President Trump has finally admitted to his overarching theory about which polls are right and which ones are wrong. And it's very simple:
Polls that are bad for Trump = wrong
This isn't much of a surprise; Trump has been bashing any poll that is bad for him and praising any poll that is good for him — no matter how dubious the quality — for as long as he's been a politician. But few politicians would cop to this approach so directly. And yet, here's Trump's Monday morning tweet:
"Any negative polls are fake news." This is Trump signaling to his supporters that they are to dismiss any bad news about him. Never mind the methodology of a given poll or how Trump is actually doing as president; if something is negative, it has to be wrong.
This is at once a completely Trump worldview and also one that would get any student taking Statistics 101 a failing grade. Trump insists in his next tweet that he relies on the “accumulation of data” to make his decisions, but in this tweet, he is expressing contempt for any data that don't fit his preconceived notions or desires.
Poll-doubterism is an increasingly popular practice in this country, given how wrong some polls were in the 2016 election. The media largely overshot those polls' predictive qualities when it said (and we're over-generalizing “the media” here, yes) that Trump wouldn't win. And so Trump is tilling fertile soil here.
But his approach just has no basis in logic. It's almost alogical, rather than illogical. It's also allowing for Trump to do basically anything and claim a vast conspiracy against him by pollsters when they show people don't like it. Unemployment could skyrocket and Trump could start World War III by accident, and the polls showing him unpopular would just be “fake news.” There is no limit to the power Trump is attempting to assert when it comes to leading his base.
It's worth noting here that these same national polls that he's bashing were only about 1 point off in 2016 — on average — and even if they're 5 or 15 points off today, he was still the most unpopular president-elect in modern history. It's just not close.
Those very real statistics aside, Trump is throwing this blanket policy over all polling for a clear reason: Because basically every poll shows him and his policies treading water.
- His average approval rating is lower than his disapproval rating, according to the RealClearPolitics average.
- A new CNN poll showed 53 percent disapproved of his travel ban executive order, vs. 47 percent who approved. A CBS News poll showed Americans disapprove of it 51-45. And Gallup showed 55-42 against.
- The Gallup poll showed Americans opposed his border wall, 60-38.
- Gallup also showed they oppose halting the Syrian refugee program, 58-36.
- The CBS poll showed people believed banning refugees went against the founding principles of the United States, 57-35.
- A Quinnipiac poll last week showed people thought Trump would be a worse president than Barack Obama, 50-37.
- Polls have shown 7 in 10 would like more information on Trump's finances and his tax returns.
The total picture is of a president who simply isn't doing all that well in the eyes of the American people — to varying degrees. On this point, the polls are almost completely united.
And that's completely realistic, given Trump is doing very divisive and controversial things. It's no surprise that the American people would be split on his ideas given the tenor of his policies and the tone he takes with his political opponents. If Trump were trying hard to make everyone love him, it would be one thing. He's not.
The question is whether this is what Trump truly believes or whether it's a cynical political ploy to keep his base intact in the face of troubled waters ahead. We'll leave it to others to decide which they'd prefer.