Transparency: fact checking the last presidential debate 

On Oct. 22, the presidential debate stage at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. was something that we haven’t seen to this point in the race: presidential. Both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden were subject to muted microphones for a two-minute stretch at the beginning of each segment while the other spoke. This gave the debate more structure and more room for each nominee to present their stance on various subjects like immigration, the handling of the coronavirus (COVID-19) and climate preservation, as well as their visions for policy reform within the topics. Despite the tranquility of both candidates, there were still a variety of statements uttered within each segment that carried little truth. 

COVID-19 

Candidate: Joe Biden 

Statement: “The expectation is we’ll have another 200,000 Americans dead in the time between now and the end of the year. If we just wore these masks, the president’s own advisers have told him, we could save 100,000 lives.” 

The Facts: These are outdated estimates. Currently there have been 230,176 American casualties at the hands of the COVID-19 virus, and in a study conducted by the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics, they predicted that this number would spike to 410,000 by January 2021, but this was back in early September. As of the night of the debate, their estimate is approximately 316,680 American deaths, a number that still shouldn’t be taken lightly.  

As it pertains to the president’s advisors, they have never said publicly that wearing masks could save 100,000 lives. In a non-peer reviewed report from the Imperial College in London that was published back in March, scientists and members of their response team compared COVID-19 mortality projections if non-pharmaceutical measures were taken. Their projections read that if the U.S. let the virus run its course with limited health measures being implemented, then it would result in 100,000 more deaths than if social distancing and isolation mandates were set forth. In the seven months since this was published, there have been no updates to the report and their projections haven’t updated. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still strongly recommends wearing masks, as it states on their website: “CDC recommends that people wear masks in public settings, like on public and mass transportation, at events and gatherings, and anywhere they will be around other people.” 

Verdict: Mostly False; at one point these estimates were correct, but they have been significantly altered since then. 

— 

Candidate: Donald Trump 

Statement: “As you know, 2.2 million people modeled out were expected to die.” 

The Facts: This is in fact a real figure, but it was taken out of context by President Trump. The 2.2 million deaths were the product of an estimate from the same report that Biden referred to (Imperial College in London in partnership with the World Health Organization). The portion that covered the total number of deaths in the U.S. was laid out as if the government did nothing to stop the virus, and no citizens social distanced or mask wearing took place. Their model showed how bad the COVID-19 virus could get if our executive branch let it run its course without shutdowns or health precautions. Since then, America has acquired and produced both invasive and non-invasive ventilators, as Ford, General Motors, Dyson and others sped up ventilator production to the point where the U.S. government was able to gift some to Egypt. Also, America has developed a more extensive testing procedure with more tests and a variety of different types of tests that can be tested rapidly. Over one million tests are administered consistently on a per-day basis. In a lot of ways, the 2.2 million deaths were never a realistic estimate, but more of an informative representation of the potential potency of virus. The number of deaths is more of a fluid situation, as new factors influence the overall number routinely. 

Verdict: Mostly False, as it was a real figure, but not representative of the country’s current landscape. 

— 

Candidate: Donald Trump 

Statement: “The mortality rate is down 85%.” 

The Facts: Mortality rate tracks the percentage of people that died from a disease after being diagnosed with said disease. According to data from Johns Hopkins, the current mortality rate in the U.S. is at 2.6%. This includes about 69 deaths per 100,000 people. On April 1, when the virus continued to become a prominent issue in the country, the mortality rate was just above 3.8% (1,011 deaths from 25,737 cases), so the figure is going down as Trump indicates, but at a much slower rate. The 85% number that Trump was referencing came from the amount of deaths at COVID-19’s daily peak in May (2,752 deaths on May 7) to the most recent low in October (393 on Oct. 18). This is about an 86% decrease, but it doesn’t take into account how many people are currently positive. came from comparing weekly deaths in April to most recent recorded week. Week of April 18th, 17,077 people died. On Oct. 10, 2,540 people died (drop of 85%). 

