Friday, May 13, 2011

PolitiFact Truth Index, Part 4: Breakdown by Occupation

PolitiFact came into existence prior to the 2008 presidential campaign. It's sole purpose back then was to serve as a check on the claims made by presidential candidates. After the election, PolitiFact changed focus. Now they fact-check policy statements made not only by politicians but also by journalists, rabble-rousers, and anyone whose statements catch the eyes and ears of PolitiFact's writers and editors. Despite branching out into statements made by people who cannot be thrown out of office, the overwhelming majority of claims analyzed still lies in the domain of politicians.

Most of these claims follow the trend that I have compiled here, here and here; that is, Republicans tend to lie more than Democrats do. Below is a chart showing the breakdown of the PolitiFact Truth Index by occupation of the speaker.

Maybe it's not surprising that PolitiFact, an organization of journalists, generally gives fellow journalists good marks (the term "journalist" is used loosely to incorporate not just reporters but also regular opinion columnists and the personalities of the cable news networks). Republican activists tend to lie more than other types of Republicans. And party boosters (basically any organization with "Democrat" or "Republican" in its name, or such an organization's spokesman), whose sole function is to get folks to elect Democrats or Republicans, seem to lie at a shockingly high rate independent of party affiliation.

The biggest surprise is in the category of advocacy group. Since advocacy groups are basically organizations composed of another category, activists, I expected their numbers would be similar. But they're not. Since March Democratic advocacy groups have mostly lied, while Republican advocacy groups have mostly made factual statements. I am interested in seeing if this number changes as we get closer and closer to the 2012 campaign.

As for politicians, PolitiFact grades Democrats a little bit higher than the overall average. The answer to why this is does not lie in the states. There is no real difference between the Truth Index grade for Democratic state legislators and Democrats overall. And the governor number is based on only a single statement; most of the PolitiFact states have Republican governors; my limited database has 35 Republican claims but only one Democratic claim. And an isolated Democratic claim carries very little weight.

The difference between Democratic politicians and Democrats as a whole lies in the numbers for the U.S. Senate. Of the 19 statements made by Democratic senators analyzed by PolitiFact in my database, only three were rated as something other than "true" or "mostly true". That doesn't sound right at all to me.

A large part of this has to do with PolitiFact Ohio's rating of things that Sherrod Brown says. Sherrod Brown is the second most frequently analyzed Democrat after Barack Obama, and the most frequently analyzed member of the U.S. Senate with six statements (2nd place: Rand Paul (4); 3rd place: tied, Saxby Chambliss (3) and Marco Rubio (3)). It's not like Sherrod Brown is one of the more important members of the U.S. Senate; he just happens to represent a state with a PolitiFact branch. Of those six statements, five were rated by PolitiFact Ohio (known to be friendly to Democrats), and all five were rated "true" or "mostly true". The sixth statement was rated by PolitiFact National as "barely true".

And how do the presidential candidates stack up to Barack Obama? Not great.

But on the whole, at least they're not as bad as Donald Trump (-0.60 on 10 statements).

Next: Whatever graphs I have left over!

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