Thursday, June 2, 2016

PolitiFact is California dreamin'

Hans Bader of the Competitive Enterprise Institute helpfully drew our attention to a recent PolitiFact Florida item showing PolitiFact's inconsistency. PolitiFact Florida fixed the "Mostly False" label on Enterprise Florida's claim that California's minimum wage law would cost that state 700,000 jobs.

What's wrong with PolitiFact Florida's verdict?

PolitiFact justified its ruling by claiming the ad suggested that the 700,000 lost jobs would mean 700,000 fewer California jobs than when the hike went into effect:
A radio ad by Enterprise Florida said, "Seven hundred thousand. That’s how many California jobs will be lost thanks to the politicians raising the minimum wage….Now Florida is adding 1 million jobs, not losing them."

This is misleading. The 700,000 figure refers to the number of jobs California could have added by 2026 if it didn’t increase the minimum wage, not a decline in net employment.
We don't think people would be misled by the ad. People would tend to understand the loss as compared to how the economy would perform without the hike.

Back in 2014, when PolitiFact Florida looked at Gov. Scott's claim that the Congressional Budget Office projected a 500,000 job loss from a federal minimum wage hike, the fact checkers had no trouble at all figuring out the 500,000 loss was from a projected baseline.

What's the difference in this case?

Enterprise Florida, an arm of Florida's state government, contrasted California's projected job loss with Florida's gain of 1 million jobs. The changes in the states' respective job numbers can't come from the same cause. Only California is giving its minimum wage a big hike.. So if Enterprise Florida was trying to directly compare the job figures the comparison is apples-to-oranges. But PolitiFact Florida's analysis overlooked the context the ad supplied (bold emphasis added):
"Seven hundred thousand. That’s how many California jobs will be lost thanks to the politicians raising the minimum wage," the ad says, as the Miami Herald reports. "Ready to leave California? Go to Florida instead — no state income tax, and Gov. Scott has cut regulations. Now Florida is adding 1 million jobs, not losing them."
PolitiFact Florida's fact check doesn't lift a finger to examine the effects of relaxed state regulations.

Incredibly, PolitiFact Florida ignores the tense and timing of the job gains Scott lauds ("Now Florida is adding") and insists on comparing future projections of raw job growth for California and Florida, as though California's size advantage doesn't make that an apples-to-oranges comparison.

We think Enterprise Florida muddles its message with its claim Florida is adding 1 million jobs. People hearing the ad likely lack the context needed to understand the message, which we suspect is the dubious idea that Scott's cutting of regulations accounts for Florida adding 1 million jobs.

But PolitiFact Florida oversteps its role as a fact checker by assuming Scott was talking about California losing 700,000 jobs while Florida would gain 1 million at the same time and in the same sense. The ad does not explicitly compare the two figures. And it provides context cluing listeners that the numbers are not directly comparable.

PolitiFact Florida's error, in detail

We'll illustrate PolitiFact's presumption with the classic illustration of ambiguity, courtesy of

Is it a chalice? Is it two people facing one another?

The problem with ambiguity is we don't know which it is. And the Enterprise Florida ad contains an ambiguity. Those hearing the ad do not know how they are supposed to compare California's loss of 700,000 jobs with Florida's gain of 1 million jobs. We pointed out contextual clues that might help listeners figure it out, but those clues do not entirely clean up the ambiguity.

PolitiFact's problem is its failure to acknowledge the ambiguity. PolitiFact has no doubt it is seeing two people facing one another, and evaluates the ad based on its own assumptions.

The ad should have received consideration as a chalice: California's 700,000 job loss represents a poor job climate caused by hiking the minimum wage while Florida's 1 million job gain represents an employment-friendly environment thanks to no state income tax and relaxed state regulations.


PolitiFact Florida succeeded in obscuring quite a bit of truth in Enterprise Florida's ad.

Update: Adding Insult to Injury

As we moved to finish our article pointing out PolitiFact Florida's unfair interpretation of Enterprise Florida's ad, PolitiFact California published its defense of California Governor Jerry Brown's reply to Enterprise Florida:
There’s a lot to unpack there. So we focused just on Brown’s statement about California adding twice as many jobs as Florida, and whether there was any context missing. It turns out California’s job picture is not really brighter than Florida’s, at least not during the period Brown described.
Why do we call it a "defense" instead of a "fact check"?

That's easy. The statement PolitiFact California examined was a classic bit of political deception: Say something true and imply that it means something false. For some politicians, typically liberals, PolitiFact will dutifully split the difference between the trivially true factoid and the false conclusion, ending up with a fairly respectable "Half True." Yes, PolitiFact California gave Brown a "Half True" rating for his claim.

Brown tried to make California's job picture look better than Florida's using a statistic that could not support his claim.

Was Brown's claim more true than Enterprise Florida's ad? We're not seeing it. But it's pretty easy to see that PolitiFact gave Brown more favorable treatment with its "Truth-O-Meter" ratings.

Note: This item was inadvertently published with a time backdated by hours--the scheduled date was wrong. We reverted the post to draft form, added this note, and scheduled it to publish at the originally planned time.

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