Setting the Record Straight on Obama’s Record

Political Myth: According to PolitiFact.com, President Obama has kept only 37% of his campaign promises.

Reality: That’s not the whole story

Explanation

PolitiFact.com is generally a reliable source of information when it comes to determining the accuracy of a claim made in the political world.  In a sense, it falls within the same family as FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, and this site.  But as with any other source of information — even one that holds itself as a “fact checking” site — it is important to treat statements attributed to PolitiFact.com with the same healthy dose of skepticism as those attributed to any other media outlet.

PolitiFact maintains a section on its website called the “Obameter,” in which it lists a total of 508 promises Obama has made, and classifies them as “Promise Kept,” “Compromise,” “Promise Broken,” “Stalled,” or “In the Works.”  In that framework, out of the promises that PolitiFact selected, as of today Politifact classifies 188 (37%) of Obama’s promises as “kept,” 13% as “compromised,” “10%” as “stalled” [meaning that others, such as Congress, are preventing him from acting on the promise], and 24% as “in the works.”  That leaves 15% of the 508 promises PolitiFact selected as “broken.”

The claim that “President Obama has kept only 37% of his campaign promises,” is deceptive for two reasons: First, by not enumerating the various categories that PolitiFact places Obama’s promises into, the statement implies that the 63% of Obama’s promises that were not “kept” must have been “broken.”  Second, it assumes without analysis that the 508 promises that PolitiFact chose to evaluate are a representative sample of the entire universe of all of the promises Obama has made.  Although the “Obamameter” is a very useful source of information, it is probably best looked at as a qualitative rather than quantitative resource.  In other words, it’s a good place to go if you want to find out whether Obama kept his promise on A or is working on B, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that a president who “kept” 35% of his promises is necessarily better than one who “kept” only 28% of them.

Those who wish to continue using PolitiFact as a source of quantitative information despite the above caveat may be interested to know that according to PolitiFact, the Republicans in Congress have kept only 19% of their promises.  However, even fewer conclusions can be drawn from that, since PolitiFact hasn’t yet gotten around to rating 44% of Congressional Republicans’ promises.

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