CNN aired the first Democratic presidential debate Tuesday featuring five candidates, including former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Not every candidate uttered facts that are easily fact checked, but following is a list of 12 suspicious or interesting claims. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios when we do a roundup of facts in debates.
"What democratic socialism is about is saying that it is immoral and wrong that the top one-tenth of 1 percent in this country own almost 90 percent - almost - own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. That it is wrong, today, in a rigged economy, that 57 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent."
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
The first part of Sanders's statement is based on a 2014 working paper by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman that found that wealth has become increasingly concentrated among the super-wealthy, especially in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The average wealth of bottom 90 percent - 144 million families with average wealth of $84,000 - had increased in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, but then collapsed in the financial crisis.
The top 1/10 of one percent is comprised of 160,000 families with net assets of at least $20 million. These families saw their share of wealth increase from seven percent of total household wealth in the 1970s to 22 percent in 2012; by contrast, the bottom 90 percent saw their share of wealth drop from 35 percent in the mid-1980s to 23 percent in 2012. As Sanders noted, that means the top 0.1 percent own almost as much as the bottom 90 percent.
There is some evidence that the situation may have improved since 2012. Sanders used to say that 70 percent of all new income is going to the top one percent based on another Saez study, but he had to shift his rhetoric after Saez in June updated that study with figures dating to 2014. The new numbers showed that the top one percent captured 58 percent of total real income growth. "The recovery from the Great Recession now looks less lopsided than in previous years," Saez said.
Sanders gets props for being up to date on the literature.
"African American youth unemployment is 51 percent. Hispanic youth unemployment is 36 percent."
This is a favorite talking point of Sanders's, and he often clarifies that he is referring to the "real unemployment." But in his opening statement, he exaggerated this talking point with misleading wording. Sanders is not referring to actual unemployment rates, but the broadest measure of underemployment.
Sanders's figures come from a report by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. (Our friends at PolitiFact and FactCheck.org have fact-checked this claim, and Sanders's staff has pointed to this report.) The report shows that minority youths are less likely to have a job than white youths, and that black youths traditionally have had high unemployment rates.
Sanders's statistics refer to high school graduates between 17 and 20 years old and not enrolled in additional schooling. This report is different from the official unemployment rate as published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. BLS does not specifically break out data for the 17- to 20-year-old age range. Instead, this report looks at employment status for high school graduates who are unemployed, working part-time and "marginally attached to the labor force" (meaning, "those who want a job and have looked for work in the last year but have given up actively seeking work in the last four weeks"). It uses the broadest measure of underemployment, called the U-6 measure of labor underutilization.
"I'd shut down what exists right now is that virtually every telephone call in this country ends up in a file at the NSA. That is unacceptable to me."
Sanders appears to be referring to call metadata program under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, but he wrongly suggests that that content is collected. Moreover, the program he says he would shut down as president would be ended long before the next election.
The NSA program, secretly initiated in 2001 under executive power and approved by the surveillance court in 2006, has collected metadata from billions of phone calls from an unknown number of large phone companies. Such data includes the number, time and duration of calls, but not the content.
Congress passed legislation in June ending the program and barring the government from collecting phone and other records in bulk. Nevertheless, the NSA can continue to do so until Nov. 29 as it transitions the collection effort to phone companies, to whom the government can direct queries with court approval.
The NSA can collect call content on individuals in the United States with a court order based on probable cause that the person is an agent of a foreign power. Under the PRISM program, the NSA can collect without an individual warrant calls on targets who are not US persons and who are overseas and who talk to someone in the U.S., but that's not indiscriminate collection of everyone's phone calls.
"The economy does better when you have a Democrat in the White House."
- Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
Clinton draws this claim from a 2014 paper by Alan S. Blinder and Mark W. Watson of Princeton University, which did indeed find this connection. But the conclusion also said that the data at this point did not support a claim that this was due to macroeconomic policy choices.
"Both fiscal and monetary policy actions seem to be a bit more stabilizing when a Republican is president - even though Federal Reserve chairmen appointed by Democrats preside over faster growth than Federal Reserve chairmen appointed by Republicans by a wide margin," the paper said. "It seems we must look instead to several variables that are mostly "good luck," with perhaps a touch of "good policy."
"Take the trade deal. I did say, when I was secretary of state, three years ago, that I hoped it would be the gold standard. It was just finally negotiated last week, and in looking at it, it didn't meet my standards."
Clinton is subtly adjusting her words here when confronted with a question about her consistency on policy positions.
But the fact is she never used the word "hoped." Instead, she was more declarative.
"This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field," she said in Australia in 2012. "And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world's total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment."
"He could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower."
-Clinton, referring to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden
This is a complicated subject, but The Fact Checker once dived deeply into this question after Snowden asserted that contractors (such as him) were not covered by whistleblower protection. We concluded that "he cannot quite make the blanket claim that there are no protections for contractors, but he may have been correct in believing that there appear to be no clear protections, especially from retaliation."
In other words, Clinton is likely wrong that Snowden would have received the protections of a whistleblower.
"Our middle class is shrinking. Our poor families are becoming poorer. And 70 percent of us are earning the same or less than we were 12 years ago."
- Former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley
O'Malley's general point has merit - that a large portion of Americans saw wage stagnation over a recent 12-year period. But this statement is based in outdated data and it is unclear exactly who he is referring to when he says "70 percent of us."
His statement is based in June 2014 research by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, which show broad stagnation for American families and the economy from 2001 to 2013. Since then, however, real wages and earnings have increased broadly, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show. O'Malley refers to "earnings" - according to BLS data, average weekly earnings of non-supervisory employees increased by 5.3 percent from August 2003 to August 2015.
