July 22, 2016 at 12:00 AM
The dark portrait of America that Donald J. Trump sketched in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention is a compendium of doomsday stats that fall apart upon close scrutiny. Numbers are taken out of context, data is manipulated, and sometimes the facts are wrong.
When facts are inconveniently positive — such as rising incomes and an unemployment rate under 5 percent — Trump simply declines to mention them. He describes an exceedingly violent nation, flooded with murders, when in reality, the violent-crime rate has been cut in half since the crack cocaine epidemic hit its peak in 1991.
In his speech, Trump promised to present “the plain facts that have been edited out of your nightly news and your morning newspaper.” But he relies on statistics that are ripe for manipulation, citing misleading numbers on the economy, for example, through selective use of years, data and sources.
Here is a rundown of 25 of Trump’s key claims — and how they differ from reality — arranged by subject. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios for a roundup of claims made in convention events.
“Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years. In our nation’s capital, killings have risen by 50 percent. They are up nearly 60 percent in nearby Baltimore.”
Trump cherry-picks data to paint an alarming picture of homicide trends, when in reality, they have been declining for decades.
In 2015, there was an uptick in homicides in 36 of the 50 largest cities compared to the previous years. The rate did, indeed, increase nearly 17 percent, and it was the worst annual change since 1990. The homicide rate was up 54.3 percent in Washington, and 58.5 percent in Baltimore.
But in the first months of 2016, homicide trends were about evenly split in the major cities. Out of 63 agencies reporting to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, 32 cities saw a decrease in homicides in first quarter 2016 and 31 saw an increase.
The problem with cherry-picking such data is that crime trends are measured over decades of data. Many factors — even weather — can drive crime numbers up or down at a given short period of time. In reality, homicides and overall violent crime, in both raw number and rates per population, have been on a decades-long decline in major cities.
“The debate over the size, scope and causes of the homicide increase in 2015 has been largely free of systematic evidence,” according to a June 2016 Department of Justice report.
“The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50 percent compared to this point last year.”
This is wrong.
The number of law enforcement officers killed on the job has increased 8 percent compared to this point in 2015. He may be referring to the total number of officers killed in shootings, which has increased 78 percent. This includes the recent shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
The overall number of police deaths has decreased in the past two decades. For the past 10 to 15 years, traffic-related incidents (including criminal pursuit and instances where officers are intentionally struck by offenders) have been the leading cause of death among police officers.
[Update: The Trump campaign responded to our fact-check and provided more information about the data they used for the speech. The campaign picked July 2014 to July 2015, and compared it to July 2015 to July 2016, using data from the Officers Down Memorial Page. The memorial page works with the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, whose data we cited initially for our fact-check, to update officer death data in real time.
This is not the standard way that both organizations and the FBI maintain police death data, which is by calendar year. The campaign said that it wanted to reflect the latest available data, to show police deaths have “been getting worse in recent days.”]
“Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement.”
It’s not clear what Trump is referring to here. Perhaps this is a reference to Obama’s clemency initiative, granting early releases to prisoners with nonviolent drug offenses who have been serving mandatory sentences. Some critics of Obama’s clemency policies have said they were concerned about the application process for clemency and whether the prisoners properly met all the criteria.
Trump also may be referring to the current efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system, specifically on sentencing policies. Legislation is making its way through Congress and has been pushed strongly by the White House. But this effort has bipartisan support and has brought together an unlikely coalition that includes Koch Industries and the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year
This is another cherry-picked number. In the fiscal year that began in October, 51,152 families have been apprehended at the Southwest border through June, compared to 39,838 in fiscal year 2015, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. (There are three months left in the fiscal year.) But overall apprehensions, including unaccompanied minors, are running slightly higher than 2015 but are far fewer than 2014, 2013 and 2012.
There are Central American families arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border who are being allowed into the country pending review of their cases in immigration court. If they are being released, it is because they have requested asylum or intend to because they are fleeing extreme violence, instability and endemic poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
“Nearly 180,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records, ordered deported from our country, are tonight roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens.”
This number sounds worse than it really is. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in fiscal 2015 deported nearly 140,000 convicted criminals. ICE has estimated that there are 953,507 noncitizens with final orders who are still in the United States, of whom 182,786 have been convicted of crimes; 176,126 have not been detained.
