Apr 30, 2021
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About this Deal
The first 100 days of a US president’s tenure often mark the progress and promise of a young administration. Much can be accomplished during a president’s first 100 days, which is why pundits use it to signal each administration’s activity level.
Instead of investigating the first 100 days in terms of productivity or promises kept, let’s look at another characteristic: honesty. It is important to hold leaders accountable to the truth, especially early in their presidency.
The Washington Post suggests President Donald Trump told 30,573 false or misleading statements over 4 years. Based on this number, he is clearly a prolific liar.
But, were his lies observable during the first 100 days? Crucially, how does President Trump compare to other leaders such as President Biden and President Obama?
I collected data from PolitiFact, a nonprofit site that fact-checks politicians and other personalities. PolitiFact has consistent standards across politicians they fact-check and will only review statements that are verifiable, give a false impression, are significant to the public, are likely to be shared, and are likely to be questioned by others. PolitiFact categorizes statements into one of six groups:
(1) True, (2) Mostly true, (3) Half true, (4) Mostly false, (5) False, and (6) Pants on fire.
For simplicity, I collapsed all statements into two groups (true or false). The half true and mostly false categories were excluded because they have mixed evidence (partially true or partially false statements).
In his first 100 days, President Trump had 29 statements assessed by PolitiFact (17 false) compared to 12 statements from President Obama (1 false) and 4 statements from President Biden (2 false). As a raw count, Trump told more falsehoods than Biden and Obama combined.
We can also look at these data as a percent of all fact-checked statements per president, during each 100-day period.
Still, President Trump told more false statements than President Biden and President Obama during their first 100 days. President Obama was the most honest president in the first 100 days compared to Presidents Biden and Trump.
President Biden’s deception rate might still appear high, but the number of fact-checked statements is small (4). Biden’s statement count might be low because many claims did not meet PolitiFact’s criteria for fact-checking.
In other words, President Biden might simply be an uncontroversial speaker.
Finally, what did each president lie about during their first 100 days as president? Biden’s false statements discussed the minimum wage and immigration patterns in the US. Trump, on the other hand, falsely discussed US murder rates, immigration and refugees, and that he didn’t know Steve Bannon before his presidential campaign. Finally, Obama’s false statement concerned US math education trends.
These results are perhaps unsurprising. Politicians often lie for a reason, but it’s clear that some presidents show an early taste for deception more than others.
At the time of this writing, President Trump was a more deceptive president than President Biden or President Obama in their first 100 days.