Science and Technology Innovation Program

Budget Hero Weekly Report

Breaking Down the Numbers Behind Budget Hero

Mar 13, 2013

(This is a guest post by Erin Massey, a Spring 2013 intern with the Science & Technology Innovation Program.)

New York City this week was set to implement a ban on sugary drinks more than 16 ounces in size, until the limit—a plan by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to curb obesity in the Big Apple—was derailed by a State Supreme Court Judge.  

While the NYC ban is in limbo, players of Budget Hero are also expressing their opinions on curbing sweet beverages with a policy that would tax sugary drinks at 1 cent per ounce. Some 55 percent of Budget Hero players between September and November 2012 chose to play the card taxing sugary drinks.

The Budget Hero policy is a bit different from the approach taken in New York. In the game, the policy would add a one cent tax for every ounce of soft drink with added caloric sweetener that is sold, including non-diet sodas, fruit drinks that aren't 100 percent fruit juice, ready-to-drink teas, sports and energy drinks and flavor-enhanced waters. This would average out to a regular-sized can of soda costing an additional 12 cents.

The card has yet to break the top ten cards played overall in Budget Hero, but appeared last fall in the top ten for cards played by players in the “swing states” of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin.

While distribution among gender and income of those who played the card was relatively uniform, there was some variation when looking at age and political affiliation.

In fact, those most likely to play the card were Democrats and Greens. These political groups were 150 percent more likely than Republicans and Libertarians to play the card. Independent and those in other political parties were 121 percent more likely than Republicans and Libertarians to play it.

Age also played a role. Players aged 65 and older were 47 percent less likely than those under 18 to play the card taxing sugary drinks. Players aged 45-64 were 37 percent less likely than those under 18 to play the card. Players aged 18-44, meanwhile, were 9 percent more likely to play the card than those under 18.

While Bloomberg believes limiting “super-sized” sodas, juices and coffees will start to scratch away at the obesity problem that has become an epidemic within the last few decades, food establishments and some members of the public are not yet ready to accept what this would mean for their profits and cravings.

But nutritionists and health experts hold a different opinion. Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and Dr. Kelly Brownell, of Yale University, said that consumption of sugary drinks—or drinks with more than 25 calories per eight ounces—could drop by 10 percent with the new ban, according to NBC News.

Feb. 11, 2013

(This is a guest post by Erin Massey, a Spring 2013 intern with the Science & Technology Innovation Program.)

Gender seems to play a key role in whether players want to boost cutting-edge, experimental military research in the Budget Hero game, according to a new analysis of gameplay.  Men were 99 percent more likely than women to play the boost funding for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is part of the Defense Department and develops new military technologies.

The card, which has appeared in Budget Hero since the game was launched in 2008, would boost funding by $10 billion over the next ten years. DARPA funds the development of high-tech products for the military and supports university research on futuristic projects, including unmanned search-and-rescue helicopters, artificial materials that heal wounds, military gadgets and electronics that can dissolve after use and computers that simulate basic human decision-making.

Sound like something from a James Bond film? Perhaps not surprisingly, the card boosting funding was overwhelmingly more popular with men than with women. It was also more popular among young men compared to adolescents and older men, with those aged 18-44 some 20 percent more likely to play the card than those aged 17 years old and younger, according to our analysis.  People aged 45-64 and people older than 65 were an astounding 51 percent less likely to play the card than those 17 years old and younger.

But Budget Hero also gives players the option to cut DARPA funding by $2 billion, as some charge that the agency spends too much on projects with questionable utility.

Not surprisingly, the card cutting DARPA funding was much less popular among men overall than the card boosting funding.  Males were 40 percent less likely than females to cut DARPA funding, while the younger age groups preferred cutting DARPA more than older age groups.  Those 65 and older were 53 percent less likely than individuals aged 17 years and younger to choose this card.

DARPA’s original mission was inspired by the Soviet Union beating the United States into space with the Sputnik satellite and aimed to prevent technological surprise, but that mission has since evolved, according to the US Army War College. Today, DARPA’s mission is not only to “prevent technological surprise for us, but to create technological surprise for our adversaries.”

In the real world, cutting or boosting DARPA funding would have a significant effect on the future of such innovations.

For example, without DARPA, improvements to computers and the development of the Internet could have advanced at a much slower rate. But cutting the agency’s budget  would also force DARPA to reevaluate how taxpayer money is used and encourage other people, such as venture capitalists, to fund these projects – something that could cut down the time it would take to develop such new age ideas.

