A common mode of discourse among liberals during modern election cycles is the “fact check,” and one of the most well-known organizations of professional fact checkers is the Pulitzer Prize winning Politifact, who investigate the most contentious claims made by presidential candidates and other political figures to see whether or not what they say is factually “true.”
After investigation, the self-described “fact checkers” rate the “truthfulness” of such claims, using what they call a “truth-o-meter.” The meter ranges from completely-false, mostly false, half-true, mostly true, to completely true. If the falsity of a claim is particularly problematic for the fact checker, then it gets a “pants-on-fire” rating.
So, which candidates have scored the best on Politifact’s truth-o-meter so far? It turns out that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both scored the highest. Taking into account all claims rated as True, Mostly-True, or Half-True, 72% of Hillary Clinton’s statements fall into these categories, while statements made by Bernie Sanders come out to 70%. Donald Trump’s claims, meanwhile, come out to only 22%, while Ted Cruz scores at 35%.
So what does all this mean, really? Well it means that, at least according to the standards set by Politifact, it’s the Democratic candidates who tend to deal the most in factual truth. For many, it may surprise them to learn that Hillary Clinton, who tends to be seen by many as “dishonest,” is actually much more fact-based than people give her credit for.
The data also shows, however, that every candidate, no matter who, will make statements that bend the truth or don’t hold up to further scrutiny after some investigation. There is no such thing as a “perfectly honest” politician any more than a “perfectly honest” human being. It just happens that, in this election cycle, the Democratic candidates are the ones who stray from “factual reality” the least. Fact checkers have clearly tended to be friendlier in their assessment of claims made by Democrats than by the leading Republican candidates, with many admiring the substantive discussions in their debates especially.
It must be noted though that, regardless of the admirable work that they do, fact-checkers are still human beings with biases. It is not uncommon for any given fact-check to have some room for dispute. However, given that there is no institution fact-checking every fact checker, this can often get lost on those who want to use their work as indisputable proof that their candidates, or their political party, “tell the truth” more often than their rivals. Every assessment, therefore, must be approached critically.
For instance, in November of last year, Bernie Sanders was unfairly given a “mostly false” rating by Politifact for claiming that climate change is directly linked with the growth of terrorism. Despite the fact that the author of this rating acknowledges the academic literature backing Sanders’ claim, the author resorted to injecting his opinion that the evidence wasn’t “direct” enough. This isn’t to say that the author is wrong. It’s just to say that, at least with this particular issue, judging the degree of “directness” in the evidence is a matter of interpretation rather than fact. Sanders just happened to have a different opinion about the evidence than the fact-checker, an opinion that is also shared by many other reasonable people as well.
Opinions are, by their very nature, neither true or false. A common criticism of fact-checkers is that they often end up trying to make opinions into statements of fact, which can be erroneously “rated” on a scale of true or false. Determining political truths is much more complicated than this, and we owe it to ourselves to not get too suckered into gimmicky “truth-o-meters”. Telling the truth, for most, is about much more than stating bare facts. It is also about making sound judgments and policy decisions when confronted with factual realities that demand action. Judging which candidate you find more “truthful,” in this case, is completely a matter of opinion, with no objective right or wrong answer that you can grasp for with any relative ease.
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