Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump has made a consistent habit of calling Democratic presumptive nominee Secretary Hillary Clinton "crooked" and "lyin,'" though as with much of American elections, there is more rhetoric than substantive backing. Fortunately, the website PolitiFact does research the candidates' (and others') statements to determine whether they are more truthful or "truthiness" or flat-out "pants on fire."
They categorize statements into six different groups: true, mostly true, half true, mostly false, false, or pants on fire. Aggregating for the presidential candidates and other prominent contemporary figures (Obama, Biden, McConnell, Reid, Ryan, Pelosi) the share of statements rated as some degree of false (that is, the sum of mostly false, false, and pants on fire), I compared the candidates in the graph below.
It is worth emphasizing that none of the people below are entirely innocent. Indeed, the lowest share of false statements is 23% (by Martin O'Malley), and among those who remained prominent on the political stage, Obama is at 26%, Clinton at 27%, and Sanders is at 29%. But that's all to say that a good outcome is to have no more than a quarter to a third of political statements be inaccurate. Surely we can (or should) do better than that.
What is perhaps more striking is the other end of the spectrum, at which one finds Ben Carson (82%) and Donald Trump (76%), though Carson's rank is not as reliably scored given the far fewer number of fact-checked statements (such is true of those who dropped out of contention early). The more serious presidential hopefuls who challenged Trump to the nomination and garnered delegates were also found to have made a number of inaccurate statements, with 65% of Ted Cruz's statements some degree of false, while 41% of Rubio's comments were rated as such, as were 33% of Kasich's.
There also appears to be some variation across issue areas in the extent to which we see honest reporting (see below). While the extent of false statements is relatively lower in the domains of housing (36%), the economy (37%), and civil rights and education (tied at 38%), it is quite a bit higher within the domains of gay and lesbian rights (50%), immigration (51%), unions (52%), and health care (54%). (Ironically, 46% of the statements concerning ethics were rated as some degree of false). The high prevalence of the issues of LBGT rights, immigration, and healthcare in this election season gives ample reason to be concerned as to the quality of reporting from the candidates and their surrogates.
The reality of political campaigns is that things are fast-paced, which can hinder having a great degree of care with respect to campaign statements and the like. Moreover, political spin with respect to one's own (or one's party's) successes or the shortcomings of the opposition can lead in many cases to some degree of misleading. However, for the sake of the integrity of the American election process, we should hold our candidates accountable and compel better accuracy in the statements made at events and on television. After all, ordinary Americans are not the ones spending hours on PolitiFact determining to what extent allegations regarding refugees or foreign affairs or job growth are indeed accurate, particularly when the issues being debated are crucial to securing votes. Moreover, if Trump is going to continue to call others lyin', he should do a better job of addressing first the "truthiness" of his own record.