Yesterday, while Trump spent the day bullying the European Union and NATO allies in Europe, he also found the time to brag that his approval rating hit 48 percent. This is a perfect example of one of his “alternative facts,” hand picked because it supports the narrative he wants. It isn’t a new theme, of course, but since polling is a well-understood science, it begs the question, is he too stupid to understand the facts, or too crooked to care.
The Rasmussen Reports approval rating
Rasmussen Reports releases a daily tracking poll for the President’s approval rating. The poll for May 25th boasted an approval rating of 48 percent, which Trump immediately jumped on with the following tweet.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 25, 2017
For an administration that has been dogged by the lowest approval rating of any modern President this early in his tenure, this would seem to be great news, to share with the world. Except, this is a classic example of Trumpian “alternative facts,” or “fake news,” as it were because it is a hand-picked datum that intentionally disregards the whole story.
A closer look at Trump’s approval ratings
Here is the daily approval rating from Rasmussen (copied from here), since inauguration day.
You see how much those numbers bounce up and down? On any given week, the swing is 5 percent. They list that each rating has a margin of error of ±3 percent, at a 95 percent confidence level. That means that if you repeated the poll many times that week, the margin of error would really be closer to 10 percent. In other words, their 49 percent approval rating is fully consistent with 39 percent.
Here is a compilation of approval ratings from just about every legitimate tracking poll out there, courtesy of FiveThirtyEight.
To read this graph, focus on the light green shaded region, which shows the margin of error based on the aggregate of all the polls. The Rasmussen approval rating, indicated by the black arrow, is a massive statistical outlier from all the other data. Note that it is almost exactly 10 percent from the average of all polls, which means that their claim of 49 percent is statistically equivalent to the average value of 39 percent.
In other words, their claim of a 49 percent approval rating may be the result of that day’s survey, but it is not at all a trustworthy measurement of the pulse of the country. To tout this one measurement, and ignore all the others, is unethical and dishonest.
Is Rasmussen honest?
That’s hard to say, but their numbers are certainly suspicious. From their own website, they state:
Some readers wonder how we come up with our job approval ratings for the president since they often don’t show as dramatic a change as some other pollsters do. It depends on how you ask the question and whom you ask.
If you look closely at their numbers, their polling adds up to 100percent. Look at any other poll, and the approval/disapproval ratings will almost never add up to 100 percent because they are honest about including the people who didn’t know. That means Rasmussen either forces every respondent to take a stand, or they cherry pick their data to only use respondents who didn’t answer “I don’t know.”
Also, notice that they claim their polls don’t show dramatic changes. Yes, they do! As we just showed, their numbers change on a daily basis by much more than their stated margin of error.
Finally, answers do depend on what questions you ask and who you ask. Rasmussen doesn’t release their questions, so they could be using “push polls” that direct the respondent to the answer they want. Compare this to Fox News, for example, who does release their questionnaire.
To this author at least, Rasmussen Reports is sketchy, at best.
Is Trump too stupid to notice, or too crooked to care?
It is no secret that there is a love affair between Donald Trump and Fox News. As noted by CNN:
Trump tweets about stories he sees on Fox. He uses Fox graphics to advance his agenda. And he gives his TV interviews to Fox — five of the seven he’s sat down for since moving into the White House. Trump hires former Fox staffers. He promotes Fox as “fair” and attacks its rivals as “fake.”
But consider that the latest Fox News poll has his approval rating at 40%. Why would Trump and his staff ignore the network he likes best, and cherry pick the number he likes best? Here are the two most likely scenarios:
- They don’t even have a basic understanding of how to read and report polling.
- They are intentionally cherry-picking news that makes them look good.
For an administration that decries everything they don’t like as “fake news,” and presents “alternative facts” to make themselves look better, the choice seems clear. But perhaps it is time to use the right word to describe what they are doing: propaganda. Plain and simple. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is crooked. Plain and simple.
Featured image from Twitter.