The fact-checker's guide to viral graphics contrasting Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders

Viral charts have emerged to show how much more progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders is than Hillary Clinton. Sometimes, the difference isn't as stark as they say.
Viral charts have emerged to show how much more progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders is than Hillary Clinton. Sometimes, the difference isn't as stark as they say.

​After a New York Times analysis found Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton voted in synch 93 percent of the time during their two overlapping Senate years, Sanders’ supporters have been pushing back on the notion that the two leading Democratic presidential candidates are largely the same.

Several readers asked us to look at graphics circulating on Twitter, Facebook and Reddit that attempt to differentiate Sanders and Clinton by highlighting differences in their voting records.

We’ve already looked at claims about the two candidates’ donors, which is mentioned in the lower half of this chart in particular. But we wondered if the claims about their voting records and policy positions were correct.

We found that many of the chart’s points are correct, though some either fail to capture Clinton’s flip-flops over the years or over-simplified her stance on issues where her public comments are really thin.

Iraq War authorization

When President George W. Bush sought authorization to launch a war in Iraq in October 2002, Clinton and Sanders’ votes were split. Clinton, the junior senator from New York, voted yes. Sanders, then Vermont’s only representative, voted against it after delivering an impassioned speech on the House floor.

Clinton has since called her vote "a mistake."

Wall Street bailout (TARP)

Clinton and Sanders split their votes again on HR 1424, a bill taken up after the acceleration of the subprime mortgage crisis in 2008.

Clinton voted in favor of the measure, which in part created a $700 billion emergency bailout fund called the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Sanders voted against it, writing in a statement that the relief package was "far better than the absurd proposal originally presented to us by the Bush administration, but is still short of where we should be."

‘Breaking up big banks’

The meme claims that Sanders supports "breaking up big banks," while implying that Clinton has no position.

"No single financial institution should have holdings so extensive that its failure would send the world economy into crisis," Sanders wrote in a May 2015 op-ed. "If an institution is too big to fail, it is too big to exist."

In July, he called for reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act, a set of rules originally enacted in the aftermath of the Great Depression that prevented commercial banks from teaming up with ones that handle investments and securities.

So Sanders has been clear about his support for breaking up big banks.

Clinton has offered few specifics on how she would reform Wall Street.

"We have a ‘too big to fail’ problem still, and we have to figure out the best way to address it," she said in July, adding that she "will be talking more about that."

But signs from within her campaign point to another potential divergence with Sanders on whether to break up big banks. Her advisors have indicated that she would not support reinstating Glass-Steagall, which Congress repealed in 1999 with the support of her husband, President Bill Clinton.

Sanders and others have pointed to the 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall as one of the causes of the 2008 financial crash. President Clinton, however, recently defended his actions, claiming "there's not a single, solitary example that" signing the bill to end Glass-Steagall "had anything to do with the financial crash." PolitiFact rated that statement Mostly True.

Patriot Act and 2006 reauthorization

Clinton and Sanders voted differently on the USA Patriot Act, a 2001 bill designed to combat terrorism, in part by granting broad surveillance powers to the National Security Agency. In her first year as a senator, Clinton voted in favor of the bill, while Sanders, by that time a 10-year veteran of the House, voted against it.

The pair did not change positions on votes to renew the legislation in 2005 and 2006.

Sanders voted against a second extension in 2011 as well, three years after Clinton left the Senate for the State Department.

‘Foreign US military intervention’

This is a vague category that doesn’t accurately represent either candidate’s record or official position. There are a number of examples that suggest these labels aren’t so cut-and-dried.

Often stressing that "war is the last resort, not the first resort," Sanders has supported limited intervention, but he does not oppose intervention entirely.

Sanders and his supporters often cite his vote against authorizing the Iraq War as a key break with Clinton on foreign intervention. But as he made clear to host Martha Raddatz in a recent appearance on ABC’s This Week, he would endorse U.S. military action abroad in certain instances.

The Vermont senator’s record reflects that philosophy. Most notably, Sanders voted for a House resolution on Sept. 14, 2001, that authorized Bush to use force against terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks. The authorization led to U.S. military action in Afghanistan.

Sanders also voted to support the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, leading one of his staffers to resign. Critics from his home state of Vermont occupied Sanders’ Burlington office in protest, even dubbing him "Bernie the Bomber" in local newspaper columns.

Clinton, who was intimately involved in U.S. foreign policy as secretary of state, has historically supported many of the United States’ military endeavors abroad, including action in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2014, she reiterated her support for arming rebel forces in Syria, a step the Obama administration has resisted.

Both Clinton and Sanders have called for the United States’ allies to take on more responsibility in international conflicts.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

The chart claims that Sanders opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership while Clinton supports it. Sanders has clearly sided with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and other members of the Senate’s progressive caucus in opposing the deal. But it’s hard to tell exactly what Clinton’s position is on the deal these days.

She was one of the Obama administration’s loudest advocates for the TPP during her time as secretary of state, openly selling it to heads of state across Asia and Australia. Her recent comments on the deal, however, have been vague.

"Any trade deal has to produce jobs and raise wages and increase prosperity and protect our security," she said in April.

We took a closer look at both candidates’ stances on the deal in a separate fact-check and rated the chart's claim Mostly True.

Death penalty

The graphic claims Sanders opposes the death penalty and that Clinton supports it.

Sanders has been nearly unequivocal in his opposition to the death penalty.

With the exception of his vote in favor of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a bill that greatly expanded the death penalty at the federal level, Sanders has consistently voted against pro-capital punishment legislation throughout his career in Congress. A spokesman for Sanders said he voted for the 1994 bill "because it included the Violence Against Women Act and the ban on certain assault weapons."

Clinton, however, has a more complicated record. While she supported capital punishment throughout her tenure as first lady and again as a candidate for Senate, she has not directly commented on the subject since 2000, and her campaign declined to comment on her current position.

We took a closer look at both candidates’ history on the death penalty in a separate fact-check and rated the meme’s claim Mostly True.

Keystone XL pipeline

The Keystone XL pipeline is another issue dividing the Obama administration and some liberal members of Congress. But it’s not clear if Sanders and Clinton are on entirely opposite sides.

Perhaps one of the defining environmental struggles of the Obama administration, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry oil from the fields of Alberta, Canada down into the United States. Proponents emphasize the pipeline’s potential for job creation, but detractors point to possible safety risks and environmental consequences.

Sanders has repeatedly opposed the pipeline. Clinton’s campaign says she has no position, often hedging on the question.

As secretary of the agency tasked with approval of the cross-country project, Clinton in 2010 said the State Department was "inclined" to approve the pipeline, claiming the U.S. was "either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada." The approval process for the pipeline began in 2009, her first year as secretary of state. In 2015, Obama vetoed a bill that would have approved its construction.

2006 border fence legislation

Clinton and Sanders cast opposing votes on the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which was introduced to improve security along the United States’ land and sea borders. Clinton, along with then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, voted in favor of the bill.

Sanders voted against it alongside 137 of his colleagues in the House. The bill was signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 26, 2006, but was never fully funded.

Offshore drilling

The final part of the graphic that we will review claims Clinton and Sanders hold opposing views on offshore oil drilling.

After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, Sanders proposed a ban on offshore drilling altogether. In 2006, he was part of the House minority that voted against then-Louisiana Rep. Bobby Jindal’s Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act.

Clinton supported that bill’s companion in the Senate, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006, which, though it was never passed by the House, gave way to the compromise that opened up drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

So where is she now? Clinton split with Obama this August after he gave oil companies permission to drill in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea, tweeting: "The Arctic is a unique treasure. Given what we know, it's not worth the risk of drilling."