The Mitt and Rudy Show: Lies, damn lies, and statistics
"Under Governor Romney, spending went up in Massachusetts, per capita, by 8 percent. Under me [in New York] spending went down by 7 percent...I brought taxes down by 17 percent. Under him, taxes went up 11 percent per capita."
"It's baloney. Mayor, you've got to check your facts. No taxes -- I did not increase taxes in Massachusetts. I lowered taxes...My spending grew 2.2 percent a year. Yours grew 2.8 percent a year."
--Republican Debate, Dearborn, Michigan, October 10, 2007. Full transcript here.
It sounds like one of those primitive schoolyard fights. "Yah, boo, you stink. My Play Station is better than yours." "No, you stink. I have a better TV set."
So which, if either of them, is telling the truth? The former mayor of New York or the former governor of Massachusetts?
This seems an appropriate time to cite a quote popularized by Mark Twain: "There are three kinds of lies--lies, damn lies, and statistics." They can't both be right, or can they? By playing around with the figures, and choosing data selectively, it is possible to make yourself look good and your opponent look bad without telling an outright lie. That appears to be what is happening in this case.
The volley of statistical charges and counter-charges did little to illuminate the fiscal records of either Romney or Giuliani and left experts scratching their heads. At times, it was difficult to know what the candidates were talking about or where they had got their information. Michael Widmer, executive director of the non-partisan Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, summed up the general bewilderment. "I have watched campaigns for decades and, even by the standards of statistics being misused, [Tuesday] night was excessive."
Let us go through the most significant claims one by one:
UPDATE: The Giuliani campaign now says that the eight percent figure represents the difference between Romney's proposed budgets in 2003 and 2007, adjusted for inflation and population. Leaving aside the fact that proposed budgets are not the same as actual budgets, these figures still seem out of line with those cited by Widmer. Giuliani appears to be including projected expenditures after Romney left office.
The Pinocchio Test
By using selective statistics, candidates can make virtually any claim they want about their record, or the records of their opponents. Usually, they get away with it, as reporters are too busy describing the verbal fireworks to check the underlying data.
On this particular occasion, both Giuliani and Romney have played loose with the facts. Since Romney's sins are mainly those of omission and exaggeration, we award him two Pinocchios.
Giuliani gets three Pinocchios for constructing a verbal smokescreen that is difficult to penetrate for anyone without a degree in statistics. His assertions depend on complicated definitions of "per capita" spending unintelligible to non-experts, and confusing to non-partisan groups such as the New York Independent Budget Office and the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. If you are a professional statistician, and want chapter and verse on his "I slashed Gotham spending" claim, you are welcome to begin here.(About our rating scale.)
| October 11, 2007; 2:00 PM ET
Categories: 2 Pinocchios, 3 Pinocchios, Candidate Record, Candidate Watch, Economy
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