The Problem with PolitiFact and Their ‘Fact Checks’

by Greg Pollowitz

I’ve been checking out old Fact-Checks from PolitFact of late and found this one pretty egregious. Here they check the claim by Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen and his statement, “the employer mandate “affects only 5 percent of businesses in this country.”

Only 5 percent. That’s important, because here’s PolitiFact’s conclusion (emphasis mine):

Van Hollen said that 5 percent of businesses would be affected by the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act. While different surveys produce different numbers, the Census Bureau has been in this line of work longer than any other body, and its data show that 3.6 percent of firms employ 50 or more workers. That is the group for which the mandate would apply; other firms are too small. The Congressional Research Service relied on the Census data. We found no one who challenged the Census numbers.

So Van Hollen’s figures are correct. However, his claim focuses our attention on the number of firms, which makes the mandate issue look small. But when seen through the lens of individual workers, it is a bigger deal. How big is difficult to say but the significance is larger than the 5 percent number he used.

In PolitiFact terms, the statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information.

We rate the claim Mostly True.

How can they rule Van Hollen is mostly true when in their own admission, they write “when seen through the lens of individual workers, it is a bigger deal”? They should be fact-checking Van Hollen’s use of the word “only” and not his 5 percent figure.

And, as contrary to what PolitiFact states, it’s not terribly “difficult” to determine the exact number. I used the same information that PolitiFact used above to to arrive at “3.6 percent of firms employ 50 or more workers” and found that this equates to 80.5 million workers or 72 percent of the workforce.

So if you define “only” as affecting 80.5 million workers, than yes, PolitiFact is accurate. But since doing so is moronic, this fact-check is worthless.