Feb. 4, 2013

(This is a guest post by Erin Massey, a Spring 2013 intern with the Science & Technology Innovation Program.)

For the first time since the newly updated version of Budget Hero was launched in September, the “freeze federal and congressional pay” card landed on the list of top ten polices selected by players in swing states.

Interest in the card comes as lawmakers are considering measures that would dock their own pay: A bipartisan group in the House and Senate are pushing bills to withhold lawmaker paychecks if the chambers do not produce an annual budget and regular appropriation bills. Other measures being considered would ban congressional pay raises in years when there is a budget deficit and extend an ongoing pay freeze on senior officials working at the executive agencies.

The option in Budget Hero doesn’t go that far, but players can choose to continue a freeze on congressional and federal pay first enacted in 2010. For the first time since the Election Edition of the game was launched in September, the card has cracked the top ten list for players in the swing states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The card has not appeared in the overall top ten, according to our analysis of the almost 3,000 games played since the re-launch.

It’s not hard to see why there is growing interest in the policy. According to the Congressional Budget Office, federal employees earn approximately 2 percent more than private sector employees in similar positions.  But once health, pension and other benefits are factored in, it is estimated that federal employees earn about 16 percent more than their counterparts in total compensation.

Meanwhile, rank-and-file members of Congress make $174,000 yearly—more than four times the national average of $42,980 per year, according to data from the Social Security Administration.

The policy is not without controversy. Employee groups have cautioned against using the federal payroll to underwrite future financial crises. But with the economy stalling and many still out of work, players seem to be pushing back against the idea that federal and congressional employees get a pay hike anytime soon.

Will it make a difference? Despite the popularity of the card, the pay freeze is only projected to save $60 billion over the next ten years.

Dec. 11, 2012

The Bush tax cuts have become a political battleground in the fight over the fiscal cliff. The breaks—enacted in 2001 and 2003, renewed in 2010—lower marginal tax rates for almost all U.S. taxpayers. But the cuts are slated to sunset on Dec. 31, 2012, at the same time as a number of other breaks and spending cuts, which taken together form the dreaded cliff.

President Obama and Senate Democrats are pushing for an extension for taxpayers making less than $250,000 per year as a plank in any deal to stave off the cliff. President Obama already extended the breaks in 2010 before they would have expired.

Republicans, meanwhile, are calling for a full extension of the cuts, including for top earners, but there is evidence they may be rethinking that strategy and could accept passage of the limited extension. “The first thing I’d do is make sure we don’t raise taxes on 98 percent of the American people,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said late last month. “We’ll get some credit for that, and it’s the right thing to do.”

Players of Budget Hero: 2012 Election Edition had a similar choice to make. In the two most recent versions of the game, players could chose to extend the Bush tax cuts for all but the wealthy or to keep all tax breaks, among other tax policies. The game’s baseline – not playing either card – would result in the full expiration of the tax cuts.

In a multivariate model analysis, some key demographic factors popped out for the players most likely to retain the tax break for all but the wealthiest taxpayers.

Most notable, and somewhat surprising, age was a key factor. Players aged 65 or older were a whopping 117 percent more likely to play the card than those 18 years old or younger. In fact, our analysis showed that the likelihood of playing the card increased as players aged. For example, players aged 18-44 were 20 percent more likely to play the card than those 18 years old or younger.

There is obviously a political and geographic profile to the policy, as well. Democrats and Greens were 53 percent more likely than Republicans and Libertarians to want to exclude the wealthy from the tax break. And players living in red states were 21 percent less likely to play the card than blue staters.

Our analysis also looked at which players chose to keep the tax cuts for all eligible taxpayers, a policy that has also drawn plenty of political heat. Democrats and Greens were 80 percent less likely than Republicans and Libertarians to extend the tax breaks across the board. Independents were 65 percent less likely than Republicans and Libertarians to play the card.

The model indicated something of a geographic divide, as well: Those living in Western states were 18 percent less likely to play the card than those living in Southern states.

So which factors didn’t seem to have an impact on whether the tax cut was kept for the everyone or just those making less than $250,000? Income, surprisingly enough, and gender.

Nov. 28, 2012

As we inch ever closer to January’s “fiscal cliff,” the White House and Hill lawmakers seem – in some cases, anyway— to be reconsidering some revenue-raising options long seen as being “off limits,” including the once-untouchable mortgage interest tax break.

