The Dignity Index has released ratings of campaign fundraising emails from Utah’s Senate race between incumbent, Senator Mike Lee and challenger, Evan McMullin.
It’s important to be clear about what the Dignity Index can measure, and what it can’t measure.
The Index can measure contempt or dignity in a passage from a speech or a debate. It can’t measure contempt or dignity in a full debate or in a campaign. And so it can’t work as a tool for comparing two candidates on the dignity scale. That would not be fair.
That’s because a valid dignity score for a debate would have to identify and score every single instance of dignity or contempt in the debate. But we are scoring language manually, which means we can, at most, score an equal number of passages from each candidate in a debate.
Our science experts at the University of Utah, who are working with us to refine and improve the index, determined that we should score and release the highest-scoring passages and the lowest-scoring passages in each debate – because the purpose of the Index is to highlight the range of words and phrases that express dignity and contempt, so we can increase understanding of the Index, see how we use contemptuous and dignified language, and understand how this language affects us.
That’s why scoring one passage at a time – and not a whole debate or a candidate or a campaign — actually serves our purpose better, because when we can see contempt in a sentence, in a phrase or even in just one word, we’re going to learn more about contempt and dignity than we would by comparing the scores of candidates. In fact, comparing the scores of the candidates would just reproduce the habit we need to grow out of, which is the habit of automatically responding to differences by saying: “these are the good people, those are the bad people.”
If you really want to use the dignity index to decide which candidate is doing better on the dignity scale, go to the website “dignityindex.us” – learn the features of each point on the eight-point scale, and then – before you score any candidate for contempt, start scoring yourself first. Then when you train it on the politicians, you won’t see contempt as something those people do, but something we all do, and something we’d all be better off without.
A defining feature of THREE is a moral character attack. The ad charges that Lee tried “to overturn our last election and override the will of the American people.” That is a sweeping charge that encourages sympathetic listeners to have contempt for Senator Lee, and encourages non-sympathetic listeners to have contempt for Evan McMullin. It’s possible to make challenges and still treat others with dignity. It means focusing on specific decisions, actions and their outcomes – on harm that was done or could have been done – and leaving out name-calling or attacks on motives and character.
Evan McMullin Campaign email 9/24/22 at 1:21 PM
Want proof that Mike Lee is beholden to special interest groups? Just take a look at who’s backing his campaign… These special interest groups have given nearly $4 MILLION to Mike Lee’s campaign. It’s why he always puts the interests of big tech, big banks, and giant drug companies above Utah. He fights for them, not for us. I pledged on Day 1 of this campaign to not take a dime from special interest groups — and I’ll keep that promise in the U.S. Senate. It’s the only way to stay independent and get things done. But the only way to defeat Mike Lee and his deep-pocketed backers is with a robust grassroots campaign — and that’s why I need your help.
There are generally two types of attacks in these fundraising emails. There is FOUR: “He’s not one of us; he’s not working for us; he’s one of them, working for them, and we shouldn’t trust him.” And there is THREE: “he’s a bad person who belongs to a bad group that’s trying to hurt us and keep us from doing good.” This message of this email, “He fights for them, not for us” puts this one in the FOUR category.
Evan McMullin Campaign email 10/17/22 at 4:31 PM
Tonight, I’ll speak directly to thousands of Utahns who are searching for a new path forward. I’ll share with them my plan to fix our broken politics and invite them to join our coalition of Republicans, Democrats and independents joining together to defend American democracy. But to spread my message, I’ll have to fight off the partisan attacks coming my way — both tonight on the debate stage, and over the final 3 weeks of this campaign. That’s why I need your help.
The special interest groups backing Mike Lee are going to twist my words and continue lying to Utah voters after tonight. So, I need to have the resources to respond ASAP. If you’re ready to join me in this fight, will you chip in a $25 matched donation before I step on stage? It’s absolutely critical I have your support before tonight’s debate.
Level FOUR conveys the view that “we’re better than those people … they’re not one of us … we shouldn’t trust them.” This aligns with this email’s claim that “The special interest groups backing Mike Lee are going to twist my words and continue lying to Utah voters.” So, this email scores a FOUR. It doesn’t reach THREE, which is to say, “They’re bad people trying to hurt us.” And it doesn’t sustain the level FIVE, which is exemplified in the early part of the email, “I’ll speak directly to thousands of Utahns who are searching for a new path forward.”
Evan McMullin Campaign Email 10/6/22 at 1:11 PM
Look, we didn’t expect much from Mike Lee and the partisan special interest groups funding his campaign. But even for them, this is an all-time low. This latest attack ad purposely distorts Evan’s words and uses shoddy editing to outright lie to Utah voters. But the truth is, Mike Lee and his extremist backers are looking at the same poll numbers we are. They know Evan has taken the lead, so now they’re spending MILLIONS on desperate, dishonest attacks to stop our momentum and save their favorite rubber stamp.
