PolitiFact California’s Top 10 Most Popular Fact Checks of 2018

Readers in 2018 clicked the most on our fact checks about immigration, marijuana, mass shootings and California’s stark economic divide.
Readers in 2018 clicked the most on our fact checks about immigration, marijuana, mass shootings and California’s stark economic divide.

Claims on highly-charged topics from immigration to mass shootings to California’s stark divide between the rich and the poor all made PolitiFact California’s Top 10 most popular fact checks of 2018.

Four of our most read pieces focused on immigration, including the Pants on Fire attack by the White House on Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris that she "supported" the criminal gang MS-13.

Two articles that explained complicated topics — the unsettled definition of a mass shooting and the many questions about California’s new marijuana laws — were our most popular.

Some fact checks published in 2017 remained timely and made this year’s most popular list. They include reports on whether California gives more money than it gets from Washington D.C., the size of California’s economy and our investigation of the state’s highest-in-the-nation poverty rate.

Here are our Top 10 most popular fact-checks or articles in reverse order:

10. How much privacy do you have when you buy marijuana in California?

We explored this provocative reader question in February after we published Pot 101, our examination of what you can and can’t legally do under the state’s recreational marijuana law, Proposition 64. The short answer on customer privacy: It all depends on the marijuana dispensary you visit. There’s nothing in state law that prevents the businesses from asking for and keeping customer information.

California's marijuana law doesn't prevent dispensaries from collecting customer information / Associated Press file photo

9. No, California didn’t pass a law allowing undocumented immigrants to register to vote

In January, we fact-checked this baseless claim made by conservative news websites and commentators. California allows unauthorized immigrants to apply for and obtain a driver’s license. It also gives citizens the option to automatically register to vote when they renew a driver’s license through the DMV. But the state explicitly excludes undocumented Californians from voter registration. We rated this claim Pants On Fire.

8. Does California really have the '6th largest economy on planet Earth'?

This fact check from 2016 made our most popular list for the second year in a row this year. We found the claim, made by Democratic State Sen. Kevin de León, and repeated by many of the state’s political leaders, was Mostly True based on the size of California’s GPD compared with nations around the world. Notably, the same measurements show California’s economy moved into fifth place, surpassing the United Kingdom, earlier this year.

7. Does California give more than it gets from Washington D.C.?

Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra claimed in January 2017, "We always, as taxpayers in the state of California, pay more in taxes than we get back to our state." We didn’t rate this on our Truth-O-Meter, but we found there’s definitely some truth to it. It’s been a popular read, landing at No. 2 on last year’s most read list and attracting an audience again this year.

Is California a donor state? Associated Press photo

6. MOSTLY TRUE: Undocumented immigrants less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in an interview in 2017 "undocumented immigrants commit less crimes than native born." We found this claim to be correct, though researchers agree more data is needed to get a better understanding of immigration and crime. We rated it Mostly True.

5. TRUE: California has the nation’s highest poverty rate, when factoring in cost-of-living

Republican Asm. Chad Mayes in 2017 claimed California had "the highest poverty rate in the nation" when considering the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure. This fact check moved up on the list from last year, when it ranked eighth most popular. The report Mayes cited shows the state’s 20.6 percent poverty rate -- when accounting for cost-of-living -- is indeed the highest in the country. We rated it True.

4.  Pants On Fire: White House claim Sen. Kamala Harris ‘supporting MS-13’

The White House received our most severe rating when it tweeted out in July that California Sen. Kamala Harris is "supporting the animals of MS-13." Harris and other Democrats have sharply criticized the Trump administration for its immigration policies. They have expressed concern about how those entering the country, legally and illegally, are treated and called for reforming or replacing ICE. That’s not the same thing as or even close to "supporting" a violent criminal gang. We gave this claim a Pants On Fire!

3. Are 55 percent of immigrants in California on welfare? That's an exaggeration

Former Trump Hispanic advisory council president Steve Cortes said in January, "We have right now,...in the state of California, 55 percent of all immigrants are on public assistance." That’s true of households but not individual immigrants. A relevant study found that 41 percent of immigrant households in California relied on welfare. In the absence of clearer definitions of public assistance and the distinction between immigrants and immigrant households, Cortes’ claim exaggerates immigrants’ drain on public coffers. We rated this statement Half True.

2. How is a ‘mass shooting’ defined?

Following the October 2017 deadly shooting in Las Vegas, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi claimed there have been "273 mass shootings in 2017— one for each day of the year." One strict definition of "mass shooting" used in the past by the federal government says at least four victims must be killed. Much broader criteria requires at least four victims be injured, though not necessarily killed. Pelosi’s claim greatly stretches what can be considered an accurate count of mass shootings and captures none of the nuance or context around this debate. We decided not to place a Truth-O-Meter rating on Pelosi’s claim because the debate about what meets the definition of a mass shooting remains deeply unsettled.

Police officers and medical personnel stand at the scene of a shooting near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017, in Las Vegas. AP Photo/John Locher

1. Pot 101: Facts you should know about California’s legal marijuana

California legalized recreational marijuana sales in January, marking a major milestone for the state’s cannabis industry and its many customers. Proposition 64, the voter-approved law that governs recreational pot in the Golden State, however, doesn’t offer the complete freedom to buy, grow and smoke marijuana just anywhere you please. In reality, the rules are fairly strict. This article answering what you can and can’t do legally with marijuana was far-and-away our most popular in 2018.

This year’s isn’t complete yet. But we’re already looking forward to 2019.

We anticipate it will be a busy year as we fact-check California’s Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and any Californians announcing a run for the 2020 presidential election. We’ll also continue to examine statements made by President Trump about the Golden State.

As we move into our fourth full year, we continue to welcome feedback from you — our audience. Whether you agree or disagree with our ratings, we want to hear your voices.

Email us at [email protected], or contact us on Twitter or Facebook.

We also want your ideas for fact-checks. Have you heard something that makes you wonder, ‘Is that true?’ If so, fill out a form here with your idea.

It’s now time for more fact-checking.

A Happy New Year to all!

PolitiFact California intern Sami Soto contributed research and writing for this article.