Verdict: False; the mortality rate is must different than the number of overall deaths. 

— 

Immigration 

Candidate: Donald Trump 

Statement: “It was determined that [the cages] were built in 2014. That was [the Obama/Biden Administration].” 

The Facts: Trump was referring to the border facilities that were built in 2015 under the Obama Administration. In an interview with NPR, former Department Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson said that these facilities predated Trump’s time in the white house. Also, in 2019, former U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director Thomas Homan sat down at a panel put on by the Center of Immigration Studies and said that the facilities were built and funded in fiscal year 2015, under both Obama and Johnson. The site holds four, fence enclosed pods, that fit up to 1,000 children. Trump has recently come under fire for holding 545 migrant children in these pods that have been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. This has been the result of his “zero tolerance” immigration policy that detains immigrants trying to enter the U.S. illegally. The only time that children are put in these pods are if they were accompanied by their parents or guardians. Trump is using these facilities for this purpose, but they were built before his time as president. 

Verdict: True; the “cages” were in fact built during the Obama administration 

— 

Healthcare  

Candidate: Joe Biden 

Statement: “Not one single person lost their private insurance under Obamacare, and they won’t under my plan” 

The Facts: In a piece from Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed journal on health policy and affairs, they stated that in 2013 some non-group health insurance plans were cancelled because they weren’t compliant with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) standards. Researchers from the Urban Institute that wrote the journal entry analyzed data from a nationwide poll and stated that about 2.6 million Americans lost their private insurance plan in 2013. The ACA relied on the concept of “grandfathering” which allowed the existing private insurance policies to continue, but they had to check all the boxes that the ACA required. If they didn’t, then the policy would be terminated.  Those same researchers from Urban Institute said many of those people were eligible for coverage assistance, but that some had to pay significantly more for their new policy. 

Verdict: False; many people lost their private insurance with the integration of the ACA. 

Climate 

Candidate: Donald Trump 

Statement: “We have the best carbon emission numbers that we’ve had in 35 years under this administration.” 

The Facts: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, national greenhouse gas emissions have gone down by 10% since 2005. Also, despite our economy growing 25% in the time frame, power sector emissions fell by approximately 27%. According to the World Bank, in 2016 (no data from 2017-2019) carbon emissions were at their lowest point in 25 years. In this same study, it showed that greenhouse gas emissions were the lowest in 25 years in 2017 but went up in 2018. Also, with the shutdowns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic occurring this year, our carbon emissions will most likely drop another 8% according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

Verdict: Mostly False; We do have very low emission numbers, some of them the best in years, but not 35 years. 

— 

Candidate: Joe Biden 

Statement: “He won’t give federal subsidies to solar and wind.” 

The Facts: Currently there are tax credits available to both wind and solar industry. They include the Production Tax Credit (PTC). The PTC is a federal subsidy that helps with renewable energy facilities. Organizations that generate power from geothermal or wind energy can collect 2.3-cents per kilowatt-hour for the first 10 years of their operation to keep them afloat. This was put in place in 2017. Also, there is the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) under Section 48 which gives commercial properties with solar systems a 26% tax credit. It can be applied to both customer-sited commercial systems and large-scale ones as well. The ITC has helped solar energy production grow 10,000% since 2006 according to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA). 

Verdict: False; the Trump administration has given federal subsidies to solar and wind production sources. 

— 

Candidate: Joe Biden  

Statement: “I have never said that I oppose fracking.” 

The Facts: In both the 2019 and 2020 Democratic primaries, Biden stated that fracking should be eliminated. He did later clarify that he meant that fracking should be banned on federal land, and not everywhere. However, Biden’s written plan on his website never mentions the banning of any fracking, but says that he would impose “banning of new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.”  

Verdict: False; Biden has said multiple times that he would ban fracking, but he and his campaign walked it back each occasion.