Ripped Donald Trump signs lay on the floor at a rally in Radford, Va., Feb. 29, 2016.
Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC

Trump, his supporters, and the persistence of the ‘reality gap’

With Election Day having come and gone, the political world’s obsessive interest in polling has largely dissipated, and for good reason: we no longer need to comb through data in the hopes of figuring out who’s going to win.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 12/8/16, 9:00 PM ET

Poll shows Trump voter gap with facts, rest of Americans' views

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But that doesn’t mean survey results are suddenly unimportant. It matters, for example, that Donald Trump’s presidential honeymoon is over before it starts, with a new report from the Pew Research Center showing the Republican headed into Inauguration Day with strikingly weak public support. Similarly, new results from Public Policy Polling, which Rachel noted on the show last night in an exclusive sneak-peak, found a majority of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the president-elect.

For all the Republican talk about Trump having a “mandate” as a result of his “landslide” victory, the fact remains that Trump, who lost the national popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, is not held in high regard. The Pew data found most of the country still considers him ill-qualified, reckless, hard to like, and lacking in sound judgment.

To think Trump will take the White House with the American mainstream on his side, with the electorate rallying behind his vision and agenda, is plainly ridiculous.

But what struck me as especially notable about the new survey results is the persistence of the so-called “reality gap.”

* Unemployment: Under President Obama, job growth has been quite strong, and the unemployment rate has improved dramatically. PPP, however, found that 67% of Trump voters believe the unemployment rate went up under Obama – which is the exact opposite of reality.

* Stock Market: Since the president was elected, the stock market has soared, nearly tripling since the height of the Great Recession. PPP found that 39% of Trump voters believe the market has gone down under Obama – which is also the exact opposite of reality.

* Popular Vote: As of this morning, Hillary Clinton received roughly 2.7 million more votes than Donald Trump, but PPP nevertheless found that 40% of Trump voters believe he won the popular vote – which is, once again, the exact opposite of reality.

* Voter Fraud: Even Trump’s lawyers concede there was no voter fraud in the presidential election, but PPP found that 60% of Trump voters apparently believe “millions” of illegal ballots were cast for Clinton in 2016 – which isn’t even close to resembling reality.

Soros Conspiracy Theory: A whopping 73% of Trump voters believe George Soros is paying anti-Trump protesters – though in reality, George Soros is not paying anti-Trump protesters.

We are, in other words, looking at a political landscape in which much of the president-elect’s core base appears to be living in an alternate reality.

To be sure, some of these attitudes may reflect tribal, reactionary instincts. Perhaps some Trump voters know, deep down, that the unemployment rate improved dramatically under President Obama, but they say the opposite solely because of their contempt for him.

This explanation, however, only goes so far. It might explain some of the polling results, but not all. Indeed, as regular readers know, the “reality gap” isn’t even new: for years, many Republicans have told pollsters they believe border security has weakened under Obama (it’s actually strengthened), the deficit has gotten bigger (it’s actually shrunk by a huge margin), and the nation’s uninsured rate has gone up (it’s actually at an all-time low).

Whatever the cause – the conservative media bubble, tribalism, fake news – this reality gap is a frustrating drag on the discourse. If those engaged in a public debate have no shared reality, then there’s no common foundation to build upon, and even less to talk about.




Donald Trump and Polling

Trump, his supporters, and the persistence of the 'reality gap'