According to Politifact, One Political Party Has Their Pants On Fire. Guess Which?


A recent study (click here for the press release) by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) has found that Republicans have lied far more than Democrats in the first 4 months of Obama's second term (January 20th through May 22nd, 2013). The study looks at ratings by the fact-checking organization Politifact of 100 statements (46 by Democrats and 54 by Republicans), finding that 32% of Republican statements were rated "false" or "pants on fire," while only 11% of Democratic claims earned the same ratings. 54% of Democratic statements were rated as mostly true or true, but only 18% of Republican claims rated the same.

How can we make sense of findings like these? If you're inclined to disagree with them, here are a few main criticisms that seem applicable.

The most obvious is to make the case that Politifact is biased (it's been done before) — for example, popular criticisms of the fact-checking site include selection bias (that they scrutinize claims by the right far more closely than those by the left) and inconsistent standards (that they are harsher on Republicans than on Democrats).

The second would be to argue that the CMPA's study is flawed. There could be selection bias: did they randomly select statements from members of each party? (I looked for the study on their site but couldn't find it — if anyone does get a link to it, please post in the comments.) Another potential criticism is that perhaps this study is not externally valid — maybe there is something special about this time period that makes it unrepresentative.

But it's hard to ignore the seemingly obvious: maybe Republicans are lying more. Do they have more reason to? Well, for one, they have a habit of disagreeing with the vast majority of scientists regarding climate change. Denial of evolution is another point of disagreement with the scientific community that is far more pervasive on the right than on the left. Maybe this habit of denial has extended to their statements regarding policy, as well — surely not all of the statements in the CMPA study were about climate change or creationism.

So how should the average voter proceed? The answer is not to throw up one's hands, and deny that there is ever any objective truth (I was a philosophy major — trust me, it's a dead end), or that everyone is lying all the time. In most situations regarding this or that policy, there is a fact of the matter. But we also can't just trust whatever source suits our point of view, putting on our blinders, entering the echo chamber, and reflexively condemning the other side of the aisle as liars. It's the test of a democracy to find the strength to engage in policy discussions (including things like this study) without descending into a shouting match. Listen to one's counterparts on the other side of the political spectrum, do your research, and persuade. And perhaps more importantly, allow yourself to be persuaded.