A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Romney’s Windy Web Video


A Mitt Romney online video overstates the growth of Chicago's unemployment rate under President Obama. The ad says that Chicago's unemployment is up 48 percent, which is true since November 2008. But Obama didn't take office until Jan. 20, 2009, and the city's unemployment rate has increased 26.7 percent since then. That's still a large jump, to be sure, but not nearly as high as the video claims.

The Web video — titled "Obama Isn't Working: Chicago" — was released Aug. 2, a day ahead of Obama's 50th birthday fundraiser in the Windy City.

The video — which has no narrator — is intended to demonstrate Obama's failure to change the economic situation, even in his hometown. It starts with a clip of Obama delivering his victory speech in Grant Park on election night in 2008, and then displays the words, "GRANT PARK, CHICAGO 3 YEARS LATER." It shows a series of dilapidated Chicago structures overlaid with negative economic news about the city. The first is a billboard that reads, "Chicago Unemployment [up] 48%."

We contacted the campaign to ask how it arrived at a 48 percent increase in the city's unemployment. Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said the campaign compared the city's unemployment rate from November 2008 with May 2011, the most recent month at the time the ad was being produced. The data came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (To access the city's unemployment rates, enter LAUPS17010003 as the series ID).

Sure enough, BLS shows a 48 percent increase during that time frame. But there's one obvious flaw in the campaign's methodology: Obama did not take office until Jan. 20, 2009. During Obama's time in office, the city's unemployment rate went from 9 percent (January 2009) to 11.4 percent (June 2011) — a 26.7 percent increase.

Fehrnstrom said the campaign used the lower unemployment rate from November 2008, because "the video specifically deals with that night in Grant Park when he promised change was coming to America." But that's simply misleading to viewers. The ad does not explain that the 48 percent figure includes two particularly bad employment months before Obama even took office. The city's unemployment rate rose from 7.3 percent in November 2008 to 9 percent in January 2009 before Obama's inauguration.

Some news outlets were even deceived by the campaign's sleight of hand. The National Review wrote that the Romney campaign is "highlighting the 48 percent jump in unemployment in the Chicago area since the president took office." That, of course, is wrong. But the article is featured on the campaign's website, anyway.

Chicago's unemployment situation is bad. But even Obama's most ardent critics cannot fault him for job losses that occurred before he became president.

— Scott Blackburn