About two weeks after his inauguration, Donald Trump was confronted with news reports about the absence of a honeymoon period and his failing popularity. The new president made a declaration about all public-opinion polls: “Any negative polls are fake news.”
It was a curious posture to take publicly. To hear Trump tell it, polls he likes are real and trustworthy, while polls he dislikes are unreliable and “fake.” Why? Because he says so.
As ridiculous as this was, this presidential assessment was a sign of things to come. In recent days, Trump has ignored a series of national, independent polls that show him unpopular, and instead promoted results from Rasmussen, a Republican-friendly pollster, which has published results that make him feel better.
This morning, however, the president went a little further during an interview on a conservative radio show. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noted, Trump apparently believes even cherry-picked surveys are understating Americans’ love for their president.
In today’s interview with “Bernie and Sid in the Morning” on WABC radio, Trump listened modestly as his hosts showered obsequious praise on him for heroically making America great in the face of unremitting hate from the media.
“A poll just came out now, Rasmussen, it’s now 51,” Trump said. “They say that it’s 51 but add another 7 or 8 points to it…. They don’t want to talk about it, but when they get into the booth they’re going to vote for Trump.”
OK, a few things.
First, Rasmussen’s latest report puts Trump’s approval rating at 47%, not 51%. But even putting that aside, Rasmussen’s data remains an outlier, and most of the major polling outlets put the president’s current support quite a bit lower. The average currently stands at about 40%.
Second, this entire subject is one Trump should avoid. At this point in his presidency, Trump is the least popular president since the dawn of modern American polling. With this in mind, the smart move would be for him to subtly steer conversations away from polls, pretending to be principally concerned with governing, not the ebbs and flows of day-to-day political noise.
Instead, Trump seems determined to keep the focus on one of the more notable embarrassments of his presidency.
Third, Trump is ignoring inconvenient data, and then arbitrarily adding “7 or 8 points” to outliers, just because he has a hunch this is a legitimate thing to do. Even for this president, that’s pretty nutty. It’s certainly not what “very stable geniuses” do in response to evidence.
But circling back to our coverage from several weeks ago, there’s an even more alarming aspect to this: if Trump looks at all polling data through an ego-boosting lens, he’ll never know when it might be wise to change course.
After more than a year of effort, if you were a historically unpopular president – despite a healthy economy and generally favorable conditions – you might consider some kind of course correction. That, however, would require a combination of effort and the reevaluation of key assumptions. This president has no interest in either.
Indeed, it would also necessitate an ability to see data as it actually exists, and we can add this to the list of things Trump isn’t prepared to do.
Greg added, “If this trade war goes south, and the public rejects it, will Trump even know or believe that is happening?”
The answer, by all appearances, is probably not.