Democracy Dies in Darkness

Morning Mix

Trump brags about approval rating hours after Bush’s funeral: ‘Working hard, thank you!’

December 6, 2018 at 3:39 AM

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President Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrived at the National Cathedral on Dec. 5, for former president George H.W. Bush's funeral. (The Washington Post)

Hours after listening to heartfelt eulogies from family and friends about George H.W. Bush’s integrity and compassion, President Trump reminded the world that things were looking good for him. That is, at least according to his preferred polling outlet.

In a 10:32 p.m. tweet that was short on words but big on font size, the president tweeted a graphic on Wednesday noting that he has a 50 percent approval rating. The source, listed in considerably smaller text in the photo, was Rasmussen Reports, a polling outlet that has often painted a friendlier outlook of Trump and his performance.

The problem? The president’s approval rating is more likely to be somewhere between 39 percent and 43 percent, according to recent polls from several different outlets conducted this month.

“Working hard, thank you!” Trump tweeted.

Although it’s not unusual for Trump to tweet about his higher-than-average polling numbers from Rasmussen, the timing of the tweet was peculiar, specifically on the day of Bush’s state funeral in which, as The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker noted, the president looked uncomfortable surrounded by all his living predecessors for the first time. The message also came after the themes presented in the eulogies for the 41st president — “His life code was: ‘Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course,’ ” remembered Bush biographer Jon Meacham — offered something of a jarring contrast to Trump and his presidency.

Related: Bush funeral: Trump sits with fellow presidents but still stands alone

The accuracy of the polling trumpeted by the president was almost immediately questioned by critics.

“The president is citing a poll from @Rasmussen_Poll, which said that Republicans would win the popular vote for the U.S. House,” said FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver, who once described Rasmussen as “biased.” “Instead, Democrats won it by 9 points.”

According to FiveThirtyEight, which has been updating its calculation of the president’s approval rating from all major polls, Trump’s aggregate approval rating is around 42 percent, as of Wednesday. The aggregate average is almost the same on RealClearPolitics, where Trump is at about 43 percent, according to polling conducted between Nov. 14 and Tuesday.

Wednesday night’s tweet was at least the 13th time since October 2016 that Trump has promoted favorable Rasmussen data on Twitter. This year alone, he’s posted at least seven other status updates about how his Rasmussen approval rating was between 49 percent to 51 percent, according to Twitter data. In almost all those tweets, Trump compared his data to that of President Barack Obama — “Just hit 50%, which is higher than Cheatin' Obama at the same time in his Administration,” he said in April — or criticized the media. “Rasmussen just came out at 51% Approval despite the Fake News Media,” he said that same month.

At a contentious news conference last month following the midterms, Trump noted Rasmussen poll numbers that found him to have high approval marks among African American and Hispanic voters.

“A poll came out recently, where my numbers with Hispanics and with African Americans are the highest, the best they’ve ever been,” Trump said. “That took place two or three days ago, the poll. I have the best numbers with African American and Hispanic Americans than I’ve ever had before.”

As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump has noted, Rasmussen uses unorthodox methodology, which includes calling only landline phones of “likely voters,” both factors that tend to skew more toward older, conservative voters. Its polling has produced results that tend to favor the president.

Unsurprisingly, the response on Twitter was mostly skeptical or critical. Some, like CNN’s Manu Raju, noted how small the Rasmussen mention was, compared with the sizable text used to promote the approval rating.

Actor Michael Kelly, best known for playing Doug Stamper, the scary, dangerous chief of staff on “House of Cards” who does whatever it takes to get the job done for the Underwood family, succinctly summed up the timing of Trump’s approval rating boast.

“Man you are one funny fella,” Kelly said.

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The Post’s Marc Fisher explores how President Trump’s concerns with numbers and ratings have shaped his career. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)

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Timothy Bella is the deputy editor of Morning Mix. His work has appeared in outlets such as Esquire, the Atlantic, New York magazine and the Undefeated.

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