President Trump joined British Prime Minister Theresa May for a news conference on Tuesday, the second day of his visit to the United Kingdom. During the event, the president broke some remarkable news: His approval rating among Republicans had just hit a record high.
“I have a 90 percent-- 94 percent approval rating as of this morning in the Republican Party," Trump said. "That’s an all-time record. Can you believe that? Isn’t that something? I love records.”
A remarkable stat, certainly. But one which should probably be accompanied by a few asterisks:
- 94 percent approval among Republicans would not be an “all-time record.”
- A difference of a point or two in party approval ratings likely isn’t statistically significant and is therefore meaningless.
- Different numbers from different pollsters also make this claim fairly suspect.
- There was no public poll on Tuesday or any other recent morning we can find that offered that statistic.
- Trump and his supporters have made claims about 94 percent approval many times before.
Beyond that, though, quite an achievement.
POINT 1: Not a record. When Trump claimed last July that his approval numbers had beaten both Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, Politifact assessed the claim. It looked at historic approval ratings for Republican presidents using Gallup’s historic approval ratings tool.
Even using Trump’s 94 percent figure, the claim is obviously false. It’s not even the highest approval rating of the past two decades, a record held by George W. Bush whose approval from Republicans was consistently above 95 percent for months after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.
Politifact found that both Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush also saw approval ratings that were over 94 percent from Republicans at some point in their administrations.
POINT 2: Meaningless comparison. It’s important to remember, though, that the difference between a 94 percent approval rating and a 95 percent approval rating -- or between 94 percent and the purported 93 percent that Trump celebrated in March -- is statistically insignificant. You’ve heard of the margin of error in polling, a measure of the uncertainty that’s built into the statistical measurements used in polling.
Unless the pollsters used a massive pool of respondents, the margin of error in whatever poll Trump believes he’s referring to would mean that a 94 percent approval is essentially equivalent to an approval a few points higher or lower than that.
Such a record, in other words, wouldn’t really mean a lot anyway.
POINT 3: Unfair comparison. Trump’s also theoretically lumping all sorts of polls together. Different polls use different methodologies and ask different pools of people for their opinions. The pollster Rasmussen Reports, for example, consistently offers more Trump-friendly numbers than other pollsters, making a comparison between them and, say, Gallup, an iffy comparison.
These days, there are a slew of other ways in which polls are conducted, many of them non-scientific. Trump praised online surveys that showed him doing well during the 2016 campaign despite those surveys being essentially meaningless from a statistical standpoint. Imagine comparing a Drudge Report survey to a formal poll conducted by the Associated Press. It’s like comparing apples and mealworms.
POINT 4: There was no poll. Anyway, there’s no evidence this poll even exists.
Rasmussen’s daily poll has Trump at 49 percent overall approval, below his high in their polling. The pollster’s Twitter account, which often celebrates good numbers for the president, makes no mention of any in-party record.
There was a poll a few days ago commissioned by The Hill that touted that Trump’s approval rating was at a two-year high. In that poll, only 83 percent of Republicans approved of Trump. CNN released a poll over the weekend in which 86 percent of Republicans approved. These aren’t bad numbers -- but they also aren’t 94 percent.
It’s possible that Trump’s referring to internal campaign polling. That, of course, isn’t comparable to outside independent polling even if it were useful to compare a 94 percent approval to a 93 percent one.
Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale, has teased hints about how well Trump does in internal polling before. In early January Parscale tweeted that Trump’s internal approval nationally was the highest he’d seen.
In Gallup polling he was at 37 percent.
POINT 5: We’ve heard this before. Again, Trump’s made similar claims in the past.
This “94 percent” idea has been common among his supporters on social media though the genesis of the claim isn’t clear. Trump’s “93 percent” claim, though, the one he mentioned in March, does have an actual point of origin that we tracked down at the time.
He was referring to a straw poll taken at the Conservative Political Action Conference. It’s like saying that the Buffalo Bills are going to win the Super Bowl because the team’s A squad beat the B squad in a scrimmage at training camp.
The broader question here is why. Why did Trump suddenly decide to announce that he had this purported historic approval, even seemingly jacking up the number from 90 to 94 percent on the fly? Why was this so important?
That question is a bit trickier to answer.