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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Fuzzy ‘Math’ in Anti-Trump TV Ad

An image that appears in an anti-Donald Trump TV ad inaccurately shows that Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich combined have more delegates than Trump. In fact, Trump has more delegates than both men combined, 739 to 608.

The ad, titled “Math,” appeals to voters who “don’t want Donald Trump to win” the Republican presidential nomination, and urges anti-Trump Republicans to vote for Cruz instead of Kasich. The conservative Club For Growth says it is spending a little more than $1 million on the ad in Wisconsin, which holds its presidential primary on April 5.

The narrator in the ad says, “If you don’t want Donald Trump to win, your choice comes down to this: Math. Only Ted Cruz can beat Donald Trump.”

Ironically, though, the ad gets the math wrong.

A bar chart in the ad displays images of the three candidates and accurately shows Trump with 739 delegates, Cruz with 465 and Kasich with 143. Those figures are current as of March 27, according to the Associated Press.

Here’s the image:

Accurate delegate math

However, the narrator then says, “A vote for Kasich actually helps Trump by dividing the opposition.” At this point in the ad, Kasich’s image disappears, and the bar representing his delegate total is lifted up and added to the top of Cruz’s bar. There are no numbers displayed, leaving the false impression that Cruz and Kasich combined have more delegates than Trump. 

Here’s that image:

Delegate Math

We asked Club for Growth about the inaccurate bar chart. Doug Sachtleben, the group’s spokesman, said: “John Kasich’s level of support is puny, but if opposition to Trump remains divided, it only helps Trump. That’s the message of our ad, and it is entirely accurate.”

But the ad is not “entirely accurate,” and the message of the ad may not be, either.

It’s true that it is mathematically possible for only Trump or Cruz to reach the 1,237-delegate threshold necessary to secure the nomination on a first ballot at the convention (though Cruz would have to win 86 percent of the remaining delegates). But a Quinnipiac University poll taken March 16-21 shows that without Kasich in the race, Trump still leads Cruz nationally 46 percent to 37 percent. The poll reallocated the Kasich supporters based on their second choice.

Update, April 25: Club for Growth has reissued this ad, and it no longer has the inaccurate image of the bar graph showing Cruz ahead of Trump with Kasich’s delegates. The revised ad is running in Indiana, which will hold its primary May 3.