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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking Day 2 of the DNC

Misleading claims at the convention touched on health care, approval ratings and incarceration.


PHILADELPHIA — On a night headlined by President Bill Clinton’s admiration for his wife — the now official Democratic nominee — there was a less-than-glowing treatment of some facts.

  • Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean claimed that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s “whole” health care plan was to replace the Affordable Care Act with “quote, ‘Something so much better.'” In fact, Trump has released a seven-point health care plan.
  • Bill Clinton said that the United States’ approval rating soared 20 percentage points during the time that Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. But analyses of the U.S.’s global ratings don’t support such a claim.
  • Former Attorney General Eric Holder said “1 in 3 black men will be incarcerated in their lifetimes,” an outdated projection based on the incarceration rate for black males as of 2001. That rate has declined since then.
  • Bill Clinton said that Arkansas schools went from “worst” when he started as governor to one of two “most improved,” and he gave Hillary Clinton much of the credit. The record is mixed: An expert did say in 1992 that the state had made progress, but the New York Times reported then that the state was “still near the bottom in most national ratings.”
  • Sen. Barbara Boxer repeated a convention talking point, claiming that Trump said that “wages are too high.” He was talking about a $15 minimum wage being too high.
  • Dean said that GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence “voted to end Medicare as we know it.” Pence did vote for a budget plan that called for a major change to Medicare, but it would have retained a health insurance system for seniors.

Note to Readers

This story was written with the help of the entire staff, including some of those based in Philadelphia who are at the convention site. As we did for the Republican National Convention, we intend to vet the major speeches at the Democratic National Convention for factual accuracy, applying the same standards to both.


Trump’s Health Care Plan

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean said Donald Trump’s “whole plan” for health care was to replace Obamacare with “quote, ‘Something so much better.'” Dean added: “Six-word plan for health care.” In fact, Trump has more than 1,000 words on his plans for health care on his campaign website.

Dean: Now, Donald Trump has a plan, too. He would rip up Obamacare and throw 20 million people off their health insurance; Donald Trump will take us back to a time when insurance companies could deny you coverage if you have a preexisting condition, or he will take you back to the time where insurance companies could charge you more just because you are a woman. And what is he going to replace this with? Quote: “Something so much better.” “Yuge,” no doubt. That’s it. That’s the whole plan right there. Six-word plan for health care.

Dean was referring to comments from Trump at a debate in February, when he said, “We are going to replace Obamacare with something so much better.” Even then, he went on to say the replacement should rely on private insurance and do something to help low-income Americans. And in March, he released a seven-point plan.

It calls for: repealing the Affordable Care Act, allowing the sale of insurance across state lines, allowing individuals who buy their own health insurance to take a tax deduction for the cost of premiums, enabling health savings accounts that could be used by other family members or inherited by heirs, changing Medicaid to a block-grant program, instituting price transparency, and allowing the sale of imported drugs.

Trump’s plan calls these ideas “simply a place to start,” but it’s far from a “six-word plan.”

The list of proposals doesn’t include subsidies or other aid to low-income Americans. It doesn’t say anything about keeping the ACA provisions that Dean mentions — requiring insurance companies to cover those with preexisting conditions and not charge higher premiums based on gender. And an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget supports Dean’s claim that Trump’s repeal-and-replace plan would “throw 20 million people off their health insurance.”

CRFB said that the two aspects of the plan that would increase insurance coverage — selling insurance across state lines and allowing a tax deduction for premiums — would “only cover 5 percent of the 22 million individuals who would lose coverage upon the repeal of Obamacare.” That estimate relies on past figures from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on the impact of similar proposals.

So far, the number of uninsured has dropped by 15.2 million people since 2008, before President Obama took office, through 2015, according to the most recent data from the National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Obama administration puts the total who have gained coverage under the ACA at 20 million through early 2016.

U.S. Approval Ratings

Bill Clinton said that the United States’ approval rating soared 20 percentage points during the time that Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. But analyses of the U.S.’s global ratings don’t support such a claim.

Bill Clinton: That’s why the approval of the United States was 20 points higher when she left the Secretary of State’s office than when she took it.

Hillary Clinton served as the United States secretary of state from January 21, 2009, to February 1, 2013.

We asked the Clinton campaign to support this claim, but got no response.

But three different international polls show the country’s approval ratings went up during Clinton’s tenure, but then dipped again before the end of her term, according to an analysis by Bloomberg Politics.