A Nov. 29 piece in the Washington Post says that lawmakers are considering whether to ditch the long-standing tax break, which allows homeowners to deduct from their taxes the interest they pay on their home loans. It is estimated that the tax break leads to a reduction of $100 billion in annual revenue for the federal government.

With the home mortgage interest deduction, taxpayers that own homes can reduce their taxable interest by the amount of interest paid on the loan used to buy their house up to $1 million. The jury is still out on whether it actually encourages homeownership and many say it favors the wealthy over low-income people and seniors, but others argue its existence could help the housing sector, a key economic driver.

In any case, it’s one of the largest tax breaks provided to individuals and very popular. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, some 36.5 million taxpayers deducted home loan interest in 2009 to the tune of $421 billion.

The Post story says the mortgage deduction could be impacted by plans from the White House and congressional Republicans to limit overall tax deductions, as well as a recommendation from the Simpson-Bowles commission on fiscal responsibility to rein in the tax break.

Players of Budget Hero: 2012 Election Edition have not shied away from phasing out the mortgage tax break either. A policy available to players in the game would change the tax code so that, beginning in 2014, homeowners would no longer be able to deduct the mortgage payments from their taxes.

While the policy has not shown up in the overall top ten this fall, it has been a popular card among certain demographic groups. For instance, in data we collected from the game between summer 2008 and mid-November, which represents around 8,300 games played, the card was overwhelmingly popular with male players. In fact, the policy was about 90 percent more likely to be played by males than females.

And in more refined analysis of game plays between Sept. 17, 2012 and Nov. 15, 2012, the card was the fourth most popular policy for residents of swing states, a group that chooses an idiosyncratic selection of policies from all over the political spectrum. (See our Nov. 20, 2012 post for more information on players from swing states.)

Phasing out the mortgage interest deduction also appeared in the top ten policies of other demographic groups, including players living in the Northeast United States, those living in diverse, densely populated cities like St. Louis and Philadelphia, and those of Pacific Islander descent.

While still not a particularly popular card overall, the pockets of support for axing the tax break could suggest stronger general support for the policy than previously thought.

Nov. 20, 2012

It would be hard to downplay the role played by swing states in the 2012 election. A handful of states like Ohio, Florida and Virginia commanded an outsized portion of media attention well into election night and helping President Obama get reelected. So how did residents of these states feel about key policies in Budget Hero: 2012 Election Edition?

Between Sept. 17, 2012 and Nov. 9, 2012, the most popular policy played among players in swing states, including Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin, was increasing social security taxes. This remains the top policy played for all players overall and independents.

As one might assume, popular policies played in the swing states tracked to some degree the top policies for players across the country: Roughly half of the top ten policies in swing states tracked with the top policies overall. These shared priorities include reforming and simplifying the tax code, increasing drug costs for wealthy seniors, limiting malpractice tort and cutting federal travel budgets.

But the swing state players also played a host of policies from across the political spectrum that did not track with players overall or political independents. These polices include funding clean energy research, phasing out the mortgage interest deduction, making college more affordable, freezing federal and congressional pay and implementing a value-added tax on sugary drinks at 1 cent an ounce.

Our statistical analysis also showed that swing state residents also looked at key issues differently than residents of non-swing states. For example, these players were 21 percent less likely to play the card to increase drug costs for wealthy seniors as compared to players in other states, despite it being a popular policy overall.

Compared with non-swing states, swing staters were also 16 percent less likely to play the card to cut arts and humanities funding and 20 percent less likely to play the card cutting conservation payments to farmers.

Further, swing state residents were more likely than non-swing state residents to play a number of policy cards, including raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 (21 percent), cutting housing assistance grants (18 percent) and raising the Social Security age (22 percent).

Nov. 2, 2012

As we collect more data about the choices made by Budget Hero players, some interesting trends are beginning to emerge about the role of gender, age, income and political affiliation in political decision-making.

To begin to look at these factors, we analyzed the cards that remained unchanged in the last two editions of Budget Hero, looking at gameplay between Aug. 1, 2011 and Oct. 25, 2012. The information was robust enough to at least start to tease out some trends and associations. For each issue, we tested what demographics (ie age, gender, political affiliation, income, area of residence) were associated with being more or less likely to play a given card through multivariate modeling. For this week, we decided to focus in on a few hot issues with data deemed statistically significant.

Raise the Social Security age: This policy remains a popular reform to a popular program. Americans are living longer and that is increasing Social Security costs: One way to address this would be by speeding up the increase in the eligibility age to 67 and then moving it higher so workers born in 1973 or later won't qualify until they turn 70.

