Who Lies More: A Comparison

Who Lies More: A Comparison

It recently came to my attention that a graph I created and shared on an online forum has become rather popular. Dan Savage, journalists from CNN, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and The Verge have all shared the graph on Twitter, Facebook, and other websites. See below:


Many people are also asking questions, such as when it was created, why it includes certain names but excludes others, whether or not statements have been cherry-picked, and what I wanted people to take from it. These are all valid questions and, with the launch of this blog, I can now answer them.

When was this graph created?

I created this graph in March 2016, which makes it a couple months old. When I update it, the results will probably not look much different given the large sample size of statements for each listed politician. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had 171 and 111 rated statements, respectively, when this chart was made.

How did I choose which candidates to show?

Basically, I used PolitiFact’s search function to look at every candidate’s scorecard and compiled the data into a spreadsheet. I then sorted the data based on the percentage of statements that are mostly false or worse and generated the chart to compare. I only recorded candidates who have more than 50 graded statements so that the results carry more weight. There simply isn’t enough data on politicians like Martin O’Malley, who has only 18 scored statements, to make any meaningful inference on their truthfulness. At the same time, I included candidates as far back as 2008 (the earliest election cycle in which PolitiFact existed) to widen the list.

Did I cherry-pick statements?

No. I tallied the rulings for all graded statements for each listed candidate. Perhaps the next question is: does PolitiFact itself cherry-pick statements? The short answer here is also no, but it requires more consideration. Obviously, not every comment can be fact-checked. Determining which statements to grade, and then what ruling to assign, is not entirely without subjectivity. However, PolitiFact is transparent in their process, which its editors explain here. They apply consistent logic, thoroughly break down each ruling, and leave room for changes in case further information requires a fresh look.

The bottom line

What is interesting about this graph — and the reason I shared it in the first place — is that it illustrates that a) every politician lies, b) some politicians lie far more than others, and, most importantly, c) one party faction in particular lies more than the others. It is the far-right Republicans who appear to be the worst offenders when it comes to telling falsehoods, in contrast to the more frequently truthful Democrats and moderate Republicans.

I should note that this graph does not compare the seriousness of the lies. Hillary Clinton fares well in this comparison, but that does not imply the lies she has told are not without consequence. If you still question the validity of these results, your issue is with PolitiFact — I am just visualizing their data.

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17 thoughts on “Who Lies More: A Comparison

  1. Thank you for the explanation! I’ve been looking all over online for this, because your chart got posted so many places, and I don’t just blindly repost without understanding the source.

    I agree with your bottom line – that all politicians lie to some degree, and that the graph only compares the data, not the seriousness of the lie.

    1. Hi Anna, I’m glad you found it helpful. I agree that it’s always prudent to check the source of information.

    2. If you repost this chart anywhere you are blindly reposting without regard to fact anyone with half a shred of common sense and an internet connection can see this chart is biased at least and completely reversed at best, gogo Politifarce

  2. This is a terrific graphic, thoroughly useful as is.
    I would, however, be curious to see a modified version with the following ideas incorporated.

    1. Not all lies (or truths!) are created equal. Conceding the unavoidable added subjectivity, it would be neat to add a weighting to each contributing statement. “Ted Cruz’ father participated in the assassination of JFK” is a different statement than “We love the uneducated!”

    2. Reduce the multi-color bar to a single bar by weighting each category of veracity, say, on a linear scale. This would, perhaps, yield a shorter bar for HRC than for BHO.

  3. This is a well done graph, and I certainly agree with your conclusions. But there is one giant elephant in the room: Politifact *chooses* which statements to grade for truth. There is no science or metric to how they select a statement, much less a science or metric to demonstrate the gravity of any particular truth or lie. For that reason, I unfortunately don’t think any of this post is meaningful–the data simply doesn’t support your conclusion in any way. I hope I don’t sound too harsh!

    1. You are correct that this isn’t a scientific graph, and I would never claim it as such. PolitiFact does try to apply a consistent method in grading statements, so I respectfully disagree that comparing their results is meaningless. It may not be 100% objective, but with a large enough sample size the overall pattern is notable.

  4. There are two giant elephants at least. Another is who is afraid of being caught. I think a partial explanation of the right’s tendency is their indifference, knowing that their constituency is indifferent to the truth value of what they say. Bernie, imo, would be more damaged among his advocates by being caught lying than, say, Trump, whose followers are indifferent.

    1. This implies that Bernie would lie more if he thought he could get away with it? No. He can use the truth to make his points. The right may be indifferent but are also tolerant of using lies to square the corners of their arguments. It is self-deception in the exercise of general deception. Does the left engage in it also? Look at the chart.

  5. I laugh when Trump supporters call Hillary by the grade school name Hil liar y. While not a girl scout her lies pale in comparison, in both quality, and quantity.

  6. Hi. Thoroughly enjoyed this. Great factual representation of important concepts is great. Keep up the good work. This is, as Im sure you know how Nate Silver got started, and I’m pretty sure he is no longer, if he ever was, sitting at home living with his mother. (meaningless comment meeting you might have a great future)

  7. It took me a few seconds to figure out the chart and for the simple-minded, they may never get it.

    Could you please post a y-axis label on the left. You know, arrows pointing up and down that say “Lies less…” and “Lies more…”


  8. Here are updated stats as of today on Politifact:

    Name True Mostly True Half True Mostly False False Pants on Fire
    B Clinton 9 11 12 4 2 3
    Obama 121 163 158 69 71 9
    H Clinton 53 67 51 34 27 5
    Sanders 14 41 21 18 12 0
    J Bush 14 24 17 17 5 2
    Kasich 16 18 10 9 8 3
    Biden 13 16 21 10 10 4
    Christie 21 19 27 10 17 8
    R Paul 11 12 10 7 8 3
    Rubio 19 33 31 33 21 4
    Romney 30 33 58 34 32 19
    Ryan 9 12 15 18 6 2
    McCain 37 37 30 31 39 8
    Walker 22 40 32 26 41 11
    Perry 26 23 42 30 30 18
    Gingrich 6 10 18 15 15 11
    Palin 14 6 8 9 19 6
    Santorum 6 7 13 12 16 5
    Cruz 7 18 15 35 31 8
    Trump 9 24 32 33 79 41

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