The actual crimes committed by this group are not documented, so Trump cannot easily claim all of these illegal immigrants are threatening.
The Migration Policy Institute, using a dataset of all 3.7 million deportations that were carried out between fiscal 2003 and 2013, found that the largest category of convictions for criminal deportees was immigration crimes, accounting for 18 percent of criminal removals between FY 2003-13. The three next largest crime categories were FBI Part 1 crimes (a definition that includes homicide, aggravated assault and burglary, 15 percent of criminal removals during the period), FBI Part 2 crimes identified by MPI as violent offenses (14 percent) and FBI Part 2 crimes identified by MPI as nonviolent offenses (14 percent).
Update: The Center for Immigration Studies points to data concerning illegal immigrants released from detention. For instance, in 2015, ICE released nearly 20,000, of whom there were about 8,000 violent convictions and about 200 homicides; the most common crime was driving under the influence. Jessica Vaughan of CIS also wrote a critique of our fact check.)
“Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African American and Latino workers.”
This claim is quite convoluted, and the impact of legal and illegal immigration on blacks and Latinos is more complicated than Trump describes it.
Trump does not discern between legal and unauthorized immigration. Legal immigration flow has increased in the past four decades, and has remained at roughly 1 million people obtaining lawful permanent resident status every year since 2001. The unauthorized immigrant population increased from about 4 million in 1990 to about 12 million in 2007. But researchers estimate net zero illegal immigration flow from 2007 to 2014, due to the number of unauthorized immigrants leaving the country after the economic recession. Preliminary research from 2015 suggests net illegal immigration may have increased.
In general, economists have found that immigration overall results in a net positive to the U.S. economy and to overall workers. There are slight negative effects, but they are felt most strongly by less-educated and low-skilled workers. Illegal immigration, in particular, tends to affect less-educated and low-skilled American workers the most, which disproportionately comprises black men and recently arrived low-educated legal immigrants.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights 2010 report found that illegal immigration has tended to depress wages and employment particularly for black men. But factors other than illegal immigration contribute to black unemployment, the report found, including the high school dropout rate and low job-retention rates.
The competition with other Latinos, particularly Latino immigrants, is the most intense in industries like construction, agriculture, manufacturing and service jobs, said Randy Capps, the Migration Policy Institute’s director of research of U.S. programs. But the consensus among economic research studies is that the impact of immigration is primarily a net positive.
“One such border-crosser was released and made his way to Nebraska. There, he ended the life of an innocent young girl named Sarah Root. She was 21 years old and was killed the day after graduating from college with a 4.0 grade point average. Her killer was then released a second time, and he is now a fugitive from the law.”
Sarah Root is a relatively new anecdote of Donald Trump’s, though her story has been cited often by other immigration hard-liners.
Root, 21, died in a car crash 16 hours after she graduated summa cum laude from Bellevue University in Nebraska. She was driving home and was struck by a man whose blood alcohol level was more than three times the legal limit, and who was speeding in a truck.
The man was Eswin Mejia, 19, who was in the United States illegally. He was born in Honduras and arrived in America at age 16. He was released on bail, and fled. Authorities have not been able to find him, as of July 2016.
Mejia had several run-ins with law enforcement, but officials said he was not detained because he was not an “enforcement priority” and had no prior criminal convictions, according to the Des Moines Register.
“Fifty-eight percent of African American youth are not employed.”
The official unemployment rate for black youth is about half of what Trump says it is.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate among blacks 16 to 19 years old was 31.2 percent in June 2016. This official unemployment rate refers to jobless people who are actively looking for jobs, as a percentage of the total available workforce of people who are working or are looking for jobs.
What Trump may be referring to, as our friends at PolitiFact Virginia noted, is the BLS employment-population ratio. This is a broad measure that refers to the ratio of the number of people employed compared to the total population, including people who are not looking for jobs. The employment-population ratio for blacks 16 to 24 years old was 42 percent in June 2016, so Trump maybe using the flip side of that — 58 percent, for the unemployment-population ratio.
“2 million more Latinos are in poverty today than when the president took his oath of office.”
Trump is being misleading here, turning a good news story into something negative by using raw numbers and using 2008 as a base, instead of 2009, when Obama took office. From March 2009 to March, 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, the number of Latinos in poverty has increased 750,000, according to the Census Bureau. But the overall number of Latinos has grown by nearly 7 million, so the percentage in poverty has declined from 25.3 percent to 23.6 percent.
