This is the second of a three-part series using PolitiFact truth ratings (with permission) to score the credibility of politicians and pundits. Part one found voters preferred the more truthful candidate in Senate races. Part three scores the veracity of well-known political people.
PolitiFact is well-known for scrutinizing presidential proclamations. The four most PolitiFact-checked people either are or tried to be a POTUS: Donald Trump (848 checks), Barack Obama (602), Hillary Clinton (300), and Mitt Romney (206).
PolitiFact started rating statements in 2007, midway into George W. Bush’s second term. Since then, they’ve reviewed more than 2,500 statements by presidents and their staffs. I combined those truth ratings of the executive branch members (with four or more checked statements — enough to establish a truth/lie trend) to calculate a score between 0 and 1 (see methodology), based on the veracity of their claims:
- means all the statements were True.
- means all the statements were False.
|George W. Bush||4||0.56|
|POTUS scores (with total fact-checks) and combined average scores of POTUS plus staff (with 4+ checks).|
You can judge a person by the company s/he keeps, especially when those companions work at the White House. Truthiness doesn’t appear job related. The campaign, cabinet, and communication staffs include both honest executives and habitual liars. Here’s a breakdown of the last three presidents’ people.
|Robert Gibbs||Obama||Press Secretary||7||0.71|
|Julián Castro||Obama||Secretary of HUD||19||0.70|
|Matthew Dowd||Bush||Chief Political Strategist||8||0.69|
|David Plouffe||Obama||Senior Adviser||4||0.69|
|Rob Portman||Bush||Director of the OMB||48||0.65|
|Elizabeth Warren||Obama||Consumer Financial Protection||34||0.63|
|David Axelrod||Obama||Senior Advisor||18||0.60|
|Stephanie Cutter||Obama||Campaign Manager||5||0.60|
|Hillary Clinton||Obama||Secretary of State||300||0.58|
|Van Jones||Obama||Special Advisor for Green Jobs||6||0.58|
|Kathleen Sebelius||Obama||Secretary of HHS||8||0.58|
|Richard Cordray||Obama||Consumer Financial Protection||7||0.57|
|George W. Bush||Bush||POTUS||4||0.56|
|Austan Goolsbee||Obama||Council of Economic Advisers||4||0.56|
|Thomas Perez||Obama||Secretary of Labor||7||0.54|
|Tom Price||Trump||Secretary of HHS||19||0.54|
|John Kerry||Obama||Secretary of State||13||0.52|
|Chris Christie||Trump||Transition Team||13||0.50|
|Karl Rove||Bush||Deputy Chief of Staff||17||0.44|
|Nikki Haley||Trump||Ambassador to the UN||9||0.43|
|Ivanka Trump||Trump||Assistant to the President||9||0.42|
|Ed Gillespie||Bush||Counselor to the President||12||0.41|
|Rahm Emanuel||Obama||Chief of Staff||13||0.39|
|Rudy Giuliani||Trump||President’s Lawyer||51||0.39|
|Arne Duncan||Obama||Secretary of Education||6||0.38|
|Roger Williams||Bush||Repub. National Finance Comm.||12||0.38|
|Jay Carney||Obama||Press Secretary||7||0.36|
|Janet Napolitano||Obama||Secretary of Homeland Security||4||0.35|
|Jeff Sessions||Trump||Attorney General||23||0.35|
|Tommy Thompson||Bush||Secretary of HHS||27||0.33|
|Ted Cruz||Bush||Assoc. Dep. Attorney General||142||0.31|
|Sean Spicer||Trump||Communications Director||11||0.29|
|Mick Mulvaney||Trump||Acting Chief of Staff||8||0.28|
|Reince Priebus||Trump||Chief of Staff||30||0.27|
|Corey Lewandowski||Trump||Campaign Manager||5||0.20|
|Ben Carson||Trump||Secretary of HUD||30||0.18|
|Kellyanne Conway||Trump||Counseler to the President||11||0.18|
|Sarah Huckabee Sanders||Trump||Press Secretary||6||0.11|
|Paul Manafort||Trump||Campaign Chairman||4||0.10|
|Donald Trump Jr.||Trump||Campaign Staff||10||0.07|
|William Barr||Trump||Attorney General||5||0.03|
|Mitch Daniels||Bush||Director of the OMB||4||-0.03|
|Presidents and their staff, 2007—2020, with 4+ checks. A negative score for Pants On Fire! ratings makes below-zero scores possible.|
Each day, PolitiFact journalists look for statements to fact-check. We read transcripts, speeches, news stories, press releases, and campaign brochures. We watch TV and scan social media. Readers send us suggestions via email to firstname.lastname@example.org; we often fact-check statements submitted by readers. Because we can’t feasibly check all claims, we select the most newsworthy and significant ones.PolitiFact’s methodology for independent fact-checking
The above results are from PolitiFact data gathered at the end of September 2020. I used only data for those with four or more checks (enough truth ratings to show a pattern). This subset of PolitiFact data has 709 people or organizations with a total of 13,442 rulings (public spreadsheet, filter to view: POTUS staff).
Each person’s score is calculated by assigning a number value to each rating level, listed in the table below, then averaging all their PolitiFact ratings.
|True||The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.||1.00|
|Mostly True||The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.||0.75|
|Half True||The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.||0.50|
|Mostly False||The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.||0.25|
|False||The statement is not accurate.||0.00|
|Pants on Fire||The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.||-0.10|
|The negative “Pants” number makes below-zero scores possible.|
POTUS administration group scores are the average of the scores of all the people in the group (not the average of all the individual ratings of each person in the group).
Finally, I chose PolitiFact because their checks are thorough, nonpartisan, and among the best in the business. If you want to keep politics and facts together, please support PolitiFact (a project of the nonprofit Poynter Institute) with a tax-deductible contribution or membership.
Thanks to Josef Verbanac and Claire Golding for editing, and to Aaron Sharockman for Politifact permission. The top image is from a William Jennings Bryan campaign poster, “Shall the People Rule?” (circa 1900), at the Library of Congress.
Update 2020-10-23: Several members of the Trump admin were misidentified as with Obama — which would likely upset both groups. Fixed. Changes increased the average scores of both the Trump admin (up 0.01) and Obama admin (up .03).