Weighting the poll data from several different countries by their populations, Bloomberg found mixed results.

The Toronto-based GlobeScan poll, which asks whether the U.S. is “having a mainly positive or mainly negative influence in the world,” found that sentiment improved during the first two years of Clinton’s tenure, but fell to nearly the point where it was when she took office.

The Pew Research Center, which asks, “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of the U.S.?” found the favorability rating of the U.S. rose steeply in 2009 and continued to improve through April 2010. But then “net favorability fell steeply, and continued to decline until just after her departure,” Bloomberg stated.

Gallup’s U.S.-Global Leadership Project, which asks, “Do you approve or disapprove of the job performance of the leadership of the United States?” didn’t start polling until August 2009, seven months after Secretary Clinton’s start date. Bloomberg found that from August 2009 until the summer of 2011, the Gallup measure declined — and then essentially remained flat for the next two years.

None of this supports former President Clinton’s claim of a 20-point boost in U.S. approval. Furthermore, none of the polls asked specifically about the role of the secretary of State, as opposed to that of her boss, President Obama.

Black Male Incarceration Rate

Former Attorney General Eric Holder said “1 in 3 black men will be incarcerated in their lifetimes.” That’s an outdated projection that assumed the incarceration rate for black males as of 2001 would remain unchanged, when in fact it has declined.

Holder: At a time when our justice system is out of balance, when 1 in 3 black men will be incarcerated in their lifetimes, and when black defendants in the federal system receive sentences 20 percent longer than their white peers, we need a president who will end this policy of over-incarceration.

It is accurate that black defendants in federal courts received sentences that are 19.5 percent longer than white defendants, according to a 2012 report by the Sentencing Commission, an independent agency within the judicial branch. In writing about the report, the Wall Street Journal said that the “racial gap has widened since the Supreme Court restored judicial discretion in sentencing in 2005.”

However, Holder’s statistic for the percentage of black males incarcerated over their lifetimes comes from a 2013 report by the nonprofit Sentencing Project, which advocates changing sentencing laws. The report made headlines, such as this one on Huffington Post: “1 In 3 Black Males Will Go To Prison In Their Lifetime, Report Warns.”

We looked into this statistic when Hillary Clinton cited it during a debate and found it was outdated. The report said, “If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino males — compared to one of every seventeen white males.”

But that 1-in-3 estimate was based on an August 2003 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The BJS report projected that 32.2 percent of black males born in 2001 “are expected to go to prison during their lifetime, if current incarceration rates remain unchanged.” However, the incarceration rate for black males has declined since 2001.

The incarceration rate for black males was 3,535 per 100,000, or 3.5 percent, in 2001, (see Table 16), according to the annual Bureau of Justice Statistics report on prisoners. The most recent report put that figure at 2,724 per 100,000 black males, or 2.7 percent, in 2014. (See Table 10.)

Holder has a point that black males are overrepresented in state and federal prisons. The latest BJS report said, “On December 31, 2014, black males had higher imprisonment rates than prisoners of other races or Hispanic origin within every age group. Imprisonment rates for black males were 3.8 to 10.5 times greater at each age group than white males and 1.4 to 3.1 times greater than rates for Hispanic males.”

But the 1-in-3 statistic is outdated and not based on current incarceration rates.

Arkansas Schools’ Improvement

Pushing the theme that his wife is “the best darn change maker I have ever known,” Bill Clinton said that Arkansas schools went from “worst” when he started as governor to one of two “most improved,” and gave Hillary Clinton much of the credit.

But we find that the facts are not so clear.

Bill Clinton: Well, by the time I ran for president nine years later [in 1992], the same expert who said that we had the worst schools in America said that our state was one of the two most improved states in America. And that’s because of those standards that Hillary developed.

It’s true that Bill appointed Hillary as head of a state commission to study the issue of education standards. It’s also true that Bill Clinton worked to improve Arkansas schools. The New York Times, in an article summing up his record as governor when he was running for president in 1992, said:

New York Times, April 1, 1992: Arkansas has done much to improve its schools — increasing expenditures, requiring competency testing for teachers, broadening curriculums, setting new academic standards, slowing the dropout rate and encouraging greater college attendance.

The “expert” that Clinton mentioned was Kern Alexander, then a professor at the University of Florida. According to a 1992 article in Education Week, Alexander conducted a study commissioned by the Arkansas Legislature and concluded that, “from an educational standpoint, the average child in Arkansas would be much better off attending the public schools of almost any other state in the country.”

