President Trump exists in a world where President Trump is overwhelmingly popular.
I mean this literally: He’s surrounded by family and broadly supportive staffers at the White House. He spends many weekends and every vacation at properties he owns, populated by people who pay to be there. His forays out into America are often campaign rallies where thousands of hardcore supporters go wild when they see him. He even limits his exposure to criticism by generally watching only Fox News or its farther right and less scrupulous competitor, OANN.
No wonder he dislikes the media so much; reporters pressing him on contradictions or unpopular policies are among his only exposures to a world in which his behavior is held to account.
There is another place in which reality intrudes: polling. During the Republican primary in 2016, Trump embraced polling, bringing the most recent numbers to rallies to tell his supporters about how overwhelmingly he was dispatching the Jeb Bushes and Lindsey Grahams of the world. Once he became president, though, polling was not a safe haven. Approval polling has consistently shown that most Americans object to his job performance, a fact that runs contrary to nearly everything Trump sees and hears everywhere else.
Maybe, then, Trump believes it when he says that the media is tamping down his approval or that polling fails to capture his support appropriately. He has said in the past that for one or both of those reasons, any poll that comes out should just have another 10 points tacked onto it to more accurately capture reality. That 10 points is significant. Given that he’s generally polling in the low 40s, adding 10 points gives him majority approval — and, in his view, makes him a success.
There are a few pollsters that, for whatever reason, generally have Trump approval numbers that are in that 10-more-points range. One is Rasmussen Reports, which is almost always more generous to Trump than the average of polls compiled by RealClearPolitics. Another is Zogby, which earlier this month had Trump’s approval at 51 percent. Both pollsters are given a C in FiveThirtyEight’s pollster ratings.
You would know about that Zogby result if you follow Trump on Twitter. Twice in the past week he’s tweeted out the Zogby result with a big, celebratory image, as he did Friday morning.
That image may look familiar, in fact. Trump has repeatedly tweeted similar images: him with an adoring audience or looking president-y with a big 50-something-percent slapped on top. Here are some examples from this year alone.
There is a lot of analysis that could be done on this pattern — a lot. But we’ll focus on one aspect: Even by his own presentation, Trump isn’t getting any more popular.
One of the hallmarks of Trump’s presidency is that his approval rating hasn’t moved much. Because Democrats broadly hate him and Republicans broadly love him, most of the movement in Trump’s approval rating is based on small wiggles and some fluctuations among independents. Those fluctuations, in fact, make up many of the shifts in Trump’s approval; that independents tend to be more skeptical of Trump than supportive is why his numbers have remained south of 50 percent.
Trump has tweeted about his approval rating more than 40 times as president, either citing numbers he sees or retweeting other people. His number is always higher than the RealClearPolitics average, by anywhere from 5 to 10 points. (On average, his numbers are about 7.6 points higher, if you were wondering.) But even for Trump, who cherry-picks whatever numbers he wants from whichever polls come to his attention, his approval rating hasn’t really moved much.
Over the span of those 42 tweets, Trump’s approval has never been lower than 45 and never higher than 53 percent. In RealClearPolitics’ average, Trump has never been above 46 percent — and never below 37 percent.
In other words, even in Trump’s halcyon world where most Americans approve of the job he’s doing, he hasn’t really made any headway over the course of his presidency. (We’ll note here, since it seems appropriate, that the pollster he cites most often, Rasmussen, doesn’t present its approval rating as representing all Americans. Instead, it is a measure of likely voters — with its generally Trump-friendly results hinging on which voters it considers “likely.”)
The world in which Trump lives is one in which Trump is more popular than not. That’s not a representation of independent, objective measures of how he’s doing, but it’s not unexpected, given how Trump insulates himself. What’s remarkable, though, is that even in that world, a world Trump controls — he’s not really changing anyone’s mind.