Seven Republican presidential candidates participated in a Wednesday night debate in California, offering up an array of dubious data and claims to prop up their talking points.
Here are six fact-checks from the night.
The claim: Candidates said crime was overrunning US cities
While Republicans discussed fears of crime overrunning cities, it’s worth noting that the best data we have so far suggests that, after an increase in killings during the early pandemic, the number of murders across the country fell substantially last year. Crime analyst Jeff Asher has also noted that murders appear to be falling even more this year.
The 2023 drop in murders began early in the year, when Asher’s analysis of early data suggested that the “United States may be experiencing one of the largest annual percent changes in murder ever recorded”.
The claim: Mike Pence suggested the threat of the death penalty would deter people from committing mass shootings
The former vice-president volunteered his plan for preventing mass shootings in the United States: “a federal expedited death penalty for anyone involved in a mass shooting.” He said he was disgusted that the teenager who committed the Parkland school shooting did not get a death sentence.
According to the Violence Project, a research firm, “Seventy-two percent of mass shooters were suicidal either before or at the time of the shooting.”
Data from the FBI on mass shootings in 2021 and 2022 also showed that a third to nearly a half of perpetrators either died by suicide or were killed by police or other citizens during the attack.
The claims: Vivek Ramaswamy said children who are transgender have ‘a mental health disorder’ , while Mike Pence implied that children could transition without parents’ consent
Ramaswamy said: “Transgenderism, especially in kids is a mental health disorder.”
But major medical organizations, like the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, say being transgender is not a mental disorder. Gender dysphoria is recognized as a medical condition that doctors agree should be remedied by offering gender-affirming treatment.
Pence, meanwhile, misleadingly claimed: “The Linn-Mar community schools in Iowa had a policy where you could, you had to have a permission slip from your parents to get a Tylenol but you could get a gender transition plan without notifying your parents.”
Linn-Mar’s policy directed educators to use students’ chosen names, without consulting with parents. That’s a far reach from a “gender transition plan”.
Claim: Pence boasted that under his and Donald Trump’s administration, illegal immigration dropped drastically
“We reduced illegal immigration and asylum abuse by 90%,” Pence said.
In fact, the number of border patrol apprehensions was higher during the Trump administration than during the last four years of Barack Obama’s administration. There was a change in how US Customs and Border Protection reports migrant encounters during the pandemic, complicating some of this data – pre-pandemic, the agency reported enforcement actions taken under immigration law, but after, it also began reporting actions taken under the Title 42 public health policy that authorized officers to immediately send most migrants at the border back to Mexico.
Analysis by PolitiFact found that Pence’s 90% reduction figure could be approximated by comparing enforcement data from May 2019, the month that saw the highest number of apprehensions, with data from April 2020 – just as governments around the world moved to drastically restrict travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “That’s a severely cherry-picked period,” the fact-checking group writes.
Claim: Ron DeSantis denied that the Florida school curriculum suggests that enslaved people drew benefits from slavery
The Florida governor was asked about the curriculum in Florida that said enslaved people “develop skills which in some instances, could be apply for their personal benefit”.
Historians and educators decried the new teaching standard, which came after the state enacted the “Stop Woke Act” signed by DeSantis, prohibiting instruction that could cause students to feel discomfort or guilt due to their race, sex or national origin.
DeSantis decried the criticism as “a hoax that was perpetrated by Kamala Harris”, mispronouncing the vice-president’s name. In an impassioned speech reacting to the standard, Harris said: “They insult us in an attempt to gaslight us and we will not stand for it.”