Tuesday, February 14, 2017

PolitiFact California "fact": Undocumented immigrants count as Americans

The secret formula for finding PolitiFact mistakes: Just look at what fact PolitiFact is checking, try to imagine how a biased liberal would flub the fact check, then look to see if that mistake occurred.

PolitiFact California makes this technique work like magic. Case in point:

We wondered if PolitiFact California and Gov. Brown count undocumented immigrants as "Californians." We wondered if PolitiFact California would even concern itself over who counts as a "Californian."

The answer? No. And PolitiFact California made its mistake even more fundamental by putting a twist on what Gov. Brown claimed. This was the statement Brown made from his 2017 state of the state address:
This is California, the sixth most powerful economy in the world. One out of every eight Americans lives right here and 27 percent – almost eleven million – were born in a foreign land.
Brown did not say 27 percent of "Californians" are foreign-born. In context, he said 27 percent of the Americans (U.S citizens) in California are foreign born. If Brown had referred to "Californians," the dictionary would have given him some cover. A resident of California can qualify as a "Californian."

But Merriam-Webster provides no such cover for the definition of "American":


Only one of the four definitions fits the context of Brown's claim. That is definition No. 3.

The problem for Brown and PolitiFact California? Both relied on Census Bureau data. The Census Bureau counts citizens and non-citizens in its population survey. About 3 million of California's population  (Kaiser Family Foundation estimates about 5 million) do not hold American citizenship and do not count as "American" by definition No. 3. Subtract 3 million from the number PolitiFact California used as the number of Californians, and subtract 3 million from the number of foreign-born California residents, and the percentage of foreign-born Americans in California (definition No. 3) comes up as 22 percent, not 27 percent.

If the true number of undocumented Californians is 5 million then the percentage drops below 18 percent.

Gov. Brown's figure is off by at least 5 percentage points, representing a percentage error of almost 23 percent. And PolitiFact California found it completely true:
Gov. Jerry Brown claimed in his State of the State Address that 27 percent of Californians, almost 11 million, "were born in a foreign land."

A 2015 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau verifies that statistic. Additionally, a researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, which studies the state’s immigration and demographic patterns, confirmed the census report is the best authority on California’s foreign born population.

We rate Brown's claim True.

TRUE – The statement is accurate and there’s nothing significant missing.
To us, this looks like a classic case of a journalist's liberal bias damping proper skepticism. This type of mistake was predictable. We predicted it. And PolitiFact California delivered it.

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