We can’t let these lies send Mike Lee back to Washington. So we’re filing a lawsuit against the far-right super PAC and TV stations responsible for spreading these obvious falsehoods. Will you add a $25 grassroots contribution to make sure we have the resources to win this fight?
The language “even for them, this is an all-time low” and “uses shoddy editing to outright lie to Utah voters” sends a clear message that these are morally bad people. Some will say: “but they did it!” The Dignity Index is not a fact-checker; its job is to detect contempt, and its point is to show that it’s possible to make a case without contempt. That requires limiting the argument to decisions, actions, and outcomes without adding messages like, “my opponent and his allies are terrible people.” The language in this email is designed to stir up contempt. To make the same points without contempt, one could say, “They edited the video to make it look like I said things I never said …. We have filed a lawsuit … He won’t disown the ad.” These are ways the email could have made its case without contempt.
Evan McMullin Campaign Email 10/7/22 at 4:11 PM
Our ads tell the truth. They talk about my service in the CIA after 9/11, tracking down terrorists and keeping America safe. They introduce you to my family, show you our values, and expose Mike Lee for choosing special interest groups over people.
But in a race as competitive as ours, it is crucial that every Utah voter sees these new ads — especially when we’re getting outspent 2-to-1 by Senator Lee and the partisan special interest groups backing his campaign. So, I’m personally asking: Will you chip in to our $50,000 TV Ads Fund to make sure we’re able to launch these new ads and stay on the air in the final weeks before the election?
This fundraising appeal is scored a FOUR because of the phrase, “expose Mike Lee for choosing special interest groups over people.” That phrase makes the point: He’s not one of us; we can’t trust him.” If this appeal had not mentioned Senator Lee, or had highlighted some positions Senator Lee took that Evan McMullin opposes, it would have been a FIVE. And if the email had made promises to identify common interests between the parties and act on them to solve problems, it could have been a SIX.
Evan McMullin Campaign Email 10/12/22 at 6:30 PM
Mike Lee chose to be a sycophant for Trump and the far-right, and now he’s living with the consequences — and that means getting replaced by Evan at the ballot box this November.
We don’t know what Mike Lee or Donald Trump are going to say next, but it’s obvious they’ve seen the polls that have Evan leading by 1 point just weeks before Election Day.
Mike Lee is getting desperate, so we need to strike while the iron is hot. Will you pitch in $25 or whatever you can to support Evan’s bid for Senate and help replace far-right Senator Mike Lee in Washington?
The charge “sycophant for Trump and the far-right” is in the FOUR category, with the message, “He doesn’t belong; he’s not one of us, he’s not working for us; he’s working for them.” It doesn’t reach the level of THREE, which would charge that he’s a morally bad person trying to hurt us.
Senator Mike Lee Campaign Emails
Mike Lee Email Campaign 10/12/2022 at 6:15AM
My opponent is endorsed and funded by Democrats across the country. He
claims to be an “Independent” – but there’s NOTHING Independent about his
Campaign. He supported Joe Biden. He’s called for the Republican Party to be dismantled.
Make no mistake – if he wins, he will be an automatic YES vote to Schumer and
Biden’s disastrous agenda. The fact is I can win this race – but I need your help. My campaign is being outraised and I need to hear from you. Even just a couple of dollars will help me win.
This is a FOUR message. He’s not one of us. “He supported Joe Biden.” The underlying message his “He can’t be for you. He can’t be trusted to promote the policies that will help you, because he’s one of THEM.” This email also relies on the labels that are a common feature of contempt: If he’s elected, he’s going to support their “disastrous agenda.” To make a case without contempt – to reach a FIVE or SIX – specific policy differences should be named and proposals made along with promises to work across the aisle to solve problems.
Mike Lee Email Campaign 10/12/2022 at 10:07AM
I wanted to come to you first with some tough news. At midnight I have a fundraising deadline and I’m still short $13,482. As one of my top supporters – will you give just $3 or $5 and help me beat my goal, beat my Democrat-endorsed opponent, and help Republicans win back
the Senate majority? Everything is on the line this election. America cannot afford to allow the
Democrats to hold their majority and continue their destructive agenda. I can win, but I need your help today.
The language “America cannot afford to allow the Democrats to hold their majority and continue their destructive agenda” places this email at a THREE. A defining feature of THREE is the message that “we are the good people; they are the bad people.” A variation on the theme is “they’re bad people trying to hurt us.” That is in line with the phrase “continue their destructive agenda.” To put the message higher on the dignity scale, the email could replace the phrase “their destructive agenda” with examples of Democratic policies that would be replaced by specific Republican policies if Republicans took over the Senate. Then the theme of the email would shift from “those people are bad people” to “we have different priorities and approaches for moving America forward.”