So where were some of the biggest differences among demographic groups? Age was a factor. Players more than 65 years old were 53 percent less likely to play this card than players under 18, while players aged 45-64 were 40 percent less likely to play the card.

Gender was also a standout factor: The card was 91 percent more likely to be played by men than women. As for party affiliation, Democrats and Greens were 44 percent less likely to play the card than Republicans and Libertarians.

Cut discretionary spending by 10 percent: This card cuts spending by 10 percent for domestic agencies by freezing funding at 2011 levels through 2021. This includes all the spending controlled by Congress, but excludes entitlement spending like Social Security and discretionary spending linked to international affairs and the Pentagon.

This is a blunt approach: The card takes a machete to discretionary spending regardless of the popularity of a particular agency or program. So how did it fair among players? Party affiliation played a role: Democrats and Greens were 70 percent less likely than Republicans and Libertarians to play this card. But the data suggests that it  wasn’t very popular among Independents, either: They were 50 percent less likely to play the cost-cutting card than Republicans and Libertarians.

Men were also 15 percent more likely to play the card, while people aged 65 and older were 48 percent less likely than those under 18 to play the card.

Increase EPA budget by 50 percent: This policy would increase the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency from $8.7 billion to $13 billion, keeping it there for the next ten years.

EPA has become something of a political football in recent years, seen by some as protector of our air, land and water and seen by others an out-of-control regulator. So how did Budget Hero players view boosting EPA funding?

Party affiliation definitely seems to have influenced the decision whether to boost federal spending on the EPA. Indeed, when taking into account age, gender, income, and geography, party affiliation influenced this decision the most. Democrats and Greens were 525 percent more likely to play the card than Republicans and Libertarians. Similarly, Independents were 325 percent more likely to play card than Republicans and Libertarians.

Age also seemed to be a factor: People older than 65 were 57 percent less likely to play the card than players under 18. People between 45-64 years old were 54 percent less likely to play the card than players under 18. People between 18-44 years old were only 13 percent less likely to play the card than the under-eighteens. Overall, the data suggests that only young players (ie, less than 18 years old) are more likely to play the card to increase the EPA funding.

We’ll be looking at other policies in the future, including a detailed breakdown of Swing State gameplay head of the Nov. 2 election. Stay tuned!

Oct. 22, 2012

The top policy card among independents, the young and the old remains increasing Social Security taxes for the wealthy – in fact, it remains the top card overall for all players. In this week’s player data for Budget Hero: 2012 Election Edition, the card has also moved into the highest spot for players in swing states in the past week.

With the newest edition of the game available for more than a month, many cards are beginning to settle into the top ten spots and retain their popularity from week to week.

And Social Security remains a key issue with players. According to our analysis, of the 25 cards that remained the same in both the earlier version of the game and the Election Edition, the two most-played cards pertain to Social Security – raising the eligibility age for Social Security and slowing the increase of Social Security benefits.

But as the most popular policies settle into the top ten, one key policy has dropped out after a few weeks at the top: The card for taxing the private equity profits as income for managers has fallen out of favor with players, despite the fact that private equity has come up throughout the campaign.

Here are the two most-recent lists for the top ten cards:

TOP TEN CARDS (9/17-10/12)
Increase Social Security taxes for wealthy
Reform and simplify the tax code
Increase drug costs for wealthier seniors
Raise the Social Security age
End tax breaks for big oil
Reduce benefits for wealthy seniors
Add "Public Plan" to Obama health reform
Reduce and reform farm subsidies
Limit malpractice torts
Slow Increase of Social Security benefits

TOP TEN CARDS (9/17-10/19)
Increase Social Security taxes for wealthy
Reform and simplify the tax code
Increase drug costs for wealthier seniors
Raise the Social Security age
End tax breaks for big oil
Reduce benefits for wealthy seniors
Add "Public Plan" to Obama health reform
Reduce and reform farm subsidies
Limit malpractice torts
Slow Increase of Social Security benefits

 

 

Oct. 9, 2012

With swing states poised to play a crucial role in November's election, it makes sense to see what policies Budget Hero players from battleground states are playing. In our analysis, the swing states are Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin.

