Theory of Lying. First-ever Ranking of Populists and Liars in Ukrainian Politics from VoxUkraine

Authors: Olena Shkarpova, VoxCheck Project editor, and the team of VoxCheck analysts, science editors and volunteers*

“The industry is growing; the exports are increasing; the country has gone up in international rankings; investments have been pouring in; road construction is underway.”.

“Total impoverishment of the people; genocide; the authorities keep exterminating the population; 60% of the people are below the poverty line; there is hyperinflation.”.

This is how our country is described in statements of the Ukrainian authorities and of the opposition. Who is to be believed? With the onset of the political season, that is, from September 2017, the fact-checking project VoxCheck started following the statements of the top 20 politicians forming the political agenda. Within two months, its fact-checkers collected 424 quotes, of which only a little over one third proved to be true. That is, in two cases out of three politicians tell bare-faced lies, manipulate, or hyperbolize.

A ranking of liars and manipulators

The list of the least truthful politicians is topped by Yulia Tymoshenko “from Batkivshchyna”, the runner-up is — Vadym Rabinovych from “the Opposition Bloc faction”, his colleague Yuriy Boiko is in third place. The other two places in the Top 5 of the ranking of the most untruthful statespersons are held by Oleksandr Vilkul (“Opposition Bloc”) and Oleh Bereziuk (“Samopomich”).

In the two months, the project collected 46 checkable fact-based citations from Yulia Tymoshenko (see the project methodology in the section “How the counting was done”). Of these, only four contained no lies or manipulations — that is, less than 10%. Three out of the four true quotations were reiterations of the information that, according to UN data, 60% of the people in Ukraine are below the poverty line.The UN really said so; however, we couldn’t find any information on how the organization calculated the percentage or how it defined the poverty line.

In the course of the project, the fact-checkers performed a content analysis, evaluating the connotation (emotional coloring) of politicians’ statements. 95% of all the quotes from Tymoshenko appeared to be negatively charged. “Impoverishment”, “genocide”, “extermination of the people” — these epithets that Tymoshenko likes to use so much have already become memes in social networks.

Tymoshenko is a long-term professional politician and so she corroborates her statements with statistics: 70% of her quotes contain data. Most frequently, she uses correct, rather than imaginary, statistics.

Why, then, is there so little truth in her words? Patent untruth can be found in 26% of Tymoshenko’s statements. Manipulations were discovered in nearly half of Batkivshchyna leader’s quotations. The politician’s favorite rhetorical technique is to take correct statistical data and distort it beyond recognition.

Tymoshenko’s quotes can be used as the basis for manipulation guidelines:

  1. omits some of the information;
  2. substitutes notions;
  3. overstates or understates things;
  4. improperly compares data.

A striking example of Tymoshenko's manipulation style is the way she described the pension reform this autumn. She said the authorities had raised the Ukrainians’ retirement age to 65 and reduced the pension calculation coefficient for each year worked.

That much is true. Except for a few details. Ukrainians will retire at 65 only starting from 2028. Second, the coefficient has indeed been reduced, but at the same time there is an increase in the salary rates used in the calculation of pensions. That is the way in which the pensions of those who retired at different times in the past are brought in compliance with the new pensions. That is, Tymoshenko deliberately omits a part of the information.

Quite frequently, Tymoshenko's statements contain arithmetic errors. For example, she says that the 1.7-fold reduction of GDP in dollars amounts to minus 70%, and that the 1.35-fold decrease of the pension calculation coefficient means minus 35%. In reality, however, the real figures are -41.5% in the former case and -26% in the latter case.

The runner-up in the “leading liars’ ranking” is Vadym Rabinovych, who has not left the Opposition Bloc yet (in spite of promising to do so), creator of the party “For Life” and presenter of the program “Who Is the Real Rabinovych” on TV channel 112. VoxCheck checked 30 of the statements made by him during the two months in question; of these, only 4 (or 13%) were true. Just like Tymoshenko, he likes statistics, but what he says sounds even more negative. However, while Tymoshenko is a skillful manipulator, Rabinovych sometimes mixes up data or does not seem to understand well what he is talking about.

