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• Since 2011, we’ve checked 853 statements by Trump. Of these, 618 ended up as either Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire, meaning that 72% of Trump’s statements ended up in the bottom half of our rating system.
• At PolitiFact, we are committed to fact-checking newsworthy, questionable and interesting claims, regardless of who said them. Read more about our process of how we select claims to check.
PolitiFact’s first fact-check Donald Trump was Feb. 14, 2011, for a statement related to the "birther" conspiracy theory, which doubted the American birth of then-president Barack Obama. Birtherism was the issue that effectively turned the real estate developer into a major political figure.
Trump focused on Obama’s college years: "The people that went to school with (Barack Obama), they never saw him, they don't know who he is." It rated Pants on Fire.
RELATED: How has Joe Biden fared on the Truth-O-Meter?
In addition to collecting publicly available evidence, PolitiFact interviewed Cathie Currie, a social psychologist who recalled Obama occasionally playing pick-up soccer games on the lawn outside the Columbia University’s library when she was a graduate student and Obama was an undergraduate.
He was a good soccer player, she said, but she said she wasn’t surprised that he was not widely remembered. He seemed like someone who prioritized his studies. "We'd ask him to go out with us for beers after soccer," she said. "He seemed like he wanted to, but then he'd step back and say, 'Sorry, I'm going to the library.'"
That wasn’t our final fact-check of Trump in 2011. We went on to check Trump nine more times that year, including other birther-related claims and some topics that would become ongoing themes for him, such as how South Korea doesn't pay for U.S. troops (False) and how he had the No. 1 show on TV (Half True). That first year, we rated Trump Mostly True once, Half True twice, False four times and Pants on Fire three times.
That’s not far off from his overall record nine years later. Since 2011, we’ve checked 853 statements by Trump, and more often than not, we’ve found failings. Of the 853 statements we’ve rated, 618 ended up as either Mostly False, False, or Pants on Fire. In other words, 72% of Trump’s statements ended up in the bottom half of our rating system.
This is not to say that Trump is never accurate. We’ve rated 35 of his statements True and 83 Mostly True.
Often, his True statements were recitations of statistics. We gave him True ratings for saying "Murders this year have spiked 27% in Philadelphia," "Food Stamp participation hits 10 year low," and "The unemployment rate for Wisconsin workers has reached historic lows. It’s never been this low before, ever, ever, ever."
His Mostly Trues were often similarly statistical, such as saying that as of June 23, the COVID-19 death rate was "way down," and that "under three years of my administration, net farm income has already gone up nearly 50%."
Exaggerations have often brought Trump’s ratings down to Half True.
For instance, Trump said that "on the Southern border, as you know, the wall is going up, it's going up very rapidly. We're at 182 miles." But we found that what the administration has done is replace old and outdated designs with new and improved barriers, so of 187 miles of construction, 172 had a border barrier that replaced dilapidated or outdated designs while the other 15 miles were given a barrier for the first time.
On other occasions, Trump has spun a grain of truth into a highly misleading assertion.
For instance, when he said during the coronavirus pandemic that "we're setting record job numbers," he could back this up with record-setting month-over-month employment increases in May and June 2020. But these gains followed massive job reductions in April, and the two months of gains brought back 37% of the jobs lost in April. We rated this Mostly False.
Sometimes Trump’s misstatements came from taking an opponent’s quotes out of context. In one case, he said that a video showed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden saying "we can only re-elect Donald Trump." In reality, Biden stumbled in a campaign speech in which he called for Democratic Party unity, and Trump was referencing a deceptively edited video. We also rated this statement Mostly False.
As for False ratings, Trump has notched 42 of them in 2020 alone.
For instance, he said, "The entire city (of Portland) is ablaze all the time." Our reporting found that some fires were set, often in trash cans or dumpsters, and were largely limited to specific areas of downtown.
Trump also said that 99% of coronavirus cases "are totally harmless." We found that official data shows a cumulative case death rate of 4.5%, and about 4% of new cases require hospitalization. In addition, doctors are beginning to see longer-term impacts on patients who had mild cases that never sent them to the hospital.
The most ridiculous claims we’ve heard earned our lowest rating, Pants on Fire. Trump had 31 Pants on Fire ratings in 2020, out of 140 overall since 2011.
In many cases, Trump insisted on making a claim even though incontrovertible evidence was easily available.
For instance, he said, "I never called John (McCain) a loser," even though he had called McCain a "loser" at a televised event in Ames, Iowa, on July 18, 2015. Trump also said that he was the one who gave the nickname "Mad Dog" to former Defense Secretary James Mattis. But Mattis’ nickname dates back at least as far as 2004, when it was used in the headline of a Los Angeles Times article. That was 12 years before Trump first used the nickname publicly.
In other cases, Trump’s statements were simply made up from whole cloth.
For instance, he said Biden "will destroy your protections for pre-existing conditions." In reality, Biden wants to protect the Affordable Care Act, the health care law signed by President Barack Obama (when Biden was vice president) that created protections for people with pre-existing conditions. By contrast, Trump and Republicans have tried for years to get rid of the act.
Trump also said that "the only way (the Democrats are) going to win is by a rigged election." But as we noted, elections are administered in thousands of local areas nationwide, each with safeguards, making any attempt to "rig" a national election highly improbable. More to the point, Trump is an incumbent facing significant political challenges, most notably the coronavirus pandemic.
"It will not take a rigged election for Trump to lose, just the ordinary workings of electoral accountability in a democracy," Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political scientist, told us for that fact-check.
PolitiFact, main index page for fact-checks of Donald Trump, accessed Sept. 24, 2020
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