The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s absurd claim the 2012 Pew report researcher was ‘groveling’

(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

“Then he’s groveling again. You know I always talk about the reporters that grovel when they want to write something that you want to hear but not necessarily millions of people want to hear or have to hear.”

— President Trump, interview with ABC News, Jan. 25, 2017

For the first time since taking office, President Trump addressed the 2012 Pew Center on the States report that he and his staff have repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — used to support his claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election.

Trump once again referred to a 2012 Pew report as evidence of widespread voter fraud. When David Muir of ABC News noted the study’s author said he found no evidence of voter fraud, Trump said: “Excuse me, then why did he write the report?”

Then Trump claimed the author was “groveling.” Really?

The Facts


David Becker, who directed the research for the Pew report, has said since the report’s release in February 2012 that there was no evidence of fraud from his findings.

The report, instead, found problems with inaccurate voter registrations, people who registered in more than one state (which could happen if the voter moves and registers in the new state without telling the former state) and deceased voters whose information was still on the voter rolls. Trump did reference these other findings correctly in the interview — but then claimed these findings are evidence of fraud.

In a February 2012 Q&A about the study’s findings, Becker specifically said researchers did not find evidence of voter fraud:

Q. Are these problems leading either to fraud or to efforts to keep eligible people from voting?
A. We have not seen evidence of that. These problems really are the result of an antiquated system — one that relies almost exclusively on 19th and 20th century technologies (paper and mail) to serve a 21st century, highly mobile society. About one in eight Americans moved during each of the 2008 and 2010 election years. Some Americans — including those serving in the military, young people and those living in communities affected by the economic downturn — are even more mobile.
One in four voters assumes that election officials or the U.S. Postal Service updates registrations automatically with each move, even though that is almost never the case, and about half of all voters don’t know they can update their registration at a motor vehicles office.
Election offices often are flooded with millions of paper registration applications from third-party voter registration drives right before Election Day, at a time when their resources are stretched the most.

Contemporaneous news coverage shows that Becker consistently said the research did not show evidence of fraud. Here are a few examples: 

  • Even though the inaccuracies impact one in eight registrations, researchers at the Pew Center on the States said they don’t see it as an indicator of widespread fraud. Rather, they believe outdated systems are failing to keep pace with the most basic changes in people’s lives, feeding perceptions that U.S. elections are not as airtight as they could be. (Associated Press, Feb. 13, 2012)
  • Mr. Becker warned that poor record-keeping at the registration stage is not evidence of fraud at polling places. “These bad records are not leading to fraud but could lead to the perception of fraud,” he said. (New York Times, Feb. 14, 2012)
  • Experts say there’s no evidence that the errors led to fraud on Election Day. “The perception of the possibility of fraud drives hyper-partisan policymaking,” said David Becker, director of Pew’s election initiatives. But inactive voters do cost money. Inaccurate lists mean wasted money on mailings and extra paper ballots. (USA Today, Feb. 14, 2012)
  • Still, David Becker, director of Pew’s Election Initiatives, said that the center’s findings did not suggest any kind of voter fraud or voter suppression from these problems but noted they do “underscore the need for an improved system.” (Politico, Feb. 14, 2012)
  • There’s little evidence that this has led to widespread voter fraud, but it has raised concerns that the system is vulnerable. (NPR, Feb. 14, 2012)

In response to Trump’s comments on ABC News, Becker reiterated to The Fact Checker that the scope of his report did not address voter fraud.

“It’s all about the voter list. It was not about fraud at all,” Becker said.

Becker added that many improvements have been made since 2012 to make voter rolls more accurate and up-to-date.

“It’s a five-year-old report,” he said. “So many election officials from across the aisle and around the country have worked to leverage technology and data to make sure the voter lists are serving the voters. I don’t know that I would feel comfortable saying the estimates we reached in February of 2012 would be the same estimates that we would reach today, given the substantial improvements that have occurred in the last five years.”

The White House did not respond to our inquiry.

The Pinocchio Test

It is remarkable that the president of the United States continues makes a false claim with no support, then finds a five-year-old report that doesn’t support his claim, then attacks the researcher of the study when confronted with the fact that the report does not support his false claim.

Trump says Becker was “groveling” when he claimed his 2012 Pew study did not find evidence of voter fraud. Yet since the report was first released, and in contemporaneous news coverage, it is clear that Becker has consistently said his research did not find evidence of voter fraud.

We have given many fourPinocchio ratings to Trump and his staff for his talking point. We award four more Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

(About our rating scale)

Send us facts to check by filling out this form

Keep tabs on Trump’s promises with our Trump Promise Tracker

Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter