A poll conducted last week by YouGov for the Economist finds something fairly unremarkable: President Trump’s job approval rating stands at 43 percent. Since he took office, that’s generally the higher end of where his approval has been, all of the movement having taken place in a narrow range.
The reason isn’t complex. Republicans love Trump and Democrats hate him, with independents on the Democratic side of the middle. In that YouGov poll, for example, Democrats give Trump an 11 percent approval, compared with 37 percent from independents and 87 percent from Republicans. Without partisans embracing or abandoning him, things don’t move a lot, which is why we call that YouGov poll result unremarkable.
There have been numerous other polls in recent weeks saying the same thing. Trump’s approval ranges from 38 percent to 44 percent; his approval among Republicans from 84 percent to 88 percent. Each of these polls looks essentially the same.
And yet here was what Trump had to offer on Monday morning.
Perhaps you noticed the horizontal dashed line on the graph above. It marks 94 percent, the point at which Republican support sits, according to Trump. You’ll notice that there’s some distance between that line and the tops of the red columns, suggesting that Trump’s estimation of his approval from Republicans doesn’t come from any of those polls.
So where does it come from? The short answer is: nowhere.
For months, Trump had been touting a 93 percent approval rating from Republicans. The first iteration of that figure that we found came from a straw poll conducted at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which is a bit like foxes claiming to be overwhelmingly popular after surveying people at a furry convention. It’s like asking about support for the Second Amendment at a gun show.
In June, though, Trump tacked on a percentage point. He first claimed to have 94 percent support from Republicans during a news conference with then-British Prime Minister Theresa May. Our fact-checkers looked into it, determining that there was no public poll showing anything of the sort. If it was an internal campaign poll, it hasn’t been made public (our fact-checkers asked). Since then, though, 94 percent has supplanted 93 percent in Trump’s rhetoric, with his touting this purported number over and over and over again.
We’ve noted in the past that Trump likes to tout the same poll numbers repeatedly. There have been more than two dozen occasions on which Trump has touted an overall approval rating of 50 percent or higher, but those are usually at least tied to existing polls. (As a general rule, those polls are from Rasmussen Reports, a pollster that tracks approval among likely voters, not all Americans, and that has consistently given Trump higher approval numbers than nearly any poll.) It’s interesting that Trump continues to tweet things like “Working hard, thank you!” as he promotes a poll number that, even according to his presentation, is the same as it has been for months.
That’s not what’s happening here. Instead, Trump appears to simply be making the figure up. Perhaps there is internal polling showing Trump with substantially higher approval than public polls, a function of who they’re asking and how they’re asking it. But Trump doesn’t even say that; he just throws out this number as though it’s real.
Trump recorded an approval rating over 92 percent among Republicans in an established poll precisely once during his first two years in office: a Suffolk University-USA Today poll from October 2018 in which he was at 94 percent. If he’s referring to that poll, though, it’s deceptive, given the challenges of relying on one poll — much less one that’s nearly a year out of date. It would also be hypocritical, given that this is a president who excoriates pollsters for showing Hillary Clinton with a substantial lead in late October 2016, ignoring that those pollsters then showed a closer race as Election Day approached.
But, again, there’s no reason to think that Trump’s poll number is actually rooted in anything real. In this particular case we say that because of the dearth of any evidence. In the abstract it’s a fair assumption because of Trump’s general disinterest in accuracy.
So why say it? Well, it’s probably in part because of something else Trump tweeted on Monday morning: insults targeting former South Carolina congressman Mark Sanford. Sanford announced his intent to challenge Trump for the Republican Party primary over the weekend, and Trump welcomed him to the race by insulting his personal and political backgrounds.
In that context, Trump’s claim makes sense. A Republican president with 94 percent approval among Republicans would be a formidable opponent for a challenger. The last time Trump touted this purported 94 percent approval rating was in late August, and he offered it specifically in the context of potential primary challengers.
Granted, an incumbent with 87 percent approval is formidable, as well, but Trump does have something of a penchant for exaggeration. In this case, though, that exaggeration seems as though it would run counter to his intent: A challenger thinking about getting into the race might accept Trump’s 94 percent figure as accurate, only to then discover it’s somewhat south of that.
Wait until they learn that his approval rating isn’t 50 percent, either.