Courtesy of Occupy Democrats, with over 17,000 likes and 23,000 shares. This meme, along with many similar ones, use these statistics to paint the Republicans as the party of corruption, while the Democrats have hardly a scratch on their record. This portrayal is dishonest and relies on cherry-picked statistics, without providing context to the viewer.
The statistics in the meme appear to come from this article by The Daily Kos, which uses the Wikipedia page “List of federal political scandals” as its source. This page documents the many scandals by both parties, but the Kos article only includes scandals that involved the executive branch and that resulted in an indictment or conviction. This results in lopsided numbers against Republicans, but a closer look reveals this tells us little about the corruption and criminal activity levels among each political party.
To highlight the problem of this methodology, by the article’s own admission, President Nixon wasn’t counted, since he didn’t get charged with a crime. Thus, the President behind one of the largest political scandal in U.S. history isn’t even counted! Neither is President Clinton’s lying under oath. Clear criminal behavior by both presidents isn’t included in the methodology, but few would argue these weren’t instances of criminal behavior.
Additionally, there were many scandals under the Obama Administration listed in the Wikipedia page that resulted in resignations, but weren’t prosecuted. There were also high-profile scandals in the legislative realm this methodology ignores, like the bribery conviction of Senator Menendez, the felony count of fraud for Jesse Jackson Jr., and the sexting saga and ultimate conviction of Congressman Anthony Weiner. And, of course, the recent admission from former DNC chair Donna Brazile, of corruption in the 2016 campaign at the highest levels.
If we’re trying to compare parties, shouldn’t we take a broader look at corruption and criminal charges among them? It turns out if we look at different Wikipedia pages and expand our scope, the narrative begins to change. For example, on the page titled “List of American federal politicians convicted of crimes” we find 49 Republicans convicted of crimes compared to 41 Democrats, going back to Nixon. Considering over that period Republican occupied the executive branch for 28 years vs 20 years for Democrats, and that 11 of those convictions were for Watergate alone, the numbers seem to be fairly equal between the parties. Certainly not as lopsided as what the meme portrays.
Another Wikipedia page titled “List of United States federal officials convicted of corruption offenses” finds a lopsided number of convictions for Democrats. 27 were convicted of corruption, compared to 18 Republicans. If we only include the Nixon years or later, the convictions number 22 for Democrats compared to just 8 for Republicans. This means, if one were inclined, they could claim Democrats are almost 3 times as likely to be convicted of corruption charges than Republicans. This is how statistics can be molded to fit any narrative.
If we look at a more objective methodology, like this study from NYU professor Sanford Gordon, we also find unfavorable statistics for Democrats. This study looked at corruption charges, including state and local politicians, under periods of the Clinton and Bush years. In total, the study found 133 Democrats prosecuted for corruption charges compared with just 51 Republicans (page 19). In fact, the study even explained this discrepancy by pointing out that Democrats were concentrated in urban areas and “may have access to more substantial opportunities for corruption” (page 33). Again, if one were inclined, they could spin this study to say “Democrats are 2.6 times as likely to be charged with corruption”.
While the statistics cited in these memes appear to be correct, they do not prove in any way that Republicans are more corrupt than Democrats. Using different methodologies, one could just as easily show that Democrats are more corrupt. Instead, what should be illuminating is to peruse those Wikipedia pages and see how many scandals and convictions there are on both sides. That should be enough to make one hesitant to become a cheerleader for either party.