The examples include his claims that “this year the largest investments came to Ukraine from Russia” and that “guest workers brought more than 4.2 billion to the state budget”. The migrant workers’ money does not go to the budget — it is received by the relatives of the Ukrainians working abroad. At the same time, the data is absolutely wrong: in the first half of the year guest workers employed in Russia sent $ 300 million to Ukraine (other data is currently unavailable), while Russian entities invested $ 119 million – and that is by no means the highest figure.

The “third best” in the ranking of the most untruthful politicians is Yuriy Boiko, co-head of the Opposition Bloc. He is more accurate in handling data, although there is not much more truth in his words than in what Tymoshenko or Rabinovych says: 16% of his statements are true (just 5 out of the 31 quotes checked). Boiko also focuses on statistics and negative points; he is one of the Verkhovna Rada’s most active critics of the Government.

How the counting was done

In September-October 2017, the VoxCheck team conducted daily monitoring of the statements made by 20 politicians who influence the Ukrainian politics by their position or by their media activity. In this way, VoxCheck has made up a list of politicians in which appeared the President, the Prime Minister, the leaders of factions in the parliament and some other politicians, who are active in media and give a lot of comments.

VoxCheck collected quotes of politicians said on television, in social networks, on party sites, in comments and news reports. The final checking database included 424 fact-based quotes of politicians, each quote containing data, statistics, or claims that can be verified based on public data. In the course of the work, the following information sources were used: State Statistics Service, NBU, State Fiscal Service, Cabinet of Ministers, Ukrainian legislation, opinion polls, a collection of statistics from the International Monetary Fund, etc.

This is the first-ever rating of politicians’ lies. Do you want us to release it on a regular basis? Support VoxCheck on Spilnokosht — even 5 hryvnias can change the quality of Ukrainian politics.

The final ranking included 15 of the 20 politicians that in September and October made more than 10 statements containing verifiable facts. In the list of “liars and manipulators,” the politicians are ranked on the basis of the cumulative share of untruthful, manipulative, and hyperbolized statements they made during the monitoring period.

The results of the checking of a majority of the quotes were published on in September — first half of November 2017.

The magnificent twenty

Below is a list of politicians whose statements made in September and October 2017 were checked by VoxCheck:

Petro Poroshenko

Volodymyr Groysman

Artur Herasymov

Oleksiy Honcharenko

Arseniy Yatsenyuk

Maksym Burbak

Yulia Tymoshenko

Serhiy Sobolev

Ivan Krulko

Oleh Lyashko

Andriy Lozovyi

Oleksandr Vilkul

Yuriy Boiko

Vadym Rabinovych

Yaroslav Moskalenko

Viktor Bondar

Andriy Sadovyi

Oleh Berezyuk

Dmytro Dobrodomov

Mikheil Saakashvili

The most truthful

The leaders of the ranking of straight-shooters do not merely represent different political camps. They are absolute antagonists exhibiting the highest idiosyncrasy towards one another.

It is very hard to capture Groysman in a lie. The Prime Minister’s quotes are mostly related to the work done by the Government, or describe the bills initiated by the Cabinet of Ministers, the budget, etc. “We have built… we have launched … we have initiated…” — are the phrases on which Groysman’s speeches are usually based.

Groysman’s rhetoric is very similar to that of Poroshenko. Lots of statistics, few emotional phrases and nothing but positive news. It may seem that no negative events ever happen in the country. Moreover, they both often repeat each other. Sometimes, the impression is that the Prime Minister and the President have the same speechwriters.

Here are but a few examples.

“According to the European business association, 86% of its members are optimistic about Ukraine’s development”

“The EBA Investment Attractiveness Index has become positive”

“We maintain economic growth for a second year running”

“The GDP has been growing for six quarters in a row”

“The revenues of local budgets have increased”

All of that is true. If Groysman and Poroshenko were speaking more emotionally, then we would hear about an unprecedented GDP growth and the universal happiness of the Ukrainians. But these politicians are cautious in their statements, trying not to irritate the electorate with obviously false claims.

However, the subject of crackdown on corruption has vanished into thin air, there is no such thing as privatization, and the extremely slow economic recovery of the economy is none of our concerns.

The rhetoric of Mikheil Saakashvili is fundamentally different from the speeches of Poroshenko and Groysman. In 60% of the cases, he speaks about negative things; half of his quotes are emotionally colored. He sounds indignant every time he talks about the state of the Ukrainian economy and the fight against corruption, but his attitude changes to positive when he describes his own achievements in Georgia. In both cases, he is mostly truthful. However, he is also prone to exaggeration when talking about his successes in Odesa or Georgia or about Ukraine’s problems.

