THE BLOG
01/20/2015 11:07 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Do Presidents Tend to Lie During the State of the Union Address?

The U.S. Constitution calls for a State of the Union Address. It doesn't call for fact checkers on these, but they exist anyway. Do they show that U. S. Presidents lie, or do they find that they generally tell the truth?

Section Three of Article II of the U.S. Constitution which concerns responsibilities of the U.S. President reads:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in case of disagreement between them, with respect to the time of adjournment, he may adjourn them to such time as he shall think proper; he shall receive ambassadors and other public ministers; he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and shall commission all the officers of the United States.

But do U.S. Presidents tend to lie when they give these "State of the Union Addresses," to Congress, guests and the American people, via a prime time televised address?

Let's take a look at last year's SOTU Address, for starters. ABC News conducted a 17-point fact check (12 issues and one issue, the economy, with five parts) on Obama's 2014 speech to the legislative branch.

In not a single line did ABC News claim there was an outright lie. There were three "facts," and 11 "mostly fact," "mostly true," "fact with caveat" and "fact with context." On three counts, there was the review "it's complicated" (for health care), "depends " (are we talking about the number of small business loans, or amount...the President doesn't say), and one "fact, but overstated." On that measure, minimum wage, the President said that the minimum wage fell in value by 20 percent but ABC News cited the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator to find it only fell in value 16 percent.

In other words, the 2014 State of the Union Address was pretty accurate.

How about other SOTUs given by President Barack Obama? For this, I consulted FactCheck.org, part of the Annenberg Public Policy Center. They found some exaggerations, a few rosy spins, though many "mostly rights" and few falsehoods, if any.

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What about President George W. Bush? FactCheck.org gave "W's" 2008 State of the Union Address mostly positive remarks, though they claimed he chose some of those facts carefully, and told only part of the story.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center gave a less approving assessment of Bush's 2005 State of the Union Address. They dinged him for repeating the much discredited line that Social Security would go bankrupt, instead of correctly stating that it would pay fewer benefits. But FactCheck.org should lighten up a little. So much of that speech was about a proposed policy for Social Security personal accounts, so it's hard to say he was lying. Besides, Congress writes the laws, not the U.S. President. That's in another section of the U.S. Constitution.

So in conclusion, it seems that we can generally trust our chief executives for these State of the Union speeches, probably because of these fact checkers. But check these sites out anyway, as some presidential statements have their occasional caveats and exaggerations too.

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John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.