BERKELEY -- Unsure which presidential candidate's platform would be better for your household's or neighborhood's financial bottom line? Don't worry: There's an app for that.
Politify.com lets a user input his or her salary, other income, age, tax status and other data, and produces an estimate of how much the user would gain or lose under President Barack Obama's and Mitt Romney's respective tax and budget plans.
But cofounder Nikita Bier, 23, of Berkeley, said Friday that while the site's earlier version was little more than a tax calculator, the version launched Aug. 23 also uses "a complex merger of IRS and census data" to estimate the increase or decrease in specific government services a household would receive. A user can also input his ZIP code or city and state to generate a color-coded map showing which neighborhoods would benefit, and how much, from which candidate.
"Most ZIP codes in the U.S. tend to vote against their self-interest -- they vote for candidates who would harm the households in those areas," Bier said. "The big thing that we plan on releasing in about two-and-a-half weeks will be a 'heat map' displaying which ZIP codes vote against their self-interest."
Bier, who hails from Palos Verdes Estates in Los Angeles County, is a recent UC Berkeley political economy and business administration graduate who worked at a San Francisco tech startup. He and cofounder Jeremy Blalock, 20 -- a UC Berkeley electrical engineering and computer science student who also has worked for startups as a designer and engineer -- began building Politify last year to reduce national politics' din to data that individual voters can use.
Bier said that while studying in Europe he had noticed political parties there are aligned mostly by socio-economic class, while many American voters pick a party based more on ideology and culture, including hot-button social issues. Rather than just "the moral positions of a candidate," he said, "I wanted to make sure people really knew about those economic issues."
For the candidates' tax and fiscal policies, Politify uses the president's 2013 budget proposal and Romney's plan for jobs and economic growth. Its own research on those plans was cross-referenced with that of the Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution.
The site took off fast, calculating more than 2 million outcomes since its Aug. 23 relaunch; that helped persuade the UC Berkeley Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology to grant Politify free office space in downtown Berkeley this past week.
Among those singing its praises is UC Berkeley professor and former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, whom Bier said has helped hook up Politify with policymakers and grant-making organizations. Reich last week told the Daily Californian he's "very impressed" with the site: "It takes relevant and useful information and puts it into a clear, interactive graph that will be very helpful to voters."
But while Reich has earned a reputation as a firebrand liberal, Bier said Politify is staunchly nonpartisan. "I consider myself a radical moderate, I'm often at odds with Robert Reich's opinions, so I make sure he doesn't influence the product."