President Trump on the South Lawn of the White House on Monday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

One of the roles that the media plays in 2019 is as real-time social media archaeologists. The president of the United States will tweet something in which are buried pieces of other bits of rhetoric, and it’s often important or useful to dig those out, dust them off and explain to the rest of the country what it’s looking at.

Take, for example, a pair of tweets from President Trump on Tuesday morning, objecting to a vote in the House condemning his racist tweets from over the weekend.

“The so-called vote to be taken is a Democrat con game,” Trump wrote. “Republicans should not show 'weakness’ and fall into their trap. This should be a vote on the filthy language, statements and lies told by the Democrat Congresswomen, who I truly believe, based on their actions, hate our Country. Get a list of the HORRIBLE things they have said."

All of this has already been dug up. As for the claims about Democrats hating the country, we direct your attention to this.

Trump continued.

“Omar is polling at 8%, Cortez at 21%,” he wrote. “Nancy Pelosi tried to push them away, but now they are forever wedded to the Democrat Party. See you in 2020!”

Eight percent approval? Twenty-one percent? Those are dire numbers. No wonder Trump feels confident that these members of Congress — Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — are a drag on their party.

It’s just that once we brush the dust off those numbers, they take on a slightly different sheen.

Trump is referring to polling reported by Axios on Sunday. The site was presented with May numbers measuring views of the two lawmakers, neither of whom fared well. Only 22 percent of respondents saw Ocasio-Cortez in a favorable light, while only 9 percent said the same of Omar. (Trump, in classic Trump style, decided to knock a percentage point off each number.)

Now, the giant asterisk.


This was a poll not of Americans on the whole but, instead, of “likely general-election voters who are white and have two years or less of college education.” In other words, a poll of a group who in 2016 voted for Trump by a more than 2-to-1 margin, according to exit polls.

HuffPost’s Ariel Edwards-Levy, the site’s polling editor, eviscerated the poll on Monday. She noted the lack of transparency around question wording, the limited pool of respondents, the lack of context relative to other elected officials and the geography of where the poll was conducted, among other things.

In other words, what we know about the poll is what the group sharing it — a Democratic group with obvious antipathy to the attention Ocasio-Cortez and Omar are drawing — decided to give to Axios.

Even within those numbers, though, there are some important considerations. A quarter of respondents weren’t familiar with Ocasio-Cortez, and half weren’t familiar with Omar. Meaning that Omar, for example, could be twice as popular as stated once the rest of the population gets to know her. (Nine percent approval in a sample where only half has any opinion implies a possible 18 percent approval if everyone does.)

Except that awareness of Ocasio-Cortez and Omar might be skewed to people who don’t like them — because they’ve seen negative coverage of the two on Fox News and in conservative media. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in March had Ocasio-Cortez with a 23 percent favorable rating nationally, but with 44 percent of Democrats not knowing enough to have an opinion. Only 23 percent of Republicans similarly said they weren’t sufficiently familiar with her — meaning that more people who were yet to form an opinion were Democrats, a group where her favorable rating was seven times as high as her unfavorable rating.

Worth noting: Among whites without a college degree in that poll, Ocasio-Cortez’s approval rating was only 15 percent. Nearly 6 in 10 Democrats said she was good for the party.

In her own district, Ocasio-Cortez is more popular. A Siena College poll from April had Ocasio-Cortez with a 47 percent approval rating. Among her constituents, in other words, Ocasio-Cortez’s approval is about the same as Trump’s — though she has more room to grow than does the president. One in 10 respondents didn’t have an opinion of her job performance.

Trump legitimately doesn’t care about representing polls accurately or in presenting accurate polls. He’s demonstrated this time and time again, cherry-picking results, highlighting garbage online surveys and often simply making things up. So it’s not surprising that he grabbed these numbers, adjusted them downward and presented them as fact.

It’s true that Ocasio-Cortez isn’t terribly popular nationally. But, then, neither is Trump, something that he has somehow managed to avoid tweeting out to his millions of followers.