This is it — our last Groundhog Friday for this election year. We’ll bring back these wrap-ups of repeated claims during future campaigns. But for now, here’s our final look of 2016 at the president and president-elect rehashing talking points we’ve debunked before.
President-elect Donald Trump on his victory, Dec. 19 statement: “Today marks a historic electoral landslide victory in our nation’s democracy.”
Trump repeated his false claim of an “electoral landslide victory” on Dec. 19, after the Electoral College officially voted to elect Trump president. Trump’s margin of victory ranks 46th out of 58 presidential elections, as shown in a chart by John Pitney, a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College, of the Electoral College share won by every president.
Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was initially 306 to 232, giving him 56.9 percent of electoral votes. After the electors cast their ballots on Dec. 19, the spread was 304 to 227, with two electors pledged to Trump and five pledged to Clinton casting their votes for someone else. This puts Trump’s percentage of electoral votes at 56.5 percent. But it doesn’t change his standing on Pitney’s list.
Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight also found that the percentage of electoral votes won by Trump was well below the historical average of 70.9 percent.
Trump clearly won, but as Pitney told us, “it was no landslide by any accepted definition of that term.”
Trump on the murder rate, Dec. 17 speech in Alabama: “The murder rate has experienced its largest increase in our country in 45 years. Think of it, the murder rate, more people are being murdered than in 45 years. And the press never tells you that. Do they ever write that? No.”
Trump continues to sometimes get this statistic right and sometimes get it wrong — even in the same speech. He’s right in saying that the “murder rate has experienced its largest increase in our country in 45 years.” But he’s wrong to tell the crowd: “Think of it, the murder rate, more people are being murdered than in 45 years.”
In fact, the number of murders nationwide was 15,696 in 2015. That’s below the number in 1970, which was 16,000. And the number last year was significantly below the total in 1991, the peak year, when 24,703 people were murdered, according to FBI data.
Those numbers aren’t adjusted for population growth; they show a drop in the annual number of murders in the United States over the past few decades, despite the fact that the population of the country has increased.
The murder rate has dropped substantially since its peak in 1980 (at 10.2 per 100,000 inhabitants) and similarly high levels in the early 1990s. Last year, the rate was 4.9 per 100,000 inhabitants. But that’s an increase from 2014, when the rate as 4.4. In fact, the one-year increase is the largest increase “in nearly half a century,” as the New York Times said in September, contrary to Trump’s claim that the “press never tells you that.”
Trump has distorted this statistic repeatedly in telling the public that he’ll “bring this terrible crime wave to a very rapid end,” as he said in Alabama. Earlier this month, Trump also got it right in saying the murder rate “has experienced its largest increase in 45 years,” but then went on to wrongly say the rate was the “highest in 45 years.” It’s not.
Trump on veterans, Dec. 17 speech in Alabama: “People that come into the country illegally, people that come into the country and cause problems, they’re taken care of better than our vets in many cases. Yeah. Time to take care of our vets.”
As we said when Trump made this same claim in late August, it’s a matter of opinion whether one group is treated better than another, but immigrants in the U.S. illegally are largely barred from receiving benefits or participating in government programs. They can’t get Social Security, or enroll in Medicaid or Medicare. They don’t qualify for food stamps, government housing or unemployment benefits, and they can’t vote.
The U.S. Code says an immigrant in the country illegally “is not eligible for any State or local public benefit,” with a few exceptions: They can get emergency medical care; “short-term, non-cash” disaster relief; limited immunizations and treatment of communicable diseases; in-kind community assistance such as soup kitchens, crisis counseling or short-term shelter that “are necessary for the protection of life or safety.”
They also can be deported. More than 400,000 immigrants in the country illegally were deported in fiscal 2014. Some noncitizen veterans have been deported too, after committing a crime or because they were in the U.S. illegally.
Our fact-checking colleagues at the Washington Post took a closer look at this claim, calling it “an absurd comparison” and awarding Trump four Pinocchios for it.
Trump on the trade deficit, Dec. 17 speech in Alabama: “At the center of our agenda is fixing our absolutely terrible trade deals. America is now running, listen to this, nearly $800 billion in annual trade deficits.”
We feel like a broken record pointing out, yet again, that Trump is overstating the total trade deficit, which was $531.5 billion in 2015 — not $800 billion. Trump’s figure is a generous rounding-up of the trade deficit for goods only, which was $758.9 billion in 2015. The U.S. has a trade surplus in services, such as travel, education and intellectual property, which makes the total trade deficit over a quarter of a trillion dollars less than the figure Trump has cited over and over again.
President Obama on renewable energy, Dec. 16 press conference: “We’ve … doubled production of renewable energy.”
This has been a frequent talking point for the president — one that we first wrote about four years ago when he was running for reelection. We’ve written about it in other Groundhog Friday stories, too.
The president is cherry-picking data here. According to the Energy Information Administration, the net generation of electricity from renewable sources has increased by about 43 percent from 2008 to 2015, as measured in thousand megawatthours, from 380,932 in 2008 to 544,241 in 2015. When we asked how the president arrives at a doubling of renewable energy production, we were told by the White House that it is excluding hydropower — which is the largest source of renewable energy and one of the oldest sources of electrical energy. Why? Because, we were told, the administration has “mainly focused on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.”
It’s true renewable energy other than hydroelectric power has more than doubled. But it would be more accurate for the president to say that wind and solar power has more than quadrupled on his watch, as we have written before, rather than to redefine the term “renewable energy.”
Obama on federal deficits, Dec. 16 press conference: “And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by nearly two-thirds.”
The president has been spinning the facts about deficit reduction for years. We wrote about a similar deficit reduction claim that he made in his State of the Union address earlier this year, and we wrote about another deficit claim he made in August 2013.
There are a few things to know about his claim that deficits have been cut by nearly two-thirds. First, the president is measuring deficit reduction by the $1.4 trillion deficit in fiscal 2009. It’s true that the FY2009 budget was signed by President George W. Bush, but Obama ignores his own contribution to that record-setting deficit. As we’ve written before, Obama’s programs early in his first year increased FY2009 spending — and thus the deficit — by as much as $203 billion. Second, the deficit for the most recent fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was $587 billion — a 58 percent reduction from Obama’s preferred measure. But that’s just as close to one-half as it is to two-thirds (8 percentage points in either direction). If measured by the $1.2 trillion deficit that he inherited from Bush, then the deficit reduction is closer to half than two-thirds.
Finally, we note that the annual deficit in FY2016 increased for the first time in five years. It was up about one-third from the $438.9 billion deficit in FY2015. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office projects (see Table 1-2) that under current law, annual deficits will continue to rise and again hit $1 trillion in 2024 and beyond. So deficits are trending up, not down, as Obama leaves office.