Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post fact-checker gave Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) its top score of Four Pinocchios for falsely claiming that Democrats lost Michigan in 2016 because of voter suppression during the Democratic debate on Wednesday.

“We lost the state of Michigan because everybody from Republicans to Russians were targeting the suppression of African American voters.”

— Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), in remarks during the second Democratic primary debate, July 31

Booker was echoing a familiar claim by Democrats that Republicans have been actively suppressing votes in various states, but he did so without any evidence to prove his claim.

The Post said that there was no doubt that the Russians used social media to try and discourage the African-American vote in 2016, but it was far more likely that the absence of Barack Obama on the ballot and the fact that fewer African-Americans voted for Clinton than Obama was a large factor as to why Trump narrowly won Michigan in 2016.

“African American turnout in Michigan was down from 2012 to 2016, partially because it had previously risen for Barack Obama,” said Matt Grossman, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University. “Clinton also received a lower share of the African American vote than Obama.”

In addition to the lower AA vote totals for Clinton, the Post couldn’t find any specific examples of the Republican-controlled legislature passing any laws that would have reduced AA turnout, adding that the Republican governor vetoed a bill that would have required photo ID for absentee voting in 2012.

Thus the fact-checker reasoned that Booker deserved the maximum number of Pinocchios.

With a narrow margin of less than 11,000 votes, anything is possible, but election experts say there is no evidence the Russian or GOP efforts were successful. Instead, the most likely explanation for the loss was that Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama, was on the ballot, so turnout by African American voters returned to pre-Obama levels.

Perhaps that’s an argument for a black candidate like Booker to be on the ticket, but he’s wrong to claim the Russians and the GOP were responsible for Clinton’s loss in Michigan. The burden of proof is on Booker, and he failed to back up his claim. He earns Four Pinocchios.

Hillary Clinton made similar claims of voter suppression in Georgia and Wisconsin and she too was awarded Four Pinocchios.


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