Donald Trump legitimately does not care about what polls actually say; he cares about what he can say about the polls.
He likes to talk about polls because polls are usually pretty good for him, at least since last July when he stormed into the lead in the Republican field. Polls serve as validation for his dominance, and so he talks about them as a slightly more subtle way of calling himself a winner. Last September, he suggested that he put so much weight on the polls that if his support started to crumble, he’d drop out. Obviously that didn't happen.
There’s one set of polling that Trump likes to talk about, though, that is at odds with this pattern. Trump frequently talks and tweets about how polls show him beating Hillary Clinton, when in fact polls almost always show the exact opposite.
“The other thing is, I beat Hillary in many of the polls taken, and each week I get better and I haven’t even started on her yet,” he said at a debate earlier this month.
Going to Salt Lake City, Utah, for a big rally. Lyin' Ted Cruz should not be allowed to win there - Mormons don't like LIARS! I beat Hillary
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2016
In an average of four out of five polls since last May, Clinton beats Trump outright. That includes Internet-based polls and polls from less-reliable pollsters. (This data comes from Huffington Post Pollster’s collection of poll numbers.) Focusing only on major, live-caller polls, the margin extends to nearly nine out of 10.
Since Jan. 1 of this year, Trump has led in only five of 39 polls, including only two of the 16 that used live callers.
Since voting began, Trump has beaten Clinton in precisely one of the 29 polls that have been conducted.
Notice that yellow line, too. That’s the trend of the live-phone polls over time. For a while, the race between the two appeared to be narrowing. Now, Clinton is pulling away again. In polls conducted over the last week, Clinton leads by an average of 11 points.
This isn’t predictive. There’s a lot of campaign to happen before we get to a Clinton-Trump general election in November. The point is really that Trump’s claims he beats Clinton are based on essentially nothing.
Not that this will keep him from saying it.