I have a funny feeling we will be seeing a lot of this chart during the presidential campaign.
(PolitiFact) — A reader recently pointed us to a post on the website of MoveOn.org, a liberal group. The post features a bar graph titled, “Who Increased the Debt?” that offers figures for the past five presidents:
Ronald Reagan: Up 189 percent
George H.W. Bush: Up 55 percent
Bill Clinton: Up 37 percent
George W. Bush: Up 115 percent
Barack Obama: Up 16 percent
We can see why a liberal group would tout such numbers, since — if accurate — they offer powerful counterevidence to the claims by conservatives that President Barack Obama has been a spendthrift who’s set the nation on an unsustainable fiscal path.
But the reader who sent it to us was surprised to see the debt increase under Obama was so small. So we decided to check the numbers.
The chart actually comes from a Flickr page belonging to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who posted it on May 5, 2011. Specifically, the chart tracks “percent increase in public debt” for the five presidents during the following time periods — January 1981 to January 1989 (Reagan), January 1989 to January 1993 (George H.W. Bush), January 1993 to January 2001 (Clinton), January 2001 to January 2009 (George W. Bush), and January 2009 to April 2011 (Obama).
They gave it their “pants of fire” rating:
Reagan: Up 14.9 percentage points
George H.W. Bush: Up 7.1 percentage points
Clinton: Down 13.4 percentage points
George W. Bush: Up 5.6 percentage points
Obama: Up 21.9 percentage points (through December 2010 only)
So by this measurement — potentially a more important one — Obama is the undisputed debt king of the last five presidents, rather than the guy who added a piddling amount to the debt, as Pelosi’s chart suggested. Of course, all this goes to show that statistics can be used — and misused — to bolster almost any argument. . . .
But in communicating which administrations contributed the most to growth of the debt, this chart is a failure. We rate it Pants on Fire.
HT: Ed M.