Fact-checking Nikki Haley’s inflation math on July 4 cookout costs

PolitiFact | Haley’s staffers quickly deleted a tweet after realizing the math didn’t add up correctly.
Twitter users mocked Nikki Haley for making a basic math mistake when she graduated from Clemson University with an accounting degree. Haley’s office told PolitiFact: “This was a staff error that should not have been published.”
Twitter users mocked Nikki Haley for making a basic math mistake when she graduated from Clemson University with an accounting degree. Haley’s office told PolitiFact: “This was a staff error that should not have been published.” [ SUSAN WALSH | Associated Press (2020) ]
Published July 6, 2022|Updated July 7, 2022

Nikki Haley, President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations and a possible future Republican presidential candidate, roused passions on Twitter over July 4 weekend when she took a shot at inflation on President Joe Biden’s watch.

A tweet from Haley’s personal account said, “Remember last summer when Biden bragged about a $0.16 savings on your July 4th cookout? Well, this is what you’re spending on this 4th of July.”

The tweet referenced a graphic about Biden’s “inconvenience store” that was attributed to her political action committee, Stand for America. The graphic offered what it said was the one-year increase in prices for six July 4 cookout staples.

The graphic said the price of hot dogs had increased by 15.6%, soda by 13.2%, condiments by 11.9%, ice cream by 9.6%, bread by 8.7% and watermelon by 8.2%.

After these six items, the graphic summed everything up by saying that the total increase was 67.2%.

Inflation has increased the cost of the typical July 4 barbecue — but not by that much.

As many Twitter followers quickly pointed out, basic mathematical principles say you can’t add six percentage increases together to yield a total percentage increase. In this case, you’d have to divide that total by six (i.e., the number of items being averaged) to find the overall increase. Assuming you were weighting the six items equally, that would be an average increase of 11.2%.

That’s not an insignificant increase, but it’s also far less than 67.2%.

Realizing its mistake, Haley’s staff deleted the tweet within an hour or so. But screenshots continued to circulate through the holiday and into the following week. Users mocked Haley for making such a basic mistake when she graduated from Clemson University with an accounting degree.

“This was a staff error that should not have been published,” Haley’s office said to PolitiFact in a statement. “We realized the calculation error and immediately removed the graphic.”

There’s no question that the graphic’s final calculation was wrong. But the individual increases for the six items are close to accurate.

For a comparison, we looked at data from the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Economic Research Service, which at the time of Haley’s tweet was current through May 2022. We found that five of the six items Haley cited fell under categories tracked by the department, although with a somewhat broader definition. (The only one we couldn’t find data for was “condiments.”)

Here’s a summary of one-year cost increases for categories tracked by the USDA:

  • Beef: 10.2%
  • Nonalcoholic beverages: 12%
  • Dairy products: 11.8%
  • Cereals and bakery products: 11.6%
  • Fresh fruits: 8.5%
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So, Haley’s graphic overstated inflation’s effect on some products and understated it on others.

Related: Fed attacks inflation with its largest rate hike since 1994

We also found another price comparison: an analysis of July 4 barbecue costs published every year by the American Farm Bureau Federation. (When the Biden White House trumpeted a savings of 16 cents for July 4 cookout prices a year ago — the inspiration for Haley’s tweet — this was the source.)

The Farm Bureau’s list of items mostly don’t overlap with Haley’s, but two do. The Farm Bureau found a 16% increase for hamburger buns (which was higher than Haley said) and a 10% increase for ice cream (which was in line with Haley’s figure). However, the Farm Bureau’s increases for several types of meat exceeded 30%, which is about double Haley’s estimate for hot dogs.

All told, the Farm Bureau found that the overall cost for a sample cookout “is up 17%, or about $10, from last year, a result of ongoing supply chain disruptions, inflation and the war in Ukraine.”

Our ruling

Haley said that this July 4, the cost of six American cookout staples had jumped for a total increase of 67.2%.

Haley’s attempt to slam Biden over inflation overstated the burden of these items when it added the percentage increases into one large total. Instead, Haley should have calculated the average increase for the six items by adding the percentages together and dividing by six.

Were it not for this error, Haley’s cookout claim would have been more accurate: The granular percentage increases in the graphic were either similar to what independent estimates had found or understated them. But the eyeball-catching total missed the mark.

We rate this claim False.