Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Dems Debating, the Sequel

No whoppers, but hype springs eternal.


Amid barbs on Iraq, there were exaggerations on energy, insurance and other issues in the second debate of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Among those we found:
  • Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware wrongly cast Iran as a nation running out of oil.
  • Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina talked about gas price manipulation by Big Oil where investigators have found none.
  • Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd used old figures that are almost 2 million too high when stating the number of uninsured.
  • New York Sen. Hillary Clinton lumped all the Republican Presidential candidates together when it came to their support for the war. That’s not quite right.


The June 3 debate, at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., was sponsored by CNN, WMUR-TV and Manchester’s Union Leader. All eight of the 2008 Democratic presidential primary contenders took part.

We found a few factually problematic claims:

Biden’s Iranian Oil Spin

Sen. Joseph Biden made Iran sound thirsty for oil.

Biden: They [Iran] import almost all of their refined oil. By 2014, they’re going to be importing their crude oil.

Iran is actually a net exporter of refined petroleum products. It does import quite a bit of refined oil in the form of gasoline – the most recent report from the Department of Energy said imports accounted for about 41 percent of the gasoline consumed in the country in 2006. But Iran is building additional refineries that could result in an end to gasoline imports by 2010.

Because Iran’s gasoline consumption has been increasing so rapidly (between 8 percent and 10 percent per year), some analysts have suggested that within 10 years, Iran could end up consuming all the oil that it produces. Much of that growth in consumption is attributable to Iranian subsidies on gasoline prices (which average about 35 cents per gallon). Still, those estimates assume that consumption continues to increase at the current rates. The Iranian government is working to limit consumption with a new rationing program.

On the other hand, in two instances, Biden understated figures that would have made his point more strongly had he used the real numbers.
When arguing for the end of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Biden said, “Nine thousand of these people [homosexuals] have been kicked out” of the military. A Government Accountability Office report put that figure even higher, at a little over 9,000.  But the report is from 2003.  A more recent New York Times report cites the GAO as currently putting the figure at around 11,000.

In discussing casualties in Iraq, he said, “Seventy percent of all the injuries are caused by those IEDs.”  The Brookings Iraq Index puts the number as high as 80 percent.

While Back on the Home Front…

During the debate there was much talk of gasoline price manipulation and gouging.

John Edwards: I think if the laws that presently exist don’t deal with this problem in [gasoline] price manipulation, there should be some change in the antitrust laws.

To date, though, federal officials have been unable to find any proof that oil companies are manipulating gasoline prices. The Federal Trade Commission released a report in May 2006 that looked into allegations of price manipulation after Hurricane Katrina.

FTC: During the time period examined, the Commission found: No evidence to suggest that refiners manipulated prices through any means, including running their refineries below full productive capacity to restrict supply, altering their refinery output to produce less gasoline, or diverting gasoline from markets in the United States to less lucrative foreign markets. The evidence indicated that these firms produced as much gasoline as they economically could, using computer models to determine their most profitable slate of products.

The report also found no evidence of oil companies intentionally reducing inventory or increasing prices. A concurring statement within the FTC’s report, however, mentioned another culprit.

FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz: If there is any villain in the long lasting saga of high oil prices, though, it is OPEC. For the past 30-plus years, this cartel has caused massive transfers of wealth from the United States to oil-exporting nations. The conduct of its members would be criminal if undertaken by private companies.

OPEC, obviously, is beyond the reach of U.S. law. Leibowitz went on to write that this is “a complicated issue” and that increased demand in China and India, along with environmental requirements, over-dependence on foreign oil and energy-inefficient vehicles contributed to the price spike that year. The FTC also mentions that specific “price gouging” legislation could hurt more than it could help.

FTC: “[F]ederal gasoline price gouging legislation, in addition to being difficult to enforce, could cause more problems for consumers than it solves, and that competitive market forces should be allowed to determine the price of gasoline drivers pay at the pump.

The FTC report did agree with Edwards, however, that antitrust laws play an “important role” and that the Department of Justice and FTC are key in pursuing “actions to investigate and prevent collusive conduct.”
It’s worth noting here that one of the candidates in the debate, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has a little experience in this area, also said the oil companies aren’t “price gouging.”

Moderator Wolf Blitzer: But, Governor Richardson, you’re a former secretary of energy. Are the oil companies, the big oil companies, engaged in price gouging of the American consumer?

Richardson: No, they’re not.

Still More Over-Energized Claims

Richardson brags about renewable energy incentives in New Mexico, but he goes too far.

Richardson: [W]e call it the Clean Energy State. We have incentives for solar, wind, biomass, biofuels. We require renewable technologies 20 percent of our electricity.

