I’ve had great “ratings” my whole life, there’s nothing unusual about that for me. The White House News Conference ratings are “through the roof”(Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale , @nytimes) but I don’t care about that. I care about going around the Fake News to the PEOPLE!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2020
Then, he touted his record approval ratings from Republicans.
96% Approval Rating in the Republican Party. Thank you! This must also mean that, most importantly, we are doing a good (great) job in the handling of the Pandemic.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2020
Trump being Trump, he couldn’t simply hype that approval rating, as he did in a tweet 11 days ago. He had to make the point explicit: If I’m that popular, then clearly what I’m doing about the coronavirus is the right thing to do. Never mind that the approval rating was only among Republicans; the point Trump was trying to make was that the numbers don’t lie, and he’s delivering for his base.
Except the numbers do lie. Trump’s approval among Republicans isn’t 96 percent, any more than it was consistently 95 percent from October through March and no more than it was 94 percent from July through September.
Approval ratings don’t work like that, first of all; they move up and down. Second, no independent public polls put Trump’s approval that high. He’s popular among Republicans, yes, but not as popular and not as consistently as he presents.
What’s most obvious about Trump’s delineation of his approval ratings is when he decides to tack on another percentage point.
All of this began in January of last year when Trump touted a 93 percent approval — as measured in a Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll. That’s not only nonscientific but also a reflection of a very particular population that’s inclined toward enthusiastic Trump support. Nonetheless, for several months, Trump repeatedly claimed to be at 93 percent approval, apparently based on the CPAC results. (In early March, he celebrated having “just hit” 93 percent, which …)
On July 13, Trump suddenly got an upgrade in this nonexistent polling: He was at 94 percent! He didn’t offer any source for this improvement but did compare it with Ronald Reagan’s approval among Republicans, which Trump said was “87 percent.” (It’s not clear where that Reagan number came from, either. In Gallup’s polling, Reagan was regularly higher than 90 percent with his party.)
In the fall, Trump suddenly faced a significant threat to his presidency as the House opened an impeachment inquiry centered on his interactions with Ukraine. Soon after that inquiry started, Trump had news to report.
95% Approval Rating in the Republican Party, and record setting fundraising that has taken place over the past two weeks. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 3, 2019
It was a moment when Trump needed to keep Republican lawmakers on his side, given that they’d be voting on whether to oust him from office. The tacit argument? How could Republicans in the Senate vote to remove a president who had 95 percent approval with their base! Again, no source for the poll, but Trump pushed it out as factual 25 times from October through March.
Then the pandemic emerged, and Trump faced a new threat to his presidency. And, as though summoned from thin air — which, by all appearances, it was:
Wow, Approval Rating in the Republican Party - 96%. Thank you!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2020
It’s worth noting that Trump’s focus on the ratings of his briefings is spurred by a similar motivation, an insistence to the world that he’s popular and in demand. It’s slightly different, though, replacing apparently invented numbers with a focus instead on a high-water mark.
Contrary to Trump’s assertion that he doesn’t care about the ratings his briefings have earned, he does. If you don’t believe me, take his own word for it.
Because the “Ratings” of my News Conferences etc. are so high, “Bachelor finale, Monday Night Football type numbers” according to the @nytimes, the Lamestream Media is going CRAZY. “Trump is reaching too many people, we must stop him.” said one lunatic. See you at 5:00 P.M.!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 29, 2020
“President Trump is a ratings hit. Since reviving the daily White House briefing Mr. Trump and his coronavirus updates have attracted an average audience of 8.5 million on cable news, roughly the viewership of the season finale of ‘The Bachelor.’ Numbers are continuing to rise...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 29, 2020
...the Fake News Media into not covering them, but that effort failed because the ratings are through the roof according to, of all sources, the Failing New York Times, “Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale” type numbers (& sadly, they get it $FREE). Trump Derangement Syndrome!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 8, 2020
The Wall Street Journal always “forgets” to mention that the ratings for the White House Press Briefings are “through the roof” (Monday Night Football, Bachelor Finale, according to @nytimes) & is only way for me to escape the Fake News & get my views across. WSJ is Fake News!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 9, 2020
Because the T.V. Ratings for the White House News Conference’s are the highest, the Opposition Party (Lamestream Media), the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats &, of course, the few remaining RINO’S, are doing everything in their power to disparage & end them. The People’s Voice!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 10, 2020
As we pointed out more than a week ago, though, Trump’s insistence that the ratings for the briefings are unparalleled is heavily dependent on the presentation made by the New York Times in an article last month. You see it referred to repeatedly above; the comparisons to the NFL and “The Bachelor” come from the Times’s reporting.
But those ratings have faded over time, and networks are more reluctant to air them in their entirety, no doubt given Trump’s proclivity for redirecting them away from a focus on the coronavirus and onto praise for his administration. Again, though, this is what Trump does: He takes a good number or good data point and offers it over and over and over again. Ever heard him talk about the record ratings his TV show, “The Apprentice,” got? It won the ratings race precisely one week, for the finale of its first season. Trump has been dining out on that ever since.
Again, though, at least those numbers were real. His new 96 percent approval? Not backed by any recent public poll. (The most recent public poll released before his April 10 tweet was from Fox News. It had Trump’s approval with Republicans at a good, but more modest, 89 percent.)
Part of this is about the November election and projecting a sense of invincibility. But part of it is clearly older than that, more visceral. Trump both wants to be popular and wants people to believe that he’s popular. If he can use daily briefings about a deadly virus to help assuage his need to make that point, he will.