In this unusual presidential election, one political tradition has remained intact: flooding the airwaves with campaign ads.
Before your commercial breaks are finally free of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Nov. 9, we’re taking a deep dive into claims from those ominous voiceovers and scrolling text. Our friends at the Political TV Ad Archive rounded up the top 10 most-aired presidential ads from the largest markets in key swing states, and we assessed them for accuracy.
Reflective of the candidates’ spending on ads, only three of the most prolific spots come from the Trump campaign. Clinton and her affiliates, meanwhile, have won the ad campaign with a variety of attack ads and a sprinkling of positive messaging.
The ads also mirror the 2016 election’s negative tone; seven of the ads in our count are attack ads. The anti-Clinton ones exaggerate or give misleading impressions of Clinton’s record, while the anti-Trump hits, which largely use Trump’s own words against him, don’t always afford his comments the proper context.
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Here are the most-aired ads of 2016, fact-checked:
In this 30-second ad from Priorities USA, a super PAC backing Clinton, a 17-year-old disabled cancer survivor says he doesn’t want a president who would make fun of him.
It includes a clip of Trump flailing his arms and saying in an agitated voice, “Ahh, I don’t know what I said! Ah, I don’t remember!”
The ad’s charge is accurate. Trump was imitating New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition which limits the movement of his joints.
After inciting outrage from disability advocates, Trump admitted to imitating Kovaleski, but denied knowing about his disability or remembering the reporter at all. But that flies in the face of what Trump said about Kovaleski at the very same rally: “a nice reporter” and a “poor guy” who “you gotta see.”
This ad from Trump’s campaign replays a clip of Clinton asking, “Why aren’t I 50 points ahead?” (The comment came during a video conference with the Laborers’ International Union of North America.)
An announcer then answers, “Maybe it’s because the director of the FBI said you lied about your emails. Or maybe it’s because your policies have allowed ISIS and terrorism to spread, or maybe it’s because you called Americans ‘deplorables.’”
These attacks on Clinton are exaggerated.
First, FBI Director James Comey has said that there is no “basis to conclude she lied to the FBI” about her email practices in closed-door interviews with the bureau. Comey has also pointedly declined to comment on whether Clinton’s public remarks have been accurate. (PolitiFact rated one of Clinton’s public remarks, that she never sent or received classified information on her email server, False.)
Second, while there is an argument to be made that Clinton-backed policies — such as the decision to intervene in Libya — contributed to ISIS’ growth, the ad ignores other factors. For one, the roots of ISIS trace back to 2004, before Clinton was secretary of state.
As for Clinton calling Americans “deplorables,” the ad is oversimplifying Clinton’s much-criticized comment about half of Trump’s supporters (not all Americans) belonging to a “basket of deplorables” for being “sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic.”
In this ad from the Clinton campaign, a former nuclear missile launch officer says the thought of Trump with nuclear weapons scares him, interwoven with clips of Trump saying: “I would bomb the s--- out of them,” “I want to be unpredictable” and “I love war.”
These comments are cherry-picked and give a misleading impression that Trump has advocated for haphazardly using nuclear weapons.
Trump did say he loves war before adding “in a certain way, but only when we win.” He does not mention nuclear weapons.
Overall, Trump has said he wouldn’t rule out using nuclear weapons but intends to keep them as a last resort. He’s also promised that war wouldn’t be his first instinct and has said nuclear proliferation is the “biggest problem, to me, in the world.”
This Clinton campaign ad compiles clips of Clinton through the years talking about her dedication to the welfare of children.
The record shows the issue has been a major focus of hers for the past 35 years. Clinton’s first job out of law school was at the Children’s Defense Fund. As first lady of Arkansas, she was active in education, child welfare and poverty. As first lady of the United States, Clinton promoted legislation that created the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides healthcare to 8 million children.
Trump mocking a disabled reporter is again highlighted in this ad from the Clinton campaign. The spot features a pro-Clinton Republican voter with an autistic son who says Trump’s behavior toward the disabled was “disqualifying” and that Clinton has a record of bipartisanship.