“Another 14 million people have left the workforce entirely.”
This is yet another misleading figure. The number of people who have left the workforce has certainly increased since 2009, though this is usually expressed as the labor participation rate, not raw employment numbers. The labor participation rate has dropped under Obama, from 65.7 percent in 2009 to 62.7 percent, but experts say just over half of the post-1999 decline in the participation rate comes from the retirement of the baby boomers. Economists estimate that just 15 percent of the drop in the labor force stems from people who want a job and are of prime working age (25-54).
“Household incomes are down more than $4,000 since the year 2000.”
This is a stale statistic, based on 2014 Census data, which ignores the fact that incomes have risen sharply in the last two years.
A more up-to-date figure is obtained from the nonpartisan economic consulting firm Sentier Research, which produces a monthly report using data from the Census Bureau’s monthly household survey.
The most recent report, released on the day of Trump’s speech, shows median annual household income in June was $57,206, slightly below the income of $57,826 in January 2000, in 2016 dollars. So it is essentially flat, not down $4,000.
“Forty-three million Americans are on food stamps.”
Trump’s point was that America’s economy has suffered under the Obama administration. But he fails to mention that this is actually the lowest number of people receiving food stamps since it reached its peak in 2013, a sign that the economy is finally improving enough that the delayed impact of economic recovery has reached families who depend on them.
There are 43.6 million people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the official name for food stamps, as of the most recent monthly data available from April 2016. It was the lowest number of monthly enrollees since November 2010, U.S. Department of Agriculture data show.
The number of people receiving SNAP benefits increased after Obama took office in part because of changes in the food stamp program under President George W. Bush, when Congress overrode his veto of the 2008 Farm Bill. That law boosted the purchasing power of food stamps by indexing key elements to inflation.
At the same time, Obama’s stimulus bill also temporarily boosted benefits even more. The Obama administration also announced that it was pushing to expand eligibility, in part on the theory that expanding the food stamp program is also good for the economy because the money is quickly spent.
Of course, the economic aftershocks of the Great Recession, which was in full force before Obama took office, has a lot to do with the increase. There often is a time lag between when economic disaster strikes and when people begin to apply for food-stamp assistance. We explored these reasons in a 2011 fact check.
“America is one of the highest-taxed nations in the world.”
As a billionaire, Trump probably personally faces high tax rates. But the statistics don’t lie — the United States isn’t anywhere near the top among industrialized nations.
In 2014, according to comparative tables of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), revenue as a percentage of the gross domestic product — the broadest measure of the economy — was 26 percent for the United States.
Out of 34 countries, that put the United States in the bottom third — and well below the OECD average of 34.4 percent.
Still, it’s an advance that Trump now says the United States is one of the highest-taxed nations. He used to assert the United States was the highest-taxed nation — when that dubious honor actually belongs to Denmark, with revenue at 50.9 percent of GDP.
“Excessive regulation is costing our country as much as $2 trillion a year.”
Trump presents an unbalanced figure here.
Various organizations, such as the Small Business Administration, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Competitive Enterprise Institute have come up with similar estimates on the cost of regulations. We have in the past looked deeply at the methodological issues concerning this $2 trillion estimate, which can be found in previous fact checks from 2014 and 2011.
But there is an important element missing in the use of this somewhat sketchy figure — the benefit side of the analysis. Every regulation has costs — but also benefits.
Look at cars, for example. Seat belts are a regulation, but they also result in fewer deaths, which is presumably a benefit. Higher fuel-economy standards raise the initial cost of a car, but also result in savings on gasoline over time.
“This was just prior to the signing of the Iran deal, which gave back to Iran $150 billion and gave us absolutely nothing — it will go down in history as one of the worst deals ever made.”
Trump frequently misstates the facts about the Iran deal, making it sound like the United States simply shipped $150 billion of taxpayer’s funds to Iran.
This was always Iran’s money, frozen in banks around the world, but $150 billion is the high estimate of the money that could be received. The Treasury Department says the figure is in the range of $100 to $125 billion, but the usual liquid assets would only be about $50 billion, as the rest of the assets are either obligated in illiquid projects (such as over 50 projects with China) that cannot be monetized quickly, if at all, or are composed of outstanding loans to Iranian entities that cannot repay them.
