At one point early in President Trump’s administration, I asked linguist Ben Zimmer why Trump insisted on capitalizing random words in his tweets. It’s an unfair question, even in broad strokes, given that it demands that someone intuit the mental processes of another person he or she doesn’t know. But Zimmer offered insightful words that I’ve shared before and now share again.
“Skimming through Trump’s recent tweets, I see him capitalizing certain nouns and noun phrases like ‘Drug Industry,’ ‘Healthcare Bill,’ ‘Election,’ ‘Press Conference,’ etc.,” Zimmer wrote in an email. “I don’t think Trump (or whoever he’s dictating his tweets to) is consciously emulating German or old-fashioned English — that sort of capitalization is just a way of elevating certain entities, investing them with an air of prestige or authority.”
Zimmer contrasted that type of tweet with Trump’s use of capitalization in his epithets, like “Lyin’ Ted.” Those, he speculated, Trump aimed “not to elevate the target of the epithet but to make it seem like it’s a standard, conventional form of address, with a nasty descriptor inextricably linked to the person’s actual name.”
This point is raised again, because it will hopefully address one of the immediate responses to the following tweet, proffered by Trump on Tuesday.
“[T]he People truly get it,” Trump writes, elevating the American public to a position of prominence with a single capitalized P. Why? Because the capital-P People have given him his highest approval ratings in a year, a function (Trump suggests) of the president’s recent actions. Despite the “Fake News Media” — capitalized presumably to inextricably link that nasty descriptor — Trump likes the Fake News Media’s good-thing reporting but loathes its bad-thing reporting.
He will not like this article.
Here’s the thing. It is true that Trump has seen an improvement in his approval ratings over the last few months, essentially since he hit a low in December. RealClearPolitics’ average of approval polls shows that pretty clearly: An upswing in approval and a downswing in disapproval. What’s more, Trump’s net approval — those who approve minus those who disapprove — has been better than minus-10 for all of May, the first time it has been that good in about a year.
We can see the same swing in individual poll results, compiled by HuffPost Pollster: down and then back up in approval ratings. …
… and up and then down in disapproval. Broadly speaking.
Trump appears to be tweeting, though, in response to one particular poll: the one from Gallup. Gallup switched from doing daily to weekly polls at the beginning of this year, so there’s more density of results from 2017. But it reported on Monday precisely the point that Trump is making. At 43 percent, his approval rating is now the highest it has been since late April 2017.
Here’s where we get nit-picky.
Trump invested a lot of energy in promoting polling from Rasmussen Reports over the past month, polling that has consistently been higher for him than other poll results. On four occasions in the past month-and-a-half, Trump tweeted the results of a Rasmussen poll that showed him at or above 50 percent approval.
Rasmussen’s results share the same flat-U shape of other pollsters. Over the past week, though, it has dropped from around 50 percent to around 47 percent, where it is in Rasmussen’s most recent poll.
It is true both that Trump’s approval ratings have been trending upward over the past few months and that Rasmussen shows a recent slip. It’s also true that averages are a better guide than individual polls. And it is true that Trump’s apparent celebration of Gallup while his previous favorite cherry-picked poll has dropped a bit is awfully cynical.
Note that Trump doesn’t pick out the percentage from Gallup’s poll. Forty-three percent approval is starkly at odds with the 50-percent-plus he has trumpeted over the past few weeks, so it isn’t mentioned. Ignoring the percentage also means that he can ignore the disapproval number from Gallup: 52 percent.
More than half the country disapproves of the job Trump is doing. That undercuts the claim at the heart of Trump’s tweet suggesting that Americans are coming around to the job he’s doing. Fewer people disapprove of Trump than used to, supporting his point — but most still think he’s not doing a good job.
There’s been a lot of debate about the functional results of Trump’s insistence on tweaking or shattering reality when it serves his rhetorical purposes to do so. This is a good example. He touted outlier polls to make it seem as if he was more popular than he is and, now that Gallup has a useful data point, seizes on that. The effect, though, is that we wonder about the context for the claims he makes and, upon examination, learn that Trump is again fudging important details. More broadly, it reinforces the idea that Trump simply says whatever makes him look the best.
We’d ask that Trump at least pick one metric and stick with it, for the sake of consistency. Or, to really hammer the point home: Please pick one Metric, Mr. President.