This year’s presidential primary debates have felt more outrageous and less factual than ever before—in large part because of Donald Trump, who has been amassing a long list of offensive and false statements since June. But lying isn’t unique to the Republican Party; all parties do it, and political fact checkers have had their hands full keeping score.
To help sift through the noise offered by America’s past and present presidential contenders, Politifact—an arm of the Tampa Bay Times—has released an interactive data visualization of the fact-checks they’ve done since 2007. And guess what it shows: everyone lies.
Of course, there are some issues with sampling bias: not everything is or can be fact checked, and some politicians receive much more attention than others (for example, President Barack Obama has been checked the most, with 569 statements examined). Regarding this year’s Democratic contenders, Hillary Clinton has been vetted 140 times, and 28 percent of her statements have been deemed completely false. Bernie Sanders was only checked 43 times, but he too strayed from the truth 28 percent of the time. On the Republican side, 84 percent of Ben Carson’s 25 fact-checked comments were at least mostly false, as were 76 percent of Trump’s 70 comments.
So how does the Politifact team go about choosing which claims to investigate? According to their site, reporters must first answer these questions:
• Is the statement rooted in a fact that is verifiable? We don’t check opinions, and we recognize that in the world of speechmaking and political rhetoric, there is license for hyperbole.
• Is the statement leaving a particular impression that may be misleading?
• Is the statement significant? We avoid minor “gotchas” on claims that obviously represent a slip of the tongue.
• Is the statement likely to be passed on and repeated by others?
• Would a typical person hear or read the statement and wonder: Is that true?
In other words, Politifact reporters focus on debunking particularly eye-catching lies, rather than carefully inspecting a politician’s every statement. Where does your candidate stack up in the race?