infrastructure.
"We are really hoping that this is the new way we engage with governments," Bier says,
So far, the graphics show people in the top 20 percent by-and-large benefit from Republican candidates, whereas those in the lower and middle class see greater savings with Obama in office.
So far, Bier reveals the site's caught the eyes of some very important people.
"We've had 170,000 users including congressmen, and the Chief Technical Officer for Obama's campaign has used it," Bier says. "A few RNC and DNC people have been on the site. It has gotten pretty good traffic."
Of course, no start-up is without its glitches. Bier admits Politify's been criticized for not revealing the secret behind the numbers, adding that his team is working on a way to make the site more collaborative and transparent.
In the upcoming months, Bier says his team would love to broaden Politify into a site that is able to measure the economic impact of all government decisions, from ballot measures to local elections.
Bier's goal is to continue to create a site that takes boring tax policies and transforms them into engaging and meaningful factors for voters.
"What is so painful to me is one-third of our work day goes toward [taxes] and all we vote on is sound bites and debates," Bier says. "It seems really dangerous to me that we are picking our most important leaders based off emotions."