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The Santorum File


Rick Santorum, who finished a distant second in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, has announced that he will run again for president in 2016.

We welcome the former Pennsylvania senator to the race, as we will others in the future, with a summary of our work on statements he has made over the years.

Our file on Santorum was quite slim when he announced in June 2011, but it has grown considerably since then. We can’t summarize all of our work on him — he’s tagged in at least 40 stories since 2011 — so we will focus here on remarks he has made on some of the major issues of the day.

Climate Change

At a campaign event in February 2012, Santorum called climate change a “hoax,” saying “man-made global warming” and the remedy for it were “bogus.” As we said at the time, climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that global warming is real and human activities are making it worse. A paper published in 2010 by the National Academy of Sciences found that 97 percent to 98 percent of climate researchers “most actively publishing in the field” agreed that climate change was occurring and humans were responsible for “most” of it.

More recently, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finalized a report on Nov. 2 that said it’s “extremely likely” that human activity is “the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” At the time of Santorum’s remarks, the IPCC said human activity was “very likely” the main reason for global warming. (“Extremely likely” means that there’s a 95 percent to 100 percent probability that humans are the main cause of climate change, while “very likely” places the odds at between 90 percent and 95 percent, as explained in a Sept. 27, 2013 IPCC press release on the report’s draft findings.)

Immigration

Santorum made two statements on legal and illegal immigration this year that caught our attention.

The senator falsely claimed in July that the U.S. is “accepting more legal immigrants than we ever have.” We found that the number of people granted lawful permanent resident status decreased consecutively for two fiscal years. In 2013, there were 990,553 foreign-born individuals who became lawful permanent residents, down from 1,031,631 in 2012 and 1,062,040 in 2011, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The historical high for lawful immigration was in 1991, when 1,826,595 people obtained permanent resident status, which DHS attributes to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 signed into law by then-President Ronald Reagan.

He also said in November that there were “more people living in this country who were not born here than at any other time in the history of the country.” That’s true in raw numbers, as we wrote, but a greater percentage of the population was foreign-born from 1860 to 1920. In 2010, 12.9 percent of the country’s population was foreign-born, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The peak was in 1890, when 14.8 percent of the population was born outside the United States.

Abortion

The senator, who opposes abortion, got several facts wrong during a New Hampshire radio talk show in 2011. While blaming abortions for “causing Social Security and Medicare to be underfunded,” Santorum incorrectly claimed that “one in three pregnancies end in abortion” in the United States. It’s actually fewer than one in four, according to a March 2011 report by the Guttmacher Institute.

During the same show, Santorum also wrongly claimed that “our birthrate is now below replacement rate for the first time in our history.” As we said at the time: The total fertility rate, not the birthrate, is used to determine the stability of a nation’s population, and the U.S. total fertility rate was below its replacement rate from 1972 to 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Safety Net Programs

During the 2012 campaign, Republicans attacked President Obama for increasing the poor’s dependency on government programs, particularly food stamps and welfare.

In August 2012, Santorum blamed Obama for creating “a nightmare of dependency” that resulted in “almost half of America receiving some sort of government assistance.” But we found Santorum’s figures included senior citizens on Social Security and Medicare who paid into those government programs.

The Census Bureau’s income and program participation surveys estimate the number of Americans who are enrolled in at least one government program. The four largest programs — those with at least 40 million recipients — are Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps and Medicare. At the time of his remarks, the Census Bureau reported that 49 percent of Americans were enrolled in at least one government program, up from 44.4 percent of Americans in the third quarter of 2008 when George W. Bush was president.

In fact, the Census Bureau echoed Santorum’s language to describe program participation in 2008, saying “nearly half of U.S. residents live in households receiving government benefits.”

Education

Appearing on a Sunday talk show in February 2012, Santorum discussed the need to improve the nation’s education system. But, in doing so, he wrongly claimed that “one of three children drop out of school” in the U.S.

As we wrote in “Santorum Exaggerates Dropout Rate,” the “status dropout rate” — the percentage of those ages 16 to 24 who were not in school or had not obtained a GED — was 8.1 percent in 2009. The 2009 rate — the most recent data available at the time — was slightly higher than it was in 2008, but it was down significantly from the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and even early 2000s, according to the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. The center’s most recent report says the status dropout rate was 6.6 percent in 2012.

The center also measures the “event dropout rate,” which is the percentage of public school students in grades 9 through 12 who dropped out of school “between one October and the next.” In 2007-2008, that rate was 4.1 percent.

— Eugene Kiely

Update, Dec. 13: This item was updated to include the most recent data on the status dropout rate.