Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Politifact Truth Index, Part 2: Breakdown by Subject

Republicans lie. On average, more than Democrats. At least according to the statements analyzed by PolitiFact.com. But do they lie at a uniform rate across any given policy statement? Are there some subject matters where Democrats are more likely to stretch the truth than Republicans are? I had to find out.

I categorized each statement into a fairly broad policy subject based not only on the words of the statement, but also on the point that the statement is trying to make. If the politician is saying something about Medicare, for instance, the intent of the comment might be to urge hospitals to improve care (in which case the statement would be in the Health Care category), or the intent might be to reduce the cost to the government (in which case the statement would be placed in the Government Spending category).

My PolitiFact database breaks each statement down into one of twenty subjects. The distribution of these subjects is shown in the pie chart below.

Recently the biggest subject of discussion has been issues related to government spending as both sides have waged budget battles over the amount of federal money distributed to government programs. Similar subjects have also been popular such as debt/deficit, taxes and the economy. (If a statement refers to both taxes and spending, it is counted as a statement about the debt/deficit).

Labor issues are also popular subjects in this database due to the recent protests in Wisconsin (and also due to the fact that Wisconsin is one of the eight states where PolitiFact partners with a local newspaper for state and local fact-checking). Labor issues incorporate collective bargaining issues, statements made about the benefits of public employees, and statements made about unions.

Which types of statements are usually true across all parties? Government spending issues. Both Republicans and Democrats score highly in the PolitiFact Truth Index when it comes to issues relating to government spending, which is great because government spending issues are the largest category of statements. Politicians can be generally trusted when it comes to statements made about government spending.

Second Amendment issues also score highly across both parties, but only nine statements (five by Republicans, three by Democrats) have been recorded in my database. The dataset isn't high, so the numbers are subject to wild changes. Public safety issues (crime statistics mostly) also score highly, although there has only been one identifiably Republican statement made in regard to this subject. Most public safety statements are made by local police officers or other non-partisan figures.

Which types of statements are usually lies? Personal attacks or boasts are more often false than true no matter which party makes the claim. Personal attacks are most often made in the heat of campaigns and encompass claims about an opponent's background or some statement he or she made in the past. It is the category of all the birther claims, but also of the accusations that certain politicians said they wanted to get rid of Medicare or other government programs.

Statements about the workings of government are also usually lies across all parties. This category includes statements about elections, including polls, demography, gerrymandering, vote counting and allegations of fraud; and it also includes statements about congressional rules and bureaucracy. Don't trust a politician when he/she says something like a recent poll shows him/her statistically tied with Obama for the 2012 presidency.

Which types of statements show Republicans lying as Democrats tell the truth? Labor issues, taxes, Obamacare, social issues, and environmental issues. Democrats can point to these subjects as areas where Democrats are on the right side of the truth and Republicans are on the wrong side, usually.

Are there any subjects where Democrats lie as Republicans tell the truth? So far just one: transportation. And this cannot be relied on as there have only been two Republican and four Democratic statements made.

Here's the chart:

Here's the main point - Republicans do score better than Democrats in some sizeable subjects, namely government spending and education. But Democrats do better in almost everything else: the economy, labor issues, the workings of government, debt/deficit, taxes, personal attacks, Obamacare, social issues, energy issues, environmental issues, and health care issues. The difference is vast when it comes to social issues (abortion, gay rights), environmental issues, Obamacare and taxes. When it comes to these policy issues, one can not only not trust Republicans, but also one can usually trust Democrats.

Next: PolitiFact's state newspaper affiliates: are there biases?

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