Monday, February 20, 2012

Politifact gets it wrong on what "majority" of Americans are

Being "close" doesn't make Rubio's statements true, despite Politifact's assessment

Assessing politicians' statements isn't a perfect science -- there are contextual things to consider that make their words appear in that "gray" area from time to time. And while we'd like to rate their statements to be true or false, they can sometimes be partially true or partially false.

That's the idea behind Politifact's ratings of political statements. The website that has charged itself the duty of determining the validity of what our leaders say created a system that places their statements on a scale, ranging from "True" to "Pants on Fire," a position that goes beyond "False" for being extraordinarily out-there. Between those three are also "Mostly False," "Half True," and "Mostly True."

It's not a perfect system to say the least. But you would think that, when analyzing a statement that would have a definite yes-or-no answer to it, Politifact could get it right.

Not so with recent statements from Republican Sen. Mark Rubio, who quipped at CPAC that a "majority of Americans are conservatives." It'd be easy to answer that question in either the affirmative, as True, or negative, as false. Either a majority (50 percent plus one or more) ARE conservative, or they're not (under 50 percent).

Polling on the issue indicates that a plurality of Americans consider themselves conservative, but that a majority identify as either liberal or moderate.

So the answer seems clear as day, right? The majority of Americans aren't conservative. Which would mean that Rubio was not telling the truth.

Yet Politifact rated Rubio's statements as "Mostly True."


The matter wasn't left unchallenged: MSNBC's Rachel Maddow had a scathing rebuke of Politifact's ruling:
"Seriously? Claim A: false. Claim B: false. Overall Politifact rating: mostly true!"
Politifact responded in-kind, explaining that:
Our goal at PolitiFact is to use the Truth-O-Meter to show the relative accuracy of a political claim. In this case, we rated it Mostly True because we felt that while the number was short of a majority, it was still a plurality.
But that's not how research and validation of statements work. Rubio's statements wouldn't stand up to scrutiny under any other standard -- if you talk to any number of Americans at any random street corner, six times out of ten you're going to find that they're not conservative.

Now, consider if the opposite claim were proposed: "A majority of American's AREN'T conservatives." That claim would be true without refutation of any'd be true, and the numbers would align with its accuracy.

So how can that statement be "True" if Politifact's rating of Rubio's claim is also "Mostly True?" The two are not compatible.

Politifact is wrong to label Rubio's statement as having any validity to it whatsoever. At most, the claim can be said to be "Half True," but it's barely even that, and more appropriately fits in the "Mostly False" category. The numbers don't fit the claim, and to rate it anywhere near "True" is a disservice to the readers of Politifact.


  1. dude, who cares, you make it seem like being a conservative is a bad thing, this is whats wrong with people, you lean to far to the right or left and end up on mars. I'm a conservative who happens to be an atheist, who cares about the enviroment and recycles, who donates $ to charity and thinks big government sucks balls. Does that make me a bad guy? I could care less that you are a liberal, I'm happy for you, as long as you have common sense and think for yourself, thats all that matters.

    1. I don't ever say conservatism is a bad thing. I don't like conservatism; I fight against everything it stands for; but people have a choice in their ideology, just as I have a choice to be liberal. I'm sorry if that's what you got from my post, but what I was trying to point out was that Politifact got this wrong -- most Americans are not, in fact, conservatives. That they rate a claim that's counter to that fact as "True," in my mind, is a disservice to those reading their site.

    2. Really? Everything it stands for? You don't agree with one point? Thats pretty radical dude, sorry to hear that.

    3. Good point. How about this? I fight against everything contemporary conservatism, as exemplified by the current leadership of the Republican/Tea Parties, stands for. Traditional conservatism...not so bad. This corporatist agenda, however, is going to hurt Wisconsin and the nation in the end.

  2. Kevin Drum says maybe a majority of Americans are conservative.