Top 5 of the most specific speakers

Taciturn politicians

The ranking of liars and straight-shooters includes politicians who, during the two months under review, made at least 10 fact-based statements that the fact-checkers were able to check.

If the leader of the Popular Front party Arseniy Yatsenyuk had been more active in the public arena, he would have probably topped the ranking. But he only produced four fact-based quotes in the two months in question. All of them were true. Usually, the politician mentions his achievements as Prime Minister or reflects on the relations between Ukraine and the West.

Maksym Burbak, a party colleague of Yatsenyuk and head of the People's Front faction in the Parliament, was not included in the ranking either, for he only made 8 quotes in the two months. However, his statements were much less truthful: 38%.

Another straight-shooter that did not make it to the ranking on account of a small number of fact-based quotes is Oleksiy Honcharenko, deputy head of the BPP faction. The 37-year-old MP from Odesa is certainly not one of the Ukrainian political heavyweights. However, he never misses a chance to make comments to journalists and talk-show presenters, echoing the ideas voiced by Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Groysman. In September and October, the three of them kept singing praises to the decentralization reform based on available statistics and explaining the essence of the pension reform to their audiences.

The secret behind the MP’s truthfulness is that he avoids answering questions regarding matters that he is not quite versed in; however, when it comes to subjects he is familiar with, he fairly confidently quotes statistics. Yet he does not use facts very often. During the two months, VoxCheck checked only nine quotes from Honcharenko.

Artur Herasymov, head of the BPP faction, is also outside the ranking, with just three quotes in the fact-checking project. It’s not that he talks too little; at the same time, however, he rarely uses checkable facts. Herasymov specializes in foreign policy and other topics that are hardly ever checked.

Signs of lie and manipulation

VoxCheck’s analysis has shown that if a Ukrainian politician is bitterly criticizing someone, then, most likely, it’s a case of lying or manipulating. It is also quite easy to identify truth: most frequently, it is told in a positive context – e.g. when bragging about something. 70% of the quotes with a positive connotation are true.

However, when a politician is referring to statistics and other data, it does not necessarily mean that he is not lying. It is highly likely that he will manipulate or use incorrect data.

One can see from the results of VoxCheck’s analysis that, at least nowadays, representatives of the authorities tell the truth much more frequently than the opposition does. The only exception to this rule is Mikheil Saakashvili. However, truthfulness does not mean scrupulous honesty. It only attests to the politician’s ability to choose a subject he/she is competent about. Therefore, VoxCheck recommends taking into account not only politicians’ words but their actions as well.

Top 3 citations from VoxCheck:

“Again they have proposed us a budget for consumption. The bulk of the revenues comes from the customs duties, excises, taxes…”

“Today, Ukraine is Europe’s leader in terms of infant and maternal mortality rates”

“The initiative of the acting Minister of Health regarding paid parturition testifies, at the least, to blatant unprofessionalism”

The main source of budget revenues is taxes. Where would Rabinovych like to get the money from for the budget?

Maternal mortality rate in Ukraine is close to that in other CIS countries: 24 maternal deaths per 1,000 births and 5.5 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. The EU average is certainly lower. But in Romania, for example, the situation is much worse: 31 maternity deaths and 6.3 infant deaths per 1,000 births.

Neither Ulana Suprun nor anyone else from the Ministry of Health proposed introducing paid parturition. On the contrary, the MOH keeps saying that parturition should remain free of charge.

Participants in the project:

Science editors: VoxUkraine Editorial Board members Ilona Solohub, Oleksandr Zholud, Oleksandra Betliy, Veronika Movchan, Maria Repko, Dmytro Yablonovskyi

VoxCheck Analysts: Maksym Skubenko, Oleksiy Krymenyuk, Yar Batog, Svitlana Slipchenko

Volunteers: Olena Kolomytseva, Andriy Hryshchuk, Marta Kobrynovych, Viktoria Vyshnevska, Marharyta Gokhman, Dmytro Skydan, Mykhailo Kharakhursakh, Iryna Kit, Vitaliy Bondarchuk, Darya Kulish, Sofia Denysenko, Olha Pavlyuk, Bohdan Balyuk, Illya Koldomasov.