Fact-checking Hillary Clinton on 'Meet the Press'
C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. May 22, 2016
Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu May 22, 2016

Hillary Clinton made the case Sunday that she "will be the party’s nominee," emphasizing on Meet the Press that she’s already won more votes than rival Bernie Sanders and she’ll be the better prepared candidate for the fall.

When host Chuck Todd pointed out that Sanders fares better than Clinton in head-to-head matchups against presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump, Clinton suggested Sanders hasn’t been vetted as thoroughly as she has been.

"Let me say that I don't think he's had a single negative ad ever run against him. And that's fine. But we know what we're going into, and we understand what it's going to take to win in the fall," she said. "And finally, I would say that, you know, polls this far out mean nothing."

Compared with Clinton, Sanders hasn’t faced as many negative ad blitzes from Republican groups. But her claim that he hasn’t had "a single ad ever run against him" is inaccurate. We rated it False.

Dem-on-Dem negative campaigning

Most of the attacks we found on Sanders actually come from other Democrats, including by groups supporting Clinton herself.  

The Sanders campaign pointed us to web videos by Correct the Record, a super PAC hybrid known as a Carey committee that supports Clinton. The group’s YouTube channel includes at least 13 negative videos about Sanders. (Correct the Record said that its videos are not ads as it does not "do any paid public communications.")

One asks, "Will Bernie Sanders explain why he’s sided with the gun lobby time and time again?" (This charge is largely inaccurate.) Others focus on Sanders "going negative" against Clinton and his record with fact-checkers.

The Clinton campaign itself sent a President's Day-themed attack ad against Sanders through text messages, BuzzFeed reported. After audio of Sanders saying it would be a good idea if President Barack Obama "faced primary opposition" in 2012, the text reads, "Hillary is the only one in this race who’ll fight for the progress we’ve made under President Obama."

Sanders is also featured in Republican-on-Republican attack ads as an unfavorable comparison. For example, the conservative American Future Fund ran an attack ad against Ted Cruz by lumping him in with Sanders and other Democrats on national security issues.

Clinton, who’s been a national figure and subject of GOP criticism for decades, has a point that she has faced far more negative campaigning than Sanders has.

Using the Political TV Ad Archive, we found some 120 ads either attacking Clinton directly or drawing unfavorable parallels between her and Republican candidates. Besides virtually all of the 2016 contenders on the GOP side, Clinton’s been consistently hit by conservative super PACs, the Republican National Committee and even some down-ballot GOP candidates.

Sanders, on the other hand, has been largely spared by the Republican attack machine this cycle, and Clinton’s campaign sent us several articles to that point. Given that the ads would likely focus on Sanders’ self-proclaimed socialism, why are Republicans leaving Sanders alone?

The answer seems to be that they don’t really see him as a threat.

"Sanders has an important message that is resonating with many. But that is not enough to win the nomination. Why spend money that will have little return on the investment?" said John G. Geer, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University who wrote In Defense of Negativity: Attack Advertising in Presidential Campaign.

Clinton’s polling numbers

Sanders still does better against Trump in head-to-head polling. Todd asked Clinton how she would get past her negative numbers.

Clinton argued that once she gets on a job, whether it's first lady, U.S. senator or secretary of state, she gets things done.

"So I have a track record. And I'm going to remind people of that. Because it's not just rhetoric, for me," she said. "When I was secretary of state, I had a very high approval rating, as you can go back and check. Because I was doing a job that people could see."

The latest NBC News poll shows that 54 percent of registered voters have a negative or somewhat negative opinion of Clinton. Trump scores a bit worse at 58 percent. But Clinton is right that she was well regarded when she served as secretary of state from January 2009 through Feb. 1, 2013. Her statement rates True.

We found that Clinton's favorability rating ebbed and flowed during her two and a half decades on the national political scene. Gallup pegged it as low as 38 percent when her husband ran for president in 1992, but the polling firm has said that's because she was wasn't well known.

It peaked at 62 percent during her first years as first lady, dropped to 43 percent in 1996 during the "Travelgate" investigation, and spiked to its highest point ever — 67 percent — in December 1998 when her husband was impeached for perjury in the wake of scandals involving Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones. By the time she left the White House in 2001, Clinton's Gallup rating was down to 44 percent.

Her polling numbers started going up during her time in the Senate and hit another peak of 58 percent in 2007 while a senator and just after announcing she would run for president, according to Gallup.

After another dip, it shot up to 65 percent in 2009 when she became secretary of state and stayed high for most of her tenure.

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