For its part, the Central Bank of Iran said the number was actually $32 billion.
Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of the Iran deal, but it’s a stretch to say “nothing” was received. Iran’s nuclear program was certainly put on ice for at least a decade.
“In Libya, our consulate – the symbol of American prestige around the globe — was brought down in flames.”
Trump falsely calls the Benghazi facility a “consulate” and a “symbol of American prestige.” It was merely an unofficial and temporary facility that had not even been declared to the host government — which is a key reason it did not get the security that was needed.
“In 2009, pre-Hillary, ISIS was not even on the map. Libya was cooperating. Egypt was peaceful. Iraq was seeing a reduction in violence. Iran was being choked by sanctions. Syria was somewhat under control.”
This is an interesting list, but aspects are not factually correct.
The Islamic State of today is simply an outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq. It was established in April 2004 by longtime Sunni extremist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to the National Counterterrorism Center. Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. airstrike in 2006, and afterward his successor announced the formation of the Islamic State — more than two years before George W. Bush left office.
The Islamic State certainly gained strength and territory from the civil war in Syria, but Clinton as secretary of state had pressed to funnel arms to the rebels; she was rebuffed by the president.
Libya, Syria and Egypt were run by dictators in 2009, but it’s odd to somehow suggest the 2011 uprising in those countries against the repressive regimes had much to do with U.S. policy.
As for sanctions against Iran, they did not really begin to bite until new ones were imposed by the Obama administration under the direction of Hillary Clinton.
“Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist. This time, the terrorist targeted our LGBTQ community.”
The FBI has found no evidence so far that the shooter targeted Pulse night club in Orlando because it is a gay club.
The shooting rattled the LGBT community in Orlando and beyond, who felt they were targeted in a hateful attack. But there is no evidence yet that the shooter’s attack was motivated by homophobia, The Washington Post reported on July 16.
“My opponent, in Syria — think of this, think of this, this is not believable but this is what’s happening. A 550 percentage increase in Syrian refugees on top of the existing massive refugee flows coming into our country already under the leadership of President Obama. She proposes this despite the fact that there’s no way to screen these refugees in order to find out who they are or where they come from.”
Trump gets it right on the “550” percentage, but falsely claims there’s “no way to screen” refugees.
President Obama has proposed accepting 10,000 refugees in fiscal year 2016, and in September Clinton said she would like to move toward as many as 65,000. That’s where Trump gets his “550 percent.” Clinton has emphasized there would be careful screening, with an emphasis on those facing religious persecution.
The process of vetting refugees starts with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and then continues with checks by U.S. intelligence and security agencies. It takes one to two years, or longer in some cases. (Our colleagues at PolitiFact described this process in detail.)
“In fact, her single greatest accomplishment may be committing such an egregious crime and getting away with it — especially when others who have done far less have paid so dearly.”
Trump likes to say “others” have gotten punished for far less than Hillary Clinton’s private email server, but there are few known cases that are comparable to hers. But Clinton’s case lacked malicious intent and other nefarious actions that are prerequisites for criminal charges.
The example Trump usually uses is Gen. David H. Petraeus. Petraeus knowingly leaked classified information in his personal notebooks for release to the public through his biographer, then lied to the FBI when he got caught. FBI Director James B. Comey said the Petraeus case “illustrates perfectly” the type of case the Department of Justice would be willing to prosecute: a combination of obstruction of justice, intentional misconduct and vast quantities of classified information. Those elements weren’t there in Clinton’s case. (For more on Clinton’s email controversy, see our complete collection of fact checks.)
“When that same secretary of state rakes in millions of dollars trading access and favors to special interests and foreign powers, I know the time for action has come.”
Trump has criticized Clinton’s record as secretary of state and donations given to the Clinton Foundation, as outlined in Peter Schweizer’s book, “Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich.”
Schweizer raises many questions about donations to the Clinton Foundation, led by Bill Clinton, while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. But critics, including Schweizer, have not been able to prove quid pro quo.
“My opponent dismissed the VA scandal — one more sign of how out of touch she really is.”
Hillary Clinton has said the Department of Veterans Affairs wait-time scandal was not “as widespread as it has been made out to be,” but her campaign has walked back this statement after she was criticized for downplaying the scandal.
