There’s a new plan to measure the civility of Utah’s political speech this election season.
It’s called The dignity index. It does not assess the candidates, but the words they use.
National Project Director Tom Rosshirt said the idea originated as he and others explored ways to resolve divisions in American culture.
“We were encouraged by a congressman from Missouri… who said, I get graded on everything I do and everything I vote on. But no one grades me or evaluates me on how I treat my colleagues, whether I respond courteously or not,” Rosshirt recalls.
Tami Pyfer is the leader of the state project. She served as an education advisor to former Republican Governor Gary Herbert and, along with Rosshirt and others, co-founded a civility project called UNITE.
The group worked with behavioral scientists to develop the Dignity Index, and Pyfer said it made a lot of sense to try it in Utah.
“We’re used to being able to…get together,” she said, pointing to the collaborative partnerships the state has navigated on things like LGBTQ+ issues and immigration.
Professor of Business Ethics at the University of Utah Jesse Graham helped develop the coding system, and the advisory board includes former Governor Herbert and former Democratic state senator pat jones.
“We believe that if we popularize an index that can start a conversation about dignity and contempt, we will get more dignity and less contempt. And we mean it because we think we’re all sick of it,” Rosshirt said.
Scoring operates using a politically diverse team of coders who are trained and supported by the University of Utah. Kem C. Gardner Political Institute and the Hinckley Institute of Politics. They will score passages from political candidate speeches, debates, fundraising, social media posts and campaign advertisements on a scale of one to eight. One is speech that shows complete disregard for the other side. An eight is a speech that treats everyone with dignity.
Scores will be accompanied by a brief explanation of why they were awarded. In some cases there will be information on how a higher score could be achieved.
“By assessing how [politicians] talk to each other and each other,” Pyfer said, “we hope they see the benefit of taking the higher road.
The Utah group will post scores from the state’s federal races every Friday until Election Day on Nov. 8.
The first dashboard will be released on October 7.