Our message to PolitiFact pointing out an error in its PunditFact fact from Sept. 12, 2018 resulted in an automated response. We will update this item if we receive additional response from PolitiFact.
Message from Zebra Fact Check (Sept. 12, 2018 10:32 p.m. EDT):
A PunditFact fact check published on Sept. 12, 2018 requires correction.
The fact check examines the claim of one Joe Scarborough that the added debt in 2017 exceeds the cumulative debt over America’s first 200 years.
The fact check correctly notes that testing the claim by expressing the comparison as a percentage of GDP serves as a better measure than nominal dollars. But it goes on to describe the wrong comparison:
The chart does show that, when looking at a percentage of GDP, Scarborough is correct in his comparison. Debt as a percentage of GDP in 2017 was far higher (almost 77 percent) than it was in 1976 (about 27 percent).
While it’s true that the chart shows the debt as a percentage of GDP as 77 percent in 2017 and only 27 percent in 1976, that is not the comparison Scarborough described. To calculate the added debt for 2017 in this case one needs to calculate the 2017 deficit as a percentage of GDP (the deficit is the same as the added debt for the year). OMB numbers show the 2017 deficit as a percentage of GDP at 3.5 percent for 2017.
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Update Sept. 15, 2019: We added the “IFCN/PolitiFact Corrections 2018-2019” tag to this item, signaling it belongs with that collection of reports. We also newly included this item in the “Resource Pages” category.