EPI's data on hourly wages for the 10th through 60th percentiles in 2013 were lower, or relatively flat compared to their hourly wages in 2001. The trend begins to change in the 70th percentile, whose 2013 hourly wages were slightly higher than in 2001.
O'Malley says "70 percent of us" are earning the same or less. That can be interpreted to apply to 70 percent of individual Americans, or Americans at the 70th percentile. The percentile data do not reflect individual Americans' wages, and instead shows the distribution of wages. So people who were in the 70th percentile in 2001 may not be in the same percentile in 2013.
"What I did was allowed by the State Department, but it wasn't the best choice."
This is Clinton's standard line, but it's a stretch. When Clinton was secretary of state, there were in place State Department rules on how to handle e-mails and whether to use a personal e-mail account. Moreover, no other previous Secretary of State set up an exclusive and private e-mail server for all of his or her departmental communications.
In 2009, just eight months after Clinton became secretary of state, the U.S. Code of federal regulations on handling electronic records was updated: "Agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that Federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system." The responsibility for making and preserving the records is assigned to "the head of each federal agency."
On top of that, when Clinton was secretary, a cable went out under her signature warning employees to "avoid conducting official Department business from your personal e-mail accounts."
In reality, Clinton's decision to use a private e-mail system for official business was unusual and flouted State Department procedures, even if not expressly prohibited by law at the time. Moreover, while she claims "what I did was allowed," she appears to have not complied with the requirement to turn over her business-related e-mails before she left government service.
"We have 27 million people living in poverty."
Sanders greatly underplays the number here. It is actually 46.7 million people, as of 2014, according to the Census Bureau. In fact, he often says "we have more people living in poverty today than almost any time in the modern history of this country" - which earned him a couple of Pinocchios because numbers were likely higher in the Great Depression.
One presumes Sanders misspoke in the debate. Perhaps he was thinking of another favorite statistic of Democrats - that Social Security kept 27 million people out of poverty.
"We should not be the country that has the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country and more wealth and income inequality than any other country."
Sanders's statements compare the U.S. to "major" countries. While the U.S. ranks among the highest in the three categories he cites, there are a few other industrialized countries that rank higher.
Sanders's staff have said the senator is comparing the U.S. to other member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. A 2014 UNICEF report showed the U.S. has among the worst childhood poverty rates out of wealthy nations. But the U.S. is behind OECD countries Greece, Spain, Israel and Mexico.
The same goes for income and wealth inequality. OECD data on income inequality show the U.S. ranked fifth in market income before taxes and transfers, and third in disposable income after taxes and transfers - the two standard measures of income inequality.
Wealth inequality is more difficult to quantify and compare between countries. OECD data show the U.S. ranked highest among 13 member nations recorded in the dataset, in terms of how much of a country's wealth was concentrated in the top 10, top five and top one percent of earners. But another widely used measure of wealth - as reported in the Credit Suisse Research Global Wealth Databook - shows the U.S. ranked lower than in the OECD data.
Host Anderson Cooper: Do you want to shield gun companies from lawsuits?
Sanders: Of course not. This was a large and complicated bill. There were provisions in it that I think made sense. For example, do I think that a gun shop in the state of Vermont that sells legally a gun to somebody, and that somebody goes out and does something crazy, that that gun shop owner should be held responsible? I don't.
The law Sanders is referring to, the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, does more than protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits if a murderer uses their gun to kill someone.
The law gives broad protections to gun manufacturers, including for negligence, and can protect them from being sued in certain types of claims relating to the gun's design. Few industries have federal liability immunity like this. (Vaccine manufacturers have limited protection from lawsuits if their vaccine led to an injury. The airline industry is immune from lawsuits arising from the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. But unlike the gun law, both cases established a compensation scheme for victims to recover money for damages.)
The law allows victims to sue if there was a design defect or a malfunction with a gun, but there have been exceptions. Notably, the Illinois Supreme Court in 2009 cited this law in dismissing a case where a young boy who was playing with his father's gun accidentally shot and killed his friend. The victim's family sued the gun manufacturer, saying the gun did not have proper safety features or proper warnings. But the court found the plaintiffs did not fit the technical definition in the law and dismissed the suit.
"We put our city on a path to reduce violent crime, Part 1 crime, by more than any major city in America over the next 10 years. … Arrests peaked in 2003, but they declined every year after that as we restored peace in our neighborhoods, so that people can actually walk and not worry about their kids and loved ones being a victim of violent crime."
There's some context missing here.
O'Malley is referring to FBI Part 1 crime data that include criminal homicide, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, arson and motor vehicle theft. The FBI warns against comparing raw crime rates between cities, because such comparisons "lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions."
O'Malley's data on Part 1 crimes check out. Baltimore's overall crime rate (number of crimes per 100,000 people) fell by 48 percent between 1999 and 2009. Baltimore saw the third highest drop in violent crimes among major cities during the period. In 1999 (the year O'Malley became mayor), Baltimore had the highest violent and property crime rate among major police agencies in the country. In 2009, the city dropped to 13th highest. But Baltimore was not alone. The city's drop in crime rates mirrored a national trend. Other major cities saw similar large drops in violent crime leading up to 2009.
O'Malley talked about the "zero-tolerance policy" - a strategy of using CompStat, a system that closely tracks arrest data and practices. Many large police departments adopted this policy after New York City began using it in 1994. This approach led to increased arrests.
O'Malley said arrests began declining as violent crime was going down. But at the peak of arrests in the city, about two-thirds of people in jail were there for non-violent offenses, according to a report by the Justice Policy Institute. A new police commissioner switched the arrest strategy to target the most violent offenders, driving down arrest numbers to 77,595 in 2009, the Baltimore Sun reported.