Below is the full exchange from MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” in October 2015. The specific claim Trump is citing is in bold.
Rachel Maddow: The reason they [Republicans] are able to propose something that radical [privatizing the Department of Veterans Affairs] is because the problems at the VA seem so intractable. If I had been running Republican campaign against President Obama last year, I would have run it entirely on the VA — a bureaucracy, a bloated big government program that can’t be fixed, and let’s do right by our veterans. Do you have any new ideas for trying to fix it? You can’t find a person in politics who doesn’t say we shouldn’t do right by our veterans. But for some reason, this can’t get fixed fast enough.
Hillary Clinton: Yes, and I don’t understand that. You know, I don’t understand why we have such a problem, because there have been a number of surveys of veterans. And overall, veterans who do get treated are satisfied with their treatment. … Now, nobody would believe that from the coverage that you see, and the constant berating of the VA that comes from the Republicans, in part in pursuit of this ideological agenda that they have.
Maddow: But in part because there has been real scandal.
Clinton: There has been. But it’s not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.
Clinton was criticized immediately, and her campaign later clarified that Clinton does believe there is a systemic problem of delays in veterans’ access to health care and processing their disability claims. The campaign told The Fact Checker that she was “speaking with reference to Republicans who have sought to use the wait times scandal to suggest the VA is so incompetent as to be beyond fixing, such that the only fix is privatization.”
Still, we awarded her Two Pinocchios for saying that a “number of surveys” show veterans “are satisfied with their treatment.” She was referring to VA satisfaction surveys funded by the VA or a nonscientific survey of veterans’ attitudes. Independent, scientific surveys show veterans’ attitudes toward medical care at the VA are mixed.
“America has lost nearly-one third of its manufacturing jobs since 1997, following the enactment of disastrous trade deals supported by Bill and Hillary Clinton.”
Trump picks a high point for manufacturing jobs, in Clinton’s second term, and ignores that fact that nearly 1 million manufacturing jobs have been added since the low point after the Great Recession. It is simplistic to pin all of the blame on trade agreements, when efficiency and technology have also played a major role.
“Remember, it was Bill Clinton who signed NAFTA, one of the worst economic deals ever made by our country.”
Bill Clinton was certainly a supporter of NAFTA who pushed approval through Congress. But it was negotiated and signed by President George H.W. Bush. (Here’s a photo.) Moreover, more Republicans than Democrats voted for the deal, as the trade pact was vehemently opposed by labor unions. One key ally for Clinton was then-House Minority Whip (and later House speaker) Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), now a Trump supporter.
Clinton did put his political prestige on the line to get it approved by Congress — even as two top Democrats, House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and House Majority Whip David Bonior (Mich.), opposed it. In the House, NAFTA passed 234-200; 132 Republicans and 102 Democrats voted in favor of it. The Senate approved NAFTA 61-38, with the backing of 34 Republicans and 27 Democrats.
In both the House and the Senate, more Democrats voted against NAFTA than for it — a signal that the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party was strong even then. Clinton held a signing ceremony for the implementing legislation on Dec. 3, 1993, flanked by former presidents and congressional leaders of both parties. But that’s not the same as negotiating and signing the treaty with Mexico and Canada. The trade agreement went into effect on Jan. 1, 1994.
As we have noted repeatedly before, economists have not reached any firm conclusion on the impact of NAFTA, but many think that claims of massive job losses are overstated. The Congressional Research Service in 2015 concluded that the “net overall effect of NAFTA on the U.S. economy appears to have been relatively modest, primarily because trade with Canada and Mexico accounts for a small percentage of U.S. GDP [gross domestic product].”
“She [Hillary Clinton] has supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will not only destroy our manufacturing, but it will make America subject to the rulings of foreign governments.”
It’s a matter of opinion that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will “destroy” manufacturing — most economists would disagree — but the other part of Trump’s statement is fantasy sometimes promoted by the far-left. TPP, like other trade deals, does establish a commission to monitor implementation. It periodically may make suggestions on changes that are needed in the agreement as the global economy modernizes, but those changes have to be carried out through domestic processes.
All TPP members are already part of the World Trade Organization. It settles trade disputes and can allow for monetary retaliation. But the dispute settlement rulings cannot force changes in U.S. laws.
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