Claim Check: Boughton Overstates On Unemployment, Population Growth

It’s easy for political campaigns to get tripped up by complicated or ever-changing statistics, and those numbers gremlins are at work in otherwise-reasonable spots from Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, the endorsed Republican candidate for governor.

In two ads — one produced for television and a longer video posted on his campaign’s website — Boughton describes his ties to the state and promotes Danbury’s high employment, strong population growth and favorable rankings in surveys by two outside groups. Most — but not all — of the claims hold up.

In “Connecticut’s Comeback,” Boughton describes himself as a former public school teacher, former member of the armed forces, former small business owner, a lifelong Connecticut resident and the “product of working-class, blue-collar America.” The ad also says outside surveys declared Danbury the best city in Connecticut to start a business and the second-best city to live in.

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Boughton did indeed teach high school social studies, and served in the Army Reserves, and his father was a draftsman for military contractors in the state. He also had an ownership stake in Connecticut Kitchen and Bath, a design firm run by his ex-wife.

And the outside-ranking boasts at least partly hold water. The website WalletHub analyzed 18 metrics in three categories — business costs, business environment and access to resources — to pick the best small cities in America in which to start a business, and indeed Danbury outranks all other Connecticut cities on the list.

But that “small” adjective is missing from Boughton’s ad. WalletHub looked only at cities with populations between 25,000 and 100,000 — meaning it didn’t consider Connecticut’s five largest communities — Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Stamford and Waterbury. Given the metrics used by WalletHub, it’s hard to tell how those cities would have fared for business development, and the ad should have clarified that only small cities were in the running.

Among those small cities, Danbury ranked 461st nationwide — the best ranking in Connecticut, and comfortably ahead of the next-best-ranked small city in the state, Torrington, which came in at No. 625. A ranking in the 400s may not seem terribly impressive — 42 other states have at least one city that beats Danbury (and Florida alone has 73). But the ad boasts only that Danbury is tops in Connecticut, and among small cities, that’s true.

The ad is on more solid ground with the livable-city ranking. The website 24/7 Wall St. (“Insightful Analysis and Commentary for U.S. and Global Equity Investors”) considered crime, demography, economy, education, housing, leisure and other factors to come up with the top cities, reasonably defining a city as a municipality having a population of at least 65,000.

Meridian, Idaho, took top honors, but Danbury was right behind in the No. 2. spot, praised for its nature parks and marinas, even as the website noted housing costs are much higher than the national average. So Boughton’s ad is spot-on in claiming that — by one survey, anyway — Danbury was deemed the second-best city in the nation to live in.

Boughton’s ads make two claims about the city’s unemployment rate — that Danbury has the lowest rate of any major Connecticut city, and that its unemployment rate is 3.2 percent.

The first claim is accurate. Data from May 2018 — the most-current data at the time the ads came out — showed Danbury with the 46th-lowest unemployment rate among the state’s 169 municipalities, and there were no major cities with a lower rate. But the 3.2 percent figure is outdated at best. The May data, from the Connecticut Department of Labor, showed Danbury with an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent. Historical data show Danbury’s rate hit 3.2 percent last October, and actually dropped to 3.1 percent in November and December. But since then, the rate has ranged from a high of 4.6 percent in January to a low of 3.4 percent in May.

Lastly, the Connecticut’s Comeback ad misses the mark by a bit in with its population-growth claims. “While the rest of the state has lost population, Danbury has been the fastest-growing city in the state of Connecticut,” Boughton proclaims.

For that claim, the campaign relied on an analysis by HomeSnacks, a website that aims to “deliver bite-sized pieces of infotainment about where you live.” But they may have bitten off too much with their analysis of the fastest-growing cities. HomeSnacks set out to measure growth from 2010 to 2016, but they used five-year estimates from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, meaning they were comparing a rolling estimate for the period 2006-2010, to a rolling estimate for 2012-2016.

Those five-year estimates are appropriate when looking at changes in very small municipalities, where sampling can lead to what’s known as an excessive “coefficient of variation.” But Danbury and other Connecticut cities are large enough that Census Bureau guidance calls for using one-year estimates from the American Community Survey.

Based on those one-year estimates, Stamford was the fastest-growing city between those two years, with a population increase of 5.05 percent, slightly edging out Danbury’s 4.89 percent jump.

Using the five-year estimates does put Danbury in the top spot for population growth — but those numbers also show a 1.2 percent increase in statewide population. So using either estimates, it would be incorrect to say both that the state has lost population and that Danbury is the fastest growing city.

Boughton’s ads make no wildly unsubstantiated claims. But precision matters, and these spots are slightly off-base on unemployment and population figures and the business-friendliness boast. Accordingly, we rate these ads “Somewhat Misleading.”

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