Is Politifact Biased Against Republicans?

A leading media fact-checking organization rates Republicans as less trustworthy than Democrats, according to a new study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) at George Mason University. The study finds that has rated Republican claims as false three times as often as Democratic claims during President Obama’s second term. Republicans continue to get worse marks in recent weeks, despite controversies over Obama administration statements on Benghazi, the IRS and the AP.

According to CMPA President Dr Robert Lichter, “While Republicans see a credibility gap in the Obama administration, PolitiFact rates Republicans as the less credible party.”

From this press release.  This is nothing new.  Almost 4 years ago, I found the same pattern in Politifact’s scoring of claims during the health care debate. But as I noted in that post and as Brendan Nyhan quickly pointed out regarding this CMPA study, you can’t draw any firm conclusions from this exercise. Politifact isn’t randomly sampling the statements of Republicans and Democrats.  They’re just examining statements they consider particularly visible, influential, or controversial.  The data are consistent with any number of interpretations and so we can’t say all that much about the truthfulness of political parties, about any biases of Politifact, etc.

9 Responses to Is Politifact Biased Against Republicans?

  1. REM May 29, 2013 at 9:40 am #

    I assume there’s a president versus the out party bias in the data. Politifacts is selecting on the dependent variable (outrageousness of the statement). When the president says something the rest of his party tends to be quiet or modest in their reaction. But for the out party it’s open season. Is the fact that Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachman say silly and unreasonable things really proof that Republicans are less well acquainted with the truth? Also if there are 5 reactions to a presidential statement by Dems and 20 reactions to a presidential statement from the Republicans and you only look at the 2 most extreme to Republican statements I’m not surprised this shows up. At some point we will see what they find when the Reps are running the show..

  2. Chris May 29, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    “The data are consistent with any number of interpretations and so we can’t say all that much about the truthfulness of political parties, about any biases of Politifact, etc.”


    • Matt May 29, 2013 at 11:46 am #

      Ummm, yeah… How about the obvious one? When the GOP pushes hard to get some meme out, it’s almost always a lie. When the Democrats do it, it s sometimes a lie, but not nearly as often. As for cause…

      Could, just maybe, can’t know for sure, be related to the fact that to be a modern American conservative with a hint of critical thinking skills your whole political philosophy has to be based on cognitive dissonance (i.e. lying to yourself to make sense of your basic beliefs). If you practice such lying every waking moment of every day, maybe it comes easier to look convincing doing it in front of the cameras?

      • Maurice de Sully May 29, 2013 at 2:45 pm #

        Matt, given your exemplary critical thinking skills you no doubt have a source that establishes the claim in your first paragraph, correct? A critical thinker would surely be uncomfortable with analysis that is premised on an unsupported claim. Particularly so when commenting in a a forum that promotes scientific discussion. With the claim’s “obvious” nature, I assume you’ll have some trouble selecting the single, best source to substantiate the charge. I appreciate in advance you accepting the burden.

        Let me know which one you settle on.

        • Stephen May 29, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

          Death panels. Your move.

  3. Todd Phillips May 29, 2013 at 3:41 pm #

    If politifact can’t easily determine what the truth is and people on this site argue about whether other readers might know the truth, how can the general public possibly know the truth?

    The truth is that our political system is infinity complex, and the most fundamental problem with our democracy is that we have this deranged idea that people are supposed to be informed and have opinions about things. This expectation creates a gigantic threat to our freedom because we are at the mercy of those who are in power (and who put them in power) and can freely lie to us.

    This is not democracy. And if you think it is, it is simply because you are defining it as such because it looks like an idealized version of democracy, not because it is. It’s a fantasy. Individual citizens are powerless.

  4. Chaz May 30, 2013 at 5:20 am #

    When a headline ends with a question mark, the answer is always no.

  5. Dean May 30, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Outsiders make more extreme statements than people who have power. Some of Politifact’s state-level ratings go the other way. Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, scored higher than his opponents during the recall campaigns.
    Politfact makes some rulings that are strange for either side. They gave Obama a “Pants on fire” rating for saying that Romney wanted to fire Big Bird. Romney’s cuts would have removed him from the federal payroll, so the statement was at least technically true.

  6. Jordan Ragusa May 30, 2013 at 10:40 am #

    Here’s some more on PolitiFact and the “truthfulness” of lawmakers: