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PolitiFact's guide to navigating politics on Thanksgiving

A woman presents a Thanksgiving turkey. (Juli Leonard/Raleigh News & Observer) A woman presents a Thanksgiving turkey. (Juli Leonard/Raleigh News & Observer)

A woman presents a Thanksgiving turkey. (Juli Leonard/Raleigh News & Observer)

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll November 22, 2016

"I won’t discuss the election over Thanksgiving dinner."

That’s what you’ll tell yourself — until you walk into Grandma’s house Thursday and see your sister in a Nasty Woman sweatshirt already having it out with your uncle in a Make America Great Again hat. You shovel turkey and mashed potatoes into your mouth to stop words from coming out, then nearly choke when your cousin shares a wildly inaccurate statistic he surely got from Facebook.

Be honest with yourself: Politics is on the table this holiday season, like it or not. The best advice we have is to try keeping the conversation rooted in reality.

Here’s PolitiFact’s guide to navigating politics on Thanksgiving.

Looking back at the election

Someone is bound to ask, if only rhetorically, whether Republican President-elect Donald Trump won in spite of a "rigged" election.

Trump had bemoaned a crooked system and warned of rampant voter fraud in the weeks ahead of his win.

When this comes up, put down your fork and repeat after us: Actually, those claims rated Pants on Fire.

While tactics like vote buying and tampering with voting machines might be possible in a local election, it would be nearly impossible to conduct them on a large enough scale to sway a national election. The presidential election is a massive beast, with results tabulated and scrutinized by local officials in counties and states across the country.

Here’s a side dish to that talking point: Large-scale voter fraud in the United States is actually quite rare. One independent study by a Loyola Law School professor found just 31 credible incidents of fraud out of more than 1 billion votes cast from 2000 to 2014.

It is worth noting, though, that U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that hackers with Russian government ties stole emails from the Democratic National Committee in an attempt to interfere in the election.

And when your millennial niece pipes up to say that Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was the real winner of the Democratic primary, you can confidently say: No, he didn’t win California or Nevada, despite online rumors, and he wouldn’t have won if the results were based solely on the popular vote without the inclusion of superdelegates.

How to talk about Clinton’s emails

Let’s say your family chit-chat is focused on the future, with a healthy heaping of the new administration’s agenda.

Will Trump, for example, keep his pledge to prosecute Hillary Clinton over her emails? In a Nov. 22 interview with the New York Times, he seemed to walk back that promise.

"I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t," he said. "She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways."

The email controversy inspired speculation on the right, spin on the left, and condemnation of Clinton by the FBI director. The one thing that didn’t happen was a criminal case.

These facts should help you navigate the confusing email territory.

It was False for Clinton to say her decision to use a private email server located in her home was "allowed." It didn’t comply with State Department rules, which require all day-to-day operations to be conducted on the official information channel, in part for records preservation purposes. Clinton never once used this system.

But this doesn’t mean Clinton is guilty of a crime. Some classified material was found in her email cache, and we rated her repeated claims that there wasn’t any classified material False. But it was a very small amount, roughly 0.4 percent of about 50,000 recovered emails, indicating that Clinton generally dealt with classified information in an appropriate manner. The FBI announcedtwice — that there isn’t enough evidence that Clinton intentionally mishandled classified information or obstructed justice to charge her with a crime.

The email narrative grew late in the campaign, as Wikileaks hacked and released emails of top Clinton aide John Podesta. Excited by the revelations, Trump tried to describe them for his massive crowds, but he often did so wrongly — falsely saying, for example, they showed Clinton saying terrorism was not a threat to the nation.

Looking ahead

Another resource to tuck under your place mat is our guide to Trump’s plans for his first 100 days. At the top of Trump’s to-do list is his long-standing promise to build a wall along the southern border and have Mexico pay for it. A literal wall will be extremely costly, and it remains to be seen how Trump would force Mexico to pay for it. It’s useful to know that immigration from Mexico has slowed down significantly in recent years, and President Barack Obama has deported more people than any prior president, more than 2 million.

Trump also promises to renegotiate or pull out from some of the United States’ largest standing trade deals, which seems to be a bipartisan position. It’s worth noting, though, that multiple independent analyses have found that Trump’s biggest trade target, the North American Free Trade Agreement, has had a modest effect on the American economy, resulting in both minimal job loss and minimal economic growth.

Beware fake news

If your supper survival plans involve hasty Google searches from the smartphone in your lap, be wary of the sources that surface.

The spread of fake news on the Internet — including made-up articles designed to look real, viral graphics, satirical websites, anonymous blogs — and the question of whether it swayed the election is under a big debate at the moment, with good reason. At PolitiFact, we’re upping our coverage of fake news to help readers better sort out fact from fiction on their social media feeds.

Trump indisputably won the not-rigged election by receiving the most Electoral College votes. Some Internet rumors would have you believe he won the popular vote, too, but this is incorrect. As of Nov. 16, Clinton was about 1 million votes ahead of Trump, though she lost to Trump in states that carried more Electoral College weight.

For example, a website called Political Insider recently peddled a fake story saying it had a nude photo of Bill Clinton with someone other than his wife. The image is not real and was created by a contemporary artist.

Another story spread across Facebook that actor Denzel Washington supports Trump and has been speaking out against Obama. This Pants on Fire claim came from pages like American News24 and AmericanPoliticNews that publish tantalizing but false information.

One man even admitted to completely fabricating a widely shared story about someone getting paid $3,500 to protest Trump.

No matter how realistic the premise may seem, if it’s shared en masse, be skeptical.

With PolitiFact at your side, you’ll be able to keep the conversation civil and factual through your second slice of pumpkin pie.

Editor's note: We updated this article to include additional comments Trump made about his pledge to seek prosecution against Clinton.

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PolitiFact's guide to navigating politics on Thanksgiving