Who’s the Most Factual Candidate?

Politifact's Candidates' Statistics Report as of February 2, 2012

Though seemingly countless utterances have been made by the 2012 Republican presidential candidates, the Pulitzer-winning website Politifact pauses to research the veracity of a statement when its validity is put into question.  However, though the website makes designations as to the credibility of various remarks, it does not provide percentages of accuracy by the candidates, thus leaving open the question:  Who’s the most factual candidate?

Notes:

The variance in reported numbers (verified declarations) is due to some candidates making more questionable statements than others but, to be fair, some have had the opportunity to present a larger number of claims as a result of having remained in the primary longer and/or have had a greater number of questions put to them at the debates due to possessing higher poll figures, i.e. Romney and Perry’s triple digits.  (Of the latter, candidates with high poll numbers are granted more questions during the debates.)  Any statement made by a candidate that has not been given a designation by Politifact can either be considered to be factual and/or of little overall consequence or, in Politifact’s terms.

In deciding which statements to check, we ask ourselves 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?1

How accuracy was calculated

The accuracy rate was calculated by adding the number of “True,” “Mostly True” and “Half True” (thus issuing benefit of the doubt since it is not listed as “Half False”) statements in contrast to the sum of those deemed to be “Mostly False,” “False,” and “Pants on Fire.”  The two grosses were then separately divided by the total number of statements, thereby deriving  the representative percentage of true and false claims.  I did not round up; i.e., the reason why some percentages total 99%.

Of the major candidates; i.e., ones who remained in the primary race for more than three debates (Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman, Paul, Perry, Romney, and Santorum), Bachmann has the lowest degree of accuracy (who also has the largest percentage of blatantly false statements) while Romney and Paul have the highest (Huntsman having made the lowest percentage of blatantly false statements).*

  • “Blatantly false” equating to Politifact’s “Pants on Fire” designation or, in website’s terms, “[A] statement [which] is not accurate and [my emphasis] makes a ridiculous claim.”  More on how Politifact gauges veracity can be found here.

An explanation (and supporting research) by Politifact as to the motive/decision for every rating (or “ruling”) can be found via a hyperlink under each “Truth-o-Meter” gauge.  For example:

The Findings

Bachmann’s statements by rulingClick on the ruling to see all of Bachmann’s statements for that ruling.

15:38 = 53 total

Accurate 28% of the time; inaccurate 71%

22% were blatantly false

Cain’s statements by rulingClick on the ruling to see all of Cain’s statements for that ruling.

7:16 = 23 total

Accurate 30% of the time; inaccurate 69%

13% were blatantly false

Gingrich’s statements by rulingClick on the ruling to see all of Gingrich’s statements for that ruling.

21:31 = 52 total

Accurate 40% of the time; inaccurate 59%

17% were blatantly false

Huntsman’s statements by rulingClick on the ruling to see all of Huntsman’s statements for that ruling.

11:7 = 18 total

Accurate 61% of the time; inaccurate 38%

.05% were blatantly false

Johnson’s statements by rulingClick on the ruling to see all of Johnson’s statements for that ruling.

4:1 = 5 total

Accurate 80% of the time; inaccurate 20%

0% were blatantly false

Paul’s statements by rulingClick on the ruling to see all of Paul’s statements for that ruling.

20:12 = 32 total

Accurate 62% of the time; inaccurate 37%

.06% were blatantly false

Pawlenty’s statements by rulingClick on the ruling to see all of Pawlenty’s statements for that ruling.

11:6 = 17 total

Accurate 64% of the time; inaccurate 35%

.05% were blatantly false

Perry’s statements by rulingClick on the ruling to see all of Perry’s statements for that ruling.

58:57 = 115 total

Accurate 50% of the time; inaccurate 49%

10% were blatantly false

Romney’s statements by rulingClick on the ruling to see all of Romney’s statements for that ruling.

69:41 = 110 total

Accurate 62% of the time; inaccurate 37%

.09% were blatantly false

Santorum’s statements by rulingClick on the ruling to see all of Santorum’s statements for that ruling.

12:12 = 24 total

Accurate 50% of the time; inaccurate 50%

.08% were blatantly fals

 

  1. Bill Adair, “Principles of PolitiFact and the Truth-O-Meter”, Tampa Bay Times, February 21, 2011 []

Michael Gurnow is a freelance writer. His work has appeared in Fifth Estate, The Externalist, The Modern Word, Herbivore, M10K, Word Riot, among others. Read other articles by Michael.