By and large, the policies played by people in these states track closely with those played by all players, with some notable additions: Swing staters sought to phase out the mortgage interest deduction, playing it enough times to make it the second most played card of the week. There were other policies from across the board that were more popular in the swing states: freezing congressional and federal pay, cutting the federal travel budget, funding research into clean energy and taxing sugary drinks at 1 cent per ounce. None of these policies has broken the overall top ten.

The full list:


TOP TEN CARDS FOR SWING STATES (10/5)
Reform and simplify the tax code
Phase out mortgage interest deduction
Increase Social Security taxes for wealthy
Tax private equity managers
Increase drug costs for wealthier seniors
Freeze federal and congressional pay
Cut federal travel budget in half
Fund research on clean energy
Raise the Social Security age
Tax sugary drinks at 1 cent per ounce

 

Across the board, the top ten cards saw a reshuffling, but the policies have remained the same. The full lists:

TOP TEN CARDS (9/17-9/29)
Increase Social Security taxes for wealthy
Reform and simplify the tax code
Increase drug costs for wealthier seniors
End tax breaks for big oil
Raise the Social Security age
Reform and reduce farm subsidies
Add "Public Plan" to Obama health reform
Reduce benefits for wealthy seniors
Tax private equity managers
Limit malpractice torts

TOP TEN CARDS (9/17-10/5)
Increase Social Security taxes for wealthy
Reform and simplify the tax code
Increase drug costs for wealthier seniors
Raise the Social Security age
End tax breaks for big oil
Add "Public Plan" to Obama health reform
Reduce benefits for wealthy seniors
Reduce and reform farm subsidies
Limit malpractice torts
Tax private equity managers

 

Oct. 3, 2012

Players have not shied away from the tough issues in the first few weeks since the launch of Budget Hero: 2012 Election Edition on Sept. 19, with the top ten cards played in the game addressing thorny political issues that even the candidates have done their best to avoid:

TOP TEN CARDS (9/17-9/24)
Increase Social Security taxes for wealthy
Reform and Simplify the tax code
Increase drug costs for wealthier seniors
Reform and reduce farm subsidies
Add "Public Plan" to Obama health reform
End tax breaks for big oil
Raise the Social Security age
Reduce benefits for wealthy seniors
Limit malpractice torts
Tax private equity managers 

TOP TEN CARDS (9/17-9/29)
Increase Social Security taxes for wealthy
Reform and Simplify the tax code
Increase drug costs for wealthier seniors
End tax breaks for big oil
Raise the Social Security age
Reform and reduce farm subsidies
Add "Public Plan" to Obama health reform
Reduce benefits for wealthy seniors
Tax private equity managers
Limit malpractice torts

Election Edition players are wading right into some of the trickiest policy issues, taking on Social Security (by increasing Social Security taxes for the wealthy and raising the Social Security age) and health care (by adding a “public option” to the Obama health plan and increasing drug costs for wealthy seniors).

The rest of the top ten is further rounded out with other important issues: The second most played card addresses simplification of the tax code, specifically a Simpson/Bowles-affiliated plan to establish three personal tax brackets and then eliminate loopholes.

The Top Ten also included a number of policies that cut across political lines: end tax breaks for oil companies, limit malpractice lawsuits and increase taxes on private equity managers.

The age data pouring into Budget Hero HQ is also begging the question: Is there an age gap? Take a look at the top ten policy cards played by two very different age groups:
 

Aged more than 64 years
Increase Social Security taxes for the wealthy
Reform and reduce farm subsidies
Add Public Plan to Obamacare
Increase drug costs for wealthy seniors
Limit malpractice torts
Reduce benefits for wealthy seniors
Tax private equity managers
Raise the Social Security age
End tax breaks for big oil
Reform and simplify the tax code

Aged less than 18 years
Reform and simplify the tax code
Increase Social Security taxes for the wealthy
Revamp Medicaid
Cut discretionary spending
Slow increase of Social Security
Raise the Social Security age
Cut foreign aid
End tax breaks for big oil
Tax sugary drinks
Phase out mortgage interest

 

 

Experts & Staff

  • David Rejeski // Director, Science and Technology Innovation Program; Interim Director, Commons Lab
  • Todd Kuiken, Ph.D. // Senior Program Associate, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Aaron Lovell // Writer/Editor/Program Manager, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Eleonore Pauwels // Program Associate/Researcher, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Anne Bowser // Researcher, Data Science and Visualization, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Elizabeth Tyson // New Projects/Technology Scout, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Sharon Weinberger // Global Fellow
  • Piers Millett // Global Fellow
  • Mark Schaefer // Global Fellow