But in 1992, Alexander told Education Week, “I think he changed the attitude of that state toward education. …They have made enormous progress.”

What is the evidence of progress, aside from increased spending and teacher salaries? That same Education Week article said, “Statistical evidence indicates that [student] achievement has improved as well.”

Education Week, Feb. 5, 1992: In 1991, Arkansas students took far more advanced courses and 18 times as many Advanced Placement tests as they did in 1983. The high school graduation rate has risen steadily, and is the highest in the South. The percentage of students going on to college rose from 39 percent in 1981 to 52 percent last year.

Student competency-test pass rates have risen steadily since the tests were inaugurated in 1985. Percentile scores on nationally normed standardized achievement tests rose about 10 points from 1981 to 1991, and are now above 50 percent in every grade and subject.

On the other hand, the 1992 New York Times article said, “But even with all Mr. Clinton has done in 12 years as Governor, the Arkansas school system … is still near the bottom in most national ratings. And state officials acknowledge that real improvement is years away.”

The paper cited, for example, that the “cumulative test scores of Arkansas students who took one popular college-admittance test” fell from 20th among 28 states in 1979 to 25th in 1992. The state also ranked 48th in spending for each pupil, despite increased spending on education, the paper wrote.

“By most accounts Mr. Clinton’s efforts seem to have simply kept Arkansas, one of the nation’s poorest states, from falling even farther behind,” the Times wrote.

Trump on Wages, Again

Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said that Trump said that “wages are too high.” As we wrote on Day 1 of the convention, Trump was talking about a $15 minimum wage being too high, not all wages in general.

Boxer: We can count on Hillary to fight to raise the minimum wage. Her opponent says, “wages are too high.” Now, that’s un-American.

At a Nov. 10, 2015, debate hosted by Fox Business Network, Trump was asked if he was “sympathetic” to those who were calling for a $15 minimum wage. He responded that he “can’t be” and went on to say, “taxes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is.”

Here’s the question and Trump’s full answer:

Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, Nov. 10, 2015: Mr. Trump, as the leading presidential candidate on this stage and one whose tax plan exempts couples making up to $50,000 a year from paying any federal income taxes at all, are you sympathetic to the protesters cause since a $15 wage works out to about $31,000 a year?

Trump: I can’t be Neil. And the and the reason I can’t be is that we are a country that is being beaten on every front economically, militarily. There is nothing that we do now to win. We don’t win anymore. Our taxes are too high. I’ve come up with a tax plan that many, many people like very much. It’s going to be a tremendous plan. I think it’ll make our country and our economy very dynamic.

But, taxes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum. But we can not do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it.

Cavuto: So do not raise the minimum wage?

Trump: I would not do it.

Two days later in an interview with Bret Baier on Fox News, Trump made it clear that he was talking about a proposed minimum wage hike, not wages overall.

Baier, Nov. 12, 2015: In the debate you said wages are too high. What do you say to somebody in South Carolina where the median per capita income is only about $24,000 and wages are stagnant and costs are going up?

Trump: I didn’t say that. Bret, we were talking about the minimum wage.

Baier: Yes.

Trump: And they said should we increase the minimum wage? And I’m saying that if we’re going to compete with other countries, we can’t do that because the wages would be too high.

Ending Medicare ‘As We Know It’

Dean said that GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence “voted to end Medicare as we know it.” Pence supported Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which did call for a major change to Medicare, but it’s important to note the plan would have maintained a system to provide health insurance coverage to seniors.

Support for Ryan’s plan has been mischaracterized repeatedly by Democrats in the past as a vote to “end Medicare.” Dean moderated those claims by adding the words “as we know it.” It’s true that what Ryan proposed would have significantly changed the system for future beneficiaries — those under age 55 — to a premium-support plan in which seniors would select, with government subsidies, private plans on a Medicare exchange. But that initial proposal from Ryan would have kept traditional Medicare for all those who had been on it before the new premium-support plan was launched.

And Pence also supported a subsequent budget plan from Ryan the following year, which also included traditional Medicare as an option for future beneficiaries on the Medicare exchange. As a member of the House of Representatives, Pence voted for Ryan’s budget in 2011 and 2012.

— Eugene Kiely, with Brooks Jackson, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley, D’Angelo Gore and Jenna Wang


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