Study: Media Fact-Checker Says Republicans Lie More

May 28, 2013

Press Release
May 28, 2013
Contact: Katy Davis

A leading media fact-checking organization rates Republicans as less trustworthy than Democrats, according to a new study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) at George Mason University. The study finds that PolitiFact.com has rated Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims during President Obama’s second term. Republicans continue to get worse marks in recent weeks, despite controversies over Obama administration statements on Benghazi, the IRS and the AP.

According to CMPA President Dr Robert Lichter, “While Republicans see a credibility gap in the Obama administration, PolitiFact rates Republicans as the less credible party.”

The study examined 100 statements involving factual claims by Democrats (46 claims) and Republicans (54 claims), which were fact-checked by PolitiFact.com during the four month period from the start of President Obama’s second term on January 20 through May 22, 2013.

Major findings:

PolitiFact rated 32% of Republican claims as “false” or “pants on fire,” compared to 11% of Democratic claims – a 3 to 1 margin. Conversely, Politifact rated 22% of Democratic claims as “entirely true” compared to 11% of Republican claims – a 2 to 1 margin.

A majority of Democratic statements (54%) were rated as mostly or entirely true, compared to only 18% of Republican statements. Conversely, a majority of Republican statements (52%) were rated as mostly or entirely false, compared to only 24% of Democratic statements.

Despite controversies over Obama administration statements regarding Benghazi, the IRS and the Associated Press, Republicans have continued to fare worse than Democrats, with 60% of their claims rated as false so far this month (May 1 – May 22), compared to 29% of Democratic statements – a 2 to 1 margin.

This study’s findings are similar to those of a previous CMPA study, which found that PolitiFact gave more negative ratings to the Romney campaign than the Obama campaign during the 2012 presidential election campaign.

Examples of PolitiFact ratings:

Pants on Fire: Michele Bachmann decries “huge national database” run by IRS with “personal, intimate” details. (May 15, 2013)

True: Obama says bipartisan background check plan “outlawed any (gun) registry.” (April 17, 2013)

CMPA Fact Check Study Methods

Researchers at CMPA/George Mason University have been tallying the conclusions of leading fact-checking organizations since the beginning of President Obama’s second term on January 20, 2013. Our first report is on PolitiFact.com, a project of the Tampa Bay Times.*

In this and future reports, CMPA does not evaluate the ratings given by the fact-checkers. We simply aggregate ratings provided by the fact-checkers themselves. The findings provide an overview of how individuals, groups, political parties, etc. are portrayed in this increasingly important genre of political journalism.

We will issue periodic updates in the future. Our next report will address the Washington Post Fact-Checker’s ratings.

PolitiFact Rating System

PolitiFact uses what it calls a “Truth-o-Meter” to rate messages along a truth/falsity spectrum that includes six categories:

True: The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.

Mostly True: The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.

Half True: The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.

Mostly False: The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.

False: The statement is not accurate.

Pants on Fire!: The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

Study Parameters

We tallied PolitiFact ratings covering January 20th to May 22nd of 2013. These represent the dates on which PolitiFact posted their rating – not the date when the politician or group made the statement that was being fact checked. So our findings reflect a slight time lag.

We only coded ratings that were given by the national PolitiFact organization, not those done by the state chapters of the organization. Functionally, this meant that we drew our data from the national tab on the PolitiFact.com website, rather than the broader grouping offered on their home page.

We excluded fact checks performed on Twitter, Facebook and email chains. PolitiFact occasionally fact checks these feeds without focusing on the Twitter feed or Facebook page of a particular politician or group. Since these fact checks lack a specific target, we decided to omit them.

In comparing ratings of Republican vs. Democratic claims, we included assertions from party allies which were part of current policy debates. For example, the study period featured a highly partisan debate over gun control legislation. Ratings of claims about gun control by National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice-President Wayne La Pierre were included in the Republican tally.

In tabulating our findings, we group “false” and “pants on fire” ratings together, because they both represent statements that PolitiFact describes as “not accurate.” PolitiFact reserves the “pants on fire” ratings for statements that are also judged to be “ridiculous,” but it is not clear that these represent a greater degree of inaccuracy than simply “false” statements. All other categories can be considered to represent an ordinal scale, in which each category is less accurate than the one that preceded it, e.g., “mostly true” v. “half true.”

*We conducted a previous study of fact checking during the 2012 general election campaign. The results are available by cliking the link below:

Study: Fact-Checkers Disagree on Who Lies Most

The Center for Media and Public Affairs is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization, which is affiliated with George Mason University. It has monitored news coverage of every presidential election and every new administration since 1988. For CMPA findings on the Obama administration see: cmpa.com

6 Responses to “Study: Media Fact-Checker Says Republicans Lie More”

  1. […] To many readers this sent up a red flag that PolitiFact.com may not have been as impartial as one would expect a fact-checking website to be. Suspicions of the website’s bias against the Political Right seemed to have been confirmed with the ongoing research by George Mason University. […]

    • Ruel Smith says:

      Any group that doesn’t get the outcome they desire will always claim a bias against them. It doesn’t mean one truly exists.

  2. novenator says:

    Conservatives always claim that fact checkers (or the media, or educators, or historians, or scientists, or whoever) are “biased against them” when they get called on their lies, disinformation, and myth spreading. What else do you expect serial deceivers to do? Just accept the truth from an impartial perspective? What do you think they’re liberals?

  3. […] less trustworthy than Democrats. The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University looked at Politifact’s evaluations of statements from both Republicans and Democrats and found that Republican statements were rated […]

  4. Michael McCollough says:

    Or it could simply be that the self-titled Political Right have begun to play fast and loose with the truth while adopting an extremist agenda that most moderates oppose. — To rational American’s the Red Flag is when a political party decides that their only way to win is to lie.

    Suspicions of Politifacts “bias” are -still- unconfirmed. (Your bias, however, is not unconfirmed)

  5. Phil says:

    The response from Consequences of Thought seems to be not much more than red herrings and ad hominems against PolitiFact. Regardless of whether or not the site has had credibility problems in the past, if you’re sincerely interested in showing their bias, focus on critiquing the actual claims in the study. This seems to be a rather basic mistake, especially for someone who claims to be interested in critical thinking.

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