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Fact Checking Political Ads Essential to Democracy

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper speaks during a news conference on Tuesday, March 29, 2016, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Cooper addressed the media in response to the passing of House Bill 2 last week during a legislative special session. (Kevin Martin/North State Journal)

This tumultuous election cycle has been characterized by vicious mudslinging and dramatic political advertisements. Living in a swing state, such as North Carolina, means these ads are sending conflicting messages during every commercial break. Recently, a political ad by North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper, entitled “Fix This,” focuses on a teacher who moves away from North Carolina because of low pay.

“Fix This” gets a lot of facts wrong. Roy Cooper’s ad asserts that teacher pay in North Carolina has fallen to 41st since Governor McCrory took office. North Carolina ranks 41st in teacher pay, which is correctly stated in the ad. However, average teacher pay has actually increased under the leadership of Governor Pat McCrory. In 2013, North Carolina was ranked 43rd in teacher pay, thus teacher pay has actually increased to 41st (albeit by a small amount) since Governor McCrory has taken office.

Throughout his time as Governor, Pat McCrory has dedicated over $1 billion more for teacher pay for his duration as Governor. Additionally, North Carolina teachers had the highest average pay increase in 2016, allowing the average pay for a North Carolina teacher to be more than $50,000 for the first time in North Carolina.

Rocky Diaz, the spokesman for Governor McCrory, refuted the Cooper ad with a statement which says, “Roy Cooper’s latest false attack ad against Governor McCrory is another desperate attempt to mislead North Carolina voters. Roy Cooper and his allies let North Carolina teacher pay fall to the bottom of the nation. But after he took office, Governor McCrory passed the largest teacher pay raise in the country and raised it every year since.”

Another idea mentioned in the “Fix This” ad is that McCrory “tried to cut” education’s budget share when in reality Governor McCrory proposed the largest budget allocation toward education since the recession.  This point can also be addressed in that the Governor does not necessarily make all the legislative decisions. Education and budget issues cycle through other outlets of state representatives before being pursued as laws.

Ads are peppered with confusing facts meant to appeal to voters. Understanding how policy and government are influenced is key to understanding ads.

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