(Jae C. Hong/AP)

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: “I came into a state that was in real trouble. … We ended up with 4.7 percent unemployment rate. I'm proud of what we were able to do in a tough situation.”

Perry: “But Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt.”

Romney: “Well, as a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor.”

Former Utah Gov. John Huntsman: “I hate to rain on the parade of the great Lone Star governor, but as governor of Utah, we were the number-one job creator in this country during my years of service. … And to my good friend Mitt, 47th just ain't going to cut it, my friend — not when you can be first.” 

— Exchange during the GOP debate at the Reagan library, Sept. 7, 2011

That was a remarkably silly discussion over job creation at last week’s GOP presidential debate, as two former governors and one current governor tangled over who performed best at creating jobs.

Business cycles play an important role in job creation, as do events (such as national economic policy) that are far beyond a governor’s control. The quality of jobs matters, too, rather than just numbers. A governor can implement policies that have some impact, but the effectiveness of those policies might only be felt long after that person was in office.

Politicians can also slice and dice the data to put their performance in the best possible light. Huntsman has released a video ad to make his case that he was No. 1 in job creation while Romney was only No. 47. But as our colleagues at Factcheck.org pointed out, Huntsman’s campaign compared different data sets. Using the same data changed the results. When Massaschusetts placed in 47th place, Utah under Huntsman ranked fourth — not first.

These claims also lack context. As our colleagues at Politifact discovered, there is little evidence that Dukakis was better at job creation than Romney; in fact, the business community criticized him for not being more supportive. The main difference between Dukakis and Romney is that Massachusetts was emerging from a recession when Romney became governor — and the computer industry was booming when Dukakis was governor. 

Fact Checker reader Lori Williams, a data analyst at Tableau Software, crafted a nifty interactive chart that will let readers track job growth at all 50 states from 2000 to July of this year. You have a choice of two different sets of data: payroll statistics (which is most commonly used by economists) and a monthly survey of households (which is how Huntsman claimed first place.)

 You can also adjust the timeline to see how, depending on which dates are picked, states can rise and fall in ranking rather dramatically. Depending on how you slide the scale, for instance, Nevada can be near the top or dead last.

 She also highlighted the job creation records of Perry, Romney and Huntsman. You can also manipulate their data so you can get the best — or worst — result possible.

 Bravo to Lori and the folks at Tableau for their efforts to help improve the political discourse. Romney, Perry and Huntsman earn Pinocchios, but Tableau Software gets a prized Geppetto Checkmark.


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