Presidential debate: Trump and Biden's claims fact-checked

Donald Trump and Joe BidenImage copyright

President Trump and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden have gone head-to-head in the first of three televised debates before the US election in November.

During a heated 90 minutes, the nominees clashed over everything from the state of the economy to the handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Reality Check has unpicked some of their claims.

Trump: “We built the greatest economy in history”

Verdict: That’s not right – there have been times in US history when the economy was stronger.

President Trump claimed that, prior to the coronavirus outbreak, “we built the greatest economy in US history”.

He claims to have generated historic economic growth, record low unemployment, and lifted millions of Americans out of poverty.

It’s true the economy was doing well before the pandemic – continuing a trend that began during the Obama administration – but there have been periods when it was much stronger.

The economy under Trump in six charts

Biden: “We have 4% of the world’s population, [but] 20% of the deaths”

Verdict: This is roughly correct. But looking at coronavirus deaths per capita, there are a number of countries which are worse than the US.

Mr Biden criticised President Trump’s management of the coronavirus response.

“We in fact have 4% of the world’s population, 20% of the deaths,” the former vice-president said.

According to the figures, that’s about right. The US population is about 328 million, which is just over 4% of the 7.7 billion global population.

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There have been 205,942 coronavirus deaths recorded in the US, according to the latest John Hopkins University data. The total number of deaths recorded worldwide is 1,004,808.

On this metric, the US accounts for about 20% of Covid-19 deaths worldwide, although the way countries record their figures varies considerably.

Countries with the highest per capita Covid-19 deaths

Per 100,000 people

Here’s more fact-checking of President Trump’s coronavirus claims.

  • Who is ahead in the polls – Trump or Biden?

Trump: Postal ballots increase will cause “a fraud like you’ve never seen”

Verdict: Studies have not found evidence of widespread fraud, although there have been isolated cases.

President Trump said an increase in postal ballots was going to cause “a fraud like you’ve never seen”.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a large proportion of US voters are expected to use postal voting in this year’s election.

The president has repeatedly warned that this will lead to widespread fraud.

There have been isolated cases of fraud including recent examples in North Carolina and New Jersey.

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In September, the US Department of Justice released a statement about an incident in Pennsylvania in which “nine military ballots were discarded” and said seven of them “were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump”.

But despite such incidents, numerous studies have not revealed evidence of major, widespread fraud.

The rate of voting fraud overall in the US is between 0.00004% and 0.0009%, according to a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice.

Biden: “100 million people [in the US] have pre-existing conditions”

Verdict: There is no definitive answer to this.

The candidates clashed over how many people in the US have pre-existing medical conditions, which can stop some Americans from being covered by private medical insurers.

Mr Biden said there were 100 million people with pre-existing conditions, but President Trump said that number was “totally wrong”.

So how many are there? There is no definitive answer.

According to the US government’s Department of Health and Human Services, between 50 and 129 million non-elderly Americans have some type of pre-existing health condition.

Other organisations have different estimates. The Center for American Progress believes it is higher, at 135 million people under age 65.

Trump: “We’re weeks away from a vaccine”

Verdict: There is a “very, very low chance” of an approved vaccine being ready by the end of October, the chief scientific adviser to the US vaccine programme says.

President Trump said in the debate that the US is only “weeks” from a vaccine. However, Dr Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser to the US vaccine programme, has said there is only a small chance an approved vaccine could be ready by the end of October.

Meanwhile, Dr Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, has predicted the US will know if it has a safe and effective jab by November or December this year.

He told a Senate committee hearing this month there might be enough doses for every American by April.

Biden: “Manufacturing went into a hole” before coronavirus

Verdict: That’s not right, according to the figures.

Democratic candidate Joe Biden suggested that even before Covid-19, “manufacturing went into a hole”.

The pandemic did have an impact on this sector. As of August, there were 237,000 fewer manufacturing jobs in the US than when Trump took office in 2017.

But prior to the pandemic, President Trump had added almost half a million manufacturing jobs during his first three years in office.

Trump: Biden once called African-Americans “super-predators”

Verdict: Mr Biden did not use that precise term. He did use the word “predators” but did not use this to refer to African-Americans.

President Trump accused his opponent of calling African-Americans “super-predators”.

In 1993 Mr Biden warned of “predators on our streets” during a speech before a vote on the key crime bill in Congress.

There was no specific mention of African-Americans but the crime bill was later criticised for increasing mass incarceration which disproportionately affected African-American men.

The term “super-predator” was used by Hillary Clinton in 1996 in support of the controversial bill.

Ms Clinton said: “We need to take these people on. They are often connected to big drug cartels, they are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called super-predators – no conscience, no empathy.”

Biden: “Trump hasn’t lowered drug prices for anyone”

Verdict: The average monthly cost of prescription drugs fell slightly in the year to August 2019, although it then rose again.

Mr Biden claimed that President Trump ”hasn’t lowered drug prices for anyone”.

But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (CPI) – which measures the cost of household items in the US – the average monthly cost of prescription drugs fell by 0.3% in the year to August 2019.

This was the first price decrease over a 12-month period since 1973. While average drug prices rose by 1.5% over the following year, under President Trump the average rises have been lower than under President Obama.

The CPI is not necessarily the most reliable way to measure drug prices, as it mainly includes widely used drugs, which are usually cheaper. It is less likely to include newer or less-prescribed drugs, which are more expensive and have higher price increases.

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