PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — You’ve no doubt seen the steady stream of political ads every time you watch TV or go online. But how do you make sense of it all? How do you know what is true and what’s a politically motivated spin that’s manipulating the facts?
In our new Truth be Told series, we’re cutting through the rhetoric and helping you read between the lines.
This time, we’re taking on an ad that is in stark contrast to an ad from another sitting president seeking re-election, Ronald Reagan, from 36 years ago.
“There’s Mourning in America,” the bleak political ad starts out, portraying a vast meltdown of the American economy.
“This afternoon, millions of Americas will apply for unemployment and when their savings run out, many are giving up hope,” the ad says, over images of masked citizens standing in an unemployment office line.
Bruce Waters of Pinellas County says he has seen his own personal financial downturn.
“For the past 10 years, I’ve had my own business, which is basically a sales and marketing company to the travel industry,” Waters said.
Waters represents cruise lines and travel tour operators all over the world.
“The travel industry has been doing well… was surviving and getting bigger each year,” Waters said.
That was until the coronavirus pandemic brought his business to a screeching halt, forcing Waters to file for unemployment for the first time in his life.
“In my 40 years, I’ve never experienced anything like this,” he said.
So when he sees ads like “Mourning in America", Waters questions how long the COVID-19 recession will last and what it will mean for his own future.
“It’s been a real challenge to experience the other side of this coin and see my business and many others that are travel related struggle through this period,” Waters said.
The ad is paid for by the Lincoln Project, a political action committee formed last year by Republicans, dedicated to preventing the re-election of Donald Trump.
“Under the leadership of Donald Trump, our country is weaker, sicker and poorer,” the narrator proclaims in the ad.
The ad is a play on words for Republican Ronald Reagan’s uplifting “Morning in America” ad from his 1984 reelection campaign. That ad showed a hopeful portrait for the day as Americans woke up.
“Under the leadership of President Reagan, America today is prouder and stronger and better,” said the Reagan ad.
The message of the Lincoln Project’s ad portrays a failing economy under the Trump administration.
“With the economy in shambles, more than 30 million Americans are out of work. The worst economy in decades,” says the ad.
But we looked into the ad’s claims, and truth be told, the numbers didn’t completely add up.
As for the 30 million Americans out of work, the ad was first released on May 4, after the unemployment rate spiked at 14.7 percent -- the highest increase in history -- amid government “stay at home” orders.
But even at its worst, the official unemployment number from the Bureau of Labor Statistics was 23.1 million, not 30 million.
We reached out to see where the Lincoln Project got their number, but have yet to hear back.
Since April, the unemployment rate has dropped to 10.2 percent, with 16.3 million Americans claiming unemployment in the July numbers.
That’s still nearly triple the record low unemployment rate of 3.5 percent in February, before the pandemic.
As for the ad’s statement that it’s the worst economy in decades, truth be told, some measures of the economy are thriving.
For many people, that means their stock account or 401-K plan is still growing.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is 30 percent higher than the day President Trump took office, making up losses early in the pandemic.
The original “Morning in America” ad talked about interest rates.
“With interest rates at nearly half the record rate of 1980, nearly 2,000 families today will buy new homes,” the Reagan ad stated.
When that ad was made in 1984, the average mortgage interest rate for a 30-year-loan was 13.9 percent, according to Freddie Mac.
But today, it’s just 3 percent, which could allow some homeowners to save more money.
And the annual inflation rate, another indicator of how much money we have to spend, was over four percent in 1984, but only 1 percent today.
But for workers like Bruce, who make their living in the tourism, hospitality, restaurant and entertainment industries – and not the stock market – they still struggle as a result of the pandemic.
“We as an industry look forward to more struggle. I don’t think it’s finished yet,” Waters said.
So the next time you see the “Mourning in America” ad, you’ll know… truth be told… America’s economy is a lot more complicated than a couple of numbers.