Mike Lee Email Campaign 10/13/2022 at 4:52PM Part.1
The radical Democrat agenda is being rejected across the country. But they’re
desperate to keep Joe Biden afloat and their majorities intact, so they will stop
at nothing to keep money from places like Manhattan and Malibu pouring into
the accounts of their failing candidates. With Democrats running out of options as they cling to power, they’re now spending big here in Utah – and they’re using those New York and California, dollars to try and flip this Senate seat. If I can’t get your help to offset their fundraising and spending, West Coast liberals could end up deciding the outcome of this race.
A campaign message at the THREE level will both try to plant and exploit the divisive idea that “we are the good people, and they are the bad people.” When that is the tactic, the message may include labels and name-calling that tie the opponent to “the bad people.” That’s the purpose of the reference to “places like Manhattan and Malibu” “New York and California” and “West coast liberals.” In addition, the phrase “radical Democratic agenda” is aligned with the THREE tactic of charging that “they’re bad people trying to hurt us.”
Mike Lee Email Campaign 10/13/2022 at 4:52PM Part.2
Hardworking Americans are suffering because of Joe Biden’s inflation economy,
and we’re feeling the pain every time we check out at the grocery store or fill
up at the pump. Americans need Republicans leading in the Senate with a majority that can put
a stop to Biden’s harmful and failed policies and get our country back on track. We literally can’t afford the Democrat alternative, but we’re running out of time to put us in a solid position to win this seat – which could end up deciding control of the Senate. Will you rush a contribution RIGHT NOW to help me catch up to my opponent’s fundraising, protect Utah’s Senate seat and win back the majority?
The phrase “Joe Biden’s inflation economy” is the kind of negative labeling that encourages contempt for the other side and makes it a FOUR message. (He’s incompetent; he’s a failure). The message that we need to “put a stop to Biden’s harmful and failed policies” is also a FOUR message – not because it says the policies have failed, but because it doesn’t say what the policies are and what the alternative is. A FIVE message puts forward beliefs, values, proposals. “Vote for me, this is what I believe, this is what I’ll do.” That can be FIVE message. “Vote for me, the other guy is a failure” is a FOUR message.
Mike Lee Email Campaign 10/17/2022 at 2:00PM pt.1
My service to you in the Senate is about representing YOUR values –such as shrinking government, protecting life, rolling back regulation, and protecting free markets.
Of course, that means I don’t always get the praise of the liberal media.
But really, we have enough elected officials holding their fingers to the wind so they can stay popular with the liberal media – like my opponent, who was named the “Charlie Crist of Utah” by National Review senior writer Dan McLaughlin.
No, I don’t care what the liberal media wants. I’m interested in what YOU want.
This email scores a FOUR because of the message “he’s not one of us” and the labeling, specifically the charge that his opponent wants to be popular with the “liberal media.” The opening paragraph, leading with “My service to you in the Senate is about representing YOUR values …” is FIVE language. When a candidate makes a purely positive case for his or her candidacy, the implicit message is, ‘you should vote for me because of what I stand for and what I will do for you’ – with no mention of the person on the other side.
Mike Lee Email Campaign 10/18/2022 at 6:15AM
Thanks to your support – we were able to get our conservative message out to
the voters of Utah. Everyone heard the differences between me and my Democrat-endorsed
opponent – Evan McMullin. I’m FOR THE PEOPLE, while McMullin is for the big
liberal donors who have been fueling his efforts. I won last night’s debate – but you can bet the liberal media will try and spin the results to help McMullin’s campaign. Please pitch in $5 and help me keep my momentum strong, win this race, and help Republicans flip the Senate majority.
This is a FOUR message because of the negative labeling – “McMullin is for the big liberal donors” and “the liberal media” is for him. Negative labels are tactics tying people to “bad groups” and stirring up contempt for the other side. To make a case for a candidate without using contempt, the names and labels have to go.
About The Dignity Index project
The Dignity Index is an eight-point scale that measures what we do when we disagree. The scale ranges from one — which sees no dignity at all in the other side — to eight, which sees dignity in everyone. Each point on the scale reflects a particular mindset, and each mindset is associated with certain beliefs and behaviors that reflect how open we are to the other side. As a broad rule, if I treat you with dignity, it means that I can see myself in you; if I treat you with contempt, it means I see myself above you.
Dignity in public debate involves making proposals, declaring values, stating goals and discussing decisions, actions, and outcomes. It includes listening carefully, and asking for more information. It means debating why something worked or didn’t work, whether it will work or why it won’t.
Contempt in public debate relies on mocking others, calling them names, attacking their motives and character, ridiculing their background or beliefs, and lumping them together in large groups under negative labels, declaring them dangerous, and blaming them for bad outcomes.
When we treat the other side with dignity, we make it easier to solve problems. When we treat others with contempt, we make it impossible to solve problems – because contempt takes away our ability to talk to each other.
Powered by UNITE, a national movement to encourage Americans to reject “us vs. them” thinking and stand together in common purpose, The Dignity Index was developed in partnership with behavioral scientists and other experts, and the demonstration project is being guided by researchers at the University of Utah. Learn more at dignityindex.us.