Richardson leaves us with the impression that 20 percent of the electricity in his state now is required to come from renewable sources. Actually, that mandate won’t take effect until 2020. Fifteen percent must be renewable by 2015.

Cookie-Cutter Republicans?

The differences between those on the stage were few, Sen. Hillary Clinton emphasized, compared with their differences with all the GOP candidates.

Clinton: In two nights you’re going to have the Republican candidates here; they all support the war, they all support the president, they all supported the escalation.

Well, not quite. There is an overtly anti-war Republican option, but he has the lowest approval rating of all the candidates. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas has consistently voted against the war. However, Paul isn’t popular, at this stage, with voters: His approval rating is 14 percent according to Rasmussen, and a meager 1 percent according to CNN. In fact, some GOP activists took such exception to his remarks on terrorism in the second Republican debate that they tried to have him removed from the remaining debates.

The other candidates have pro-war voting records opposed President Bush’s “troop surge” and called for bipartisan cooperation in achieving stability in Iraq.

Overstating the Uninsured

Several candidates invoked the large number of Americans without health insurance.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich: [T]he American people should know that with half the bankruptcies in the country connected to people not being able to pay their doctor bills or hospital bills, premiums, co-pays and deductibles going so far through the roof 46 million Americans, no health care; another 50 million underinsured, there is only one way to get health care coverage for all Americans, and that is to have a universal single-payer, not-for-profit health care system, Medicare for All.

Sen. Chris Dodd: It is shameful that in the 21st century we have 47 million of our fellow citizens without heath care coverage, 9 million children, and the number’s growing every single day.

Kucinich and Dodd are both basing their numbers on the 2005 census, which reported 46.6 million uninsured, 8.3 million of them children. However, the Census Bureau subsequently revised these estimates. Its old system had counted as “insured” only those who had insurance policies in their own names. Revising the numbers to account for covered dependents, the bureau found 44.8 million uninsured, including 8 million children. The difference of less than 4 percent hardly makes the issue go away, of course.

Another Insurance Crisis?

Did Sen. Barack Obama confuse people and cars when discussing auto insurance in California?

Obama: And, in fact, if you look at auto insurance, in California, there’s mandatory auto insurance 25 percent of the folks don’t have it. The reason is because they can’t afford it.

The Insurance Research Council, a research firm funded by insurance companies, does indeed place the number of uninsured drivers at 25 percent. However, according to a study commissioned by the California Department of Insurance, between 25.5 and 30.9 percent of vehicles in that state don’t have insurance. The department estimates that approximately 10 percent of vehicle owners own at least one uninsured vehicle, and of those, only about 42 percent have no insured vehicles. That translates into approximately 4 percent of drivers who do not have auto insurance. Obama is correct to say that of the pure uninsured, most cite cost as their reason for not carrying auto insurance.

– by Viveca Novak, with Justin Bank, Jessica Henig, Emi Kolawole, Joe Miller, Lori Robertson, Carolyn Auwaerter and Allie Berkson

Update, June 8:  In the Analysis portion of our article, we describe 2005 Census Bureau research that found 8.3 million children were uninsured, later recalculated and put at 8 million. A reader points out to us, and we think it’s worth noting, that the Census Bureau defines a “child” as being within the age range of 0-17. If one were to make it 0-18, which is the range used by some government programs like Medicaid, the number of uninsured children would obviously be higher.


United States Department of Energy. Iran Country Analysis Brief. Washington: GPO, 2007.

Mouawad, Jad, et al. “West Adds to Strains on Iran’s Lifeline.” New York Times. 13 Feb. 2007.

Office of New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. “Governor Bill Richardson Enacts Landmark Clean Energy Bills to Create Jobs, Keep Air Clean.” 5 Mar. 2007.

U.S. Census Bureau. “Census Bureau Revises 2004 and 2005 Health Insurance Coverage Estimates.” 23 Mar. 2007.

Rasmussen Reports. “Republican Candidates Running in 2008 Presidential Election.” 4 June 2007.

CNN.com. “2008 Candidates.” 4 June 2007.

Office of Sen. Sam Brownback. “Brownback Comments on Troop Surge.” 10 Jan. 2007.

Rep. Ron Paul. “Statement Opposing the Use of Military Force Against Iraq.” 8 Oct. 2002.

Hunstad, Lynn. “Characteristics of Uninsured Motorist.” State of California (1999).

Hunstad, Lynn. “Estimating Uninsured and Unregistered Vehicle Rates.” State of California (1999).

IRC Estimates More Than 14 Percent of Drivers Are Uninsured. 28 Jun. 2006. Insurance Research Council. 4 Jun. 2007.