One of the most popular articles last week involved claims that polls showed Republicans had increased their support of President Trump. But a closer analysis of the data reveals that any increase in support was within the margin of error. So the polls couldn’t conclude that GOP support for President Trump had gone up or down.
Polls are tricky creatures. We either give them near god-like status, or discount them entirely, often depending on whether they show us what we want.
I remember the movie “Machete,” where an opportunistic Texas politician fakes his own shooting. Within five minutes of that story breaking, the news anchor reported that the politician had drastically improved his standing in the polls. Surveys don’t work that way.
Critics claim polls “got it wrong” in 2016. Actually, they were very accurate at picking the popular vote that year, which doesn’t decide the election, because they ran so many surveys of Americans across the country. They rarely surveyed several battleground states like Wisconsin that Democrats traditionally win. They asked the wrong questions.
When news organizations touted that “President Donald Trump’s approval rating with Republicans rose in a poll taken after his racist tweets on Sunday attacking four Democratic congresswomen of color,” I decided to investigate. These stories claim that Trump’s approval ratings “rose 5 percentage points to 72% from a similar poll conducted last week.”
So I looked at the Reuters polls from July 10 and July 17. On July 10, 53% of Republican Registered Voters strongly approved of the president, with 28% of these GOP voters “somewhat approving” of President Trump, with 2% of GOPers leaning towards approval.
On July 17, 52% of Republican voters strongly approved the president, with 32% of the GOP somewhat approving, and 2% of Republicans leaning towards approval.
That means the president’s doing better with Republicans in the polls than what was reported in these articles. If he were at 72%, going up five points, he’d be around Jimmy Carter’s level with the Democrats in 1980, which contributed to the president’s landslide loss.
But that “net approval” was only three points (from 83% to 86%), well within the 5.6% margin of error in the Reuters/Ipsos polls. Go look it up, and see for yourself.
Trump’s approval rating fell dramatically with Democrats and Independents. However, those were in the margins of error too. As the 538.org pollsters would say “It’s a bad use of polling.”
Additionally, Republicans from elected officials to key advisers worked overtime begging Trump to walk back the comments, or at least soften the tone. While most were leery of criticizing Trump directly, they did call the words a mistake or regrettable, as reported by numerous sites. That’s not what you do if those tweets are being well received by Republicans. President Trump’s approval ratings are also well below 50% in both Reuters/Ipsos polls.
At a minimum, we cannot conclude at the writing of this article that Republicans are more likely to support President Trump after those tweets, or are less likely to do so. But what we can conclude is that our polling is not what’s incorrect, but often our analysis of it.