PolitiFact has reported that there is evidence that Clinton has worked with Republicans while serving in the Senate. About 26 percent of the bills she sponsored had support from across the aisle.
Contrasting Clinton’s establishment roots with Trump’s outsider status, this ad from the Trump campaign claims Clinton has actually made things worse: “Taxes went up. Terrorism spread. Jobs vanished.”
The charges leave out important context or are flat-out wrong. And needless to say, they inflate the influence Clinton had as first lady, senator and secretary of state.
The top marginal individual tax rate did increase from 31 percent to 39.6 percent from 1992, the year before Bill Clinton became president, to today, but there are also more tax brackets and a lower bottom rate.
At the same time, Americans aren’t taxed that much more than they were 25 years ago. Taxes made up about 9 percent of revenue (expressed as a percentage of GDP) in 1992 and about 10 percent in 2014.
According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, terrorism is more widespread today than in 2000, the year before the Sept. 11 attacks, and deaths from terrorist attacks have increased somewhat consistently in the past 15 years. But Georgetown University professor Daniel Byman contends that there were many more terrorist attacks in the 1970s and 1980s than today.
The unemployment rate was 7.4 percent at the end of 1992. It is currently 5 percent, as of September 2016, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Of course, it goes without saying that Clinton was not unilaterally responsible for any of these things.
Clinton addresses voters directly in this ad from her campaign, and promises good schools, affordable college and a strong economy with job opportunities.
Education is a key plank of Clinton’s platform. Her campaign website highlights pledges to invest in early childhood education (including universal preschool), rebuild schools and eliminate tuition at in-state public colleges for families making less than $125,000 a year. Clinton also proposes to invest at least $900 billion over 10 years in infrastructure spending, higher education, energy and research, housing and other areas.
This upbeat ad from the Trump campaign outlines a few of his tax and economic proposals: a 20 percent tax rate deduction for families making under $60,000 a year, paid maternity leave for working moms and the business tax rate cut from 35 percent to 15 percent.
Under Trump, parents could get up to a $5,000 deduction in their child care costs on their taxes.
Trump’s tax plan would slash the top marginal rate for couples making $60,000 (roughly the middle quintile of income earners) from 15 percent to 12 percent, equal to a 20 percent rate deduction.
But according to the Tax Policy Center, this translates to just a 1.8 percent change in after-tax income, if you factor in Trump’s plans for tax credits, deductions and exemptions.
Audio of Trump talking disparagingly about women provides the voiceover in this Clinton campaign ad.
The highlighted insults are accurate. “I’d look her right in that fat ugly face of hers,” “she’s a slob,” and “she ate like a pig” are Trump takedowns of comedian Rosie O’Donnell. “A person who’s flat-chested is very hard to be 10” refers to actress Nicollette Sheridan. And “Does she have a good body? No. Does she have a fat a--? Absolutely” was Trump’s 2013 assessment of Kim Kardashian.
But the last excerpted audio — Trump admitting “I can’t say” that he treats women with respect — omits the context of Trump’s remarks, in which he also said he did treat women with respect.
This ad from Priorities USA features audio of Trump calling his temperament his strongest asset before cutting to a litany of inflammatory remarks. The remarks don’t include any context of what Trump was talking about. Here are the excerpted clips with context:
• “I’d like to punch him in the face, I’ll tell you,” referring to a protester
• “I would bomb the s--- out of them,” referring to ISIS and their oil assets
• “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters,” referring to the loyalty of his voters
• “And you can tell them to go f--- themselves,” referring to businesses that left the United States
• “Get him out of here! Get him out of here!” referring to a Black Lives Matter protester who interrupted his rally
The ad then fades to a scrolling text of Trump’s name as the audio of Trump continues to play, “Get the hell out of here.” Again, that’s in reference to the protester, and not Trump himself.
Politifact Florida is a partnership between The Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald to check out truth in politics.