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A skeptic’s guide to that whole ‘Trump is more popular than ever’ thing

President Donald Trump
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Donald Trump
Warning: There’s a probably misleading “fact” lurking a couple of paragraphs below.

I haven’t updated my Trump Approval Ratings Watch in almost a month. It’s just too boring.

I still check the FiveThirtyEight average every day or two. And I would still say that the day-to-day or week-to-week changes are insignificant. Movement of a couple of points in either direction is usually offset by the opposite within a few days. Take a look for yourself: The numbers show Trump still below water (more disapprovers than approvers) as he has been since shortly after inauguration Day.

He had what looked like a steep drop for a couple of days right after he caved on the government shutdown in late January. His average approval number fell below 40 for about a day, then recovered and returned to the same-old range he has maintained for a year now, between 40 and 43 percent approvers, between 55 and 52 percent disapprovers. This is a weighted and adjusted average maintained by FiveThirtyEight.


I try to understand this. Can’t quite. I usually write about this once a month or so, and was beginning to wonder whether even that was too often to bother. Then yesterday (see the warning at the top), CNN’s Chris Cillizza put up a post headlined: Trump is more popular than ever before.”

Unless and until that’s confirmed by a bunch of other polls, that’s what I’m calling “probably misleading.”

It’s the latest number from Gallup, which shows Trump at 46 percent approval, 50 percent disapproval. Even if this were correct, it would still not be a great number by historical standards. But it’s the best Gallup has ever found for Trump. Here’s the Gallup history of Trump approval ratings.

But, as you can see, compared to the FiveThirtyEight average (which includes many approval measurers, including Gallup) it’s an outlier to the high side. So when I saw the CNN headline, I decided to revisit the average. And then write this, in case you attach too much importance to what Cillizza wrote.

So maybe Gallup is right (and, of course, like all such polls, it claims only to be a snapshot in time, surrounded by a significant plus/minus margin for error). But there are no other polls of the ten or more than FiveThirtyEight includes in its average that have Trump’s approval that high or his disapproval that low.

The FiveThirtyEight average-keepers would suggest that Trump is still trapped in the same range he has occupied for more than a year, roughly ten points under water, with a regular wobble up a couple and down a couple.

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/07/2019 - 09:41 am.

    The problem with polls is that there is no control group (except elections) which they can be checked against. So we never know if they are “right”. Indeed, we have a very uncertain grasp of what it means for a poll to be “right”. It can mean any number of things, few of which are discussed or even considered.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/07/2019 - 09:49 am.

    I’m a little surprised, since he seems convinced – or at least says in public – that the first two years of his term have been “stolen” by radical liberal obstructionists, that Mr. Trump is not now proclaiming that he’s the “most popular President in American history.”

  3. Submitted by William Stahl on 05/07/2019 - 11:11 am.

    I’ve read Chris Cillizza for years and by appearances he has become a bit too eager for clicks since moving to CNN. Presidential popularity is much too complicated for a headline based on on a Gallup release. (See 538.)
    Presidential polls are a loss leader and trivial part of Gallup’s business, and I am sure they would prefer not to do the surveys.

  4. Submitted by Misty Martin on 05/07/2019 - 11:50 am.

    Sadly, America no longer wants a strong, but kind, dignified, intelligent leader of the free world. Now we are willing to settle for an opportunist and a habitual liar – a snake oil peddler with a filthy mouth and an even dirtier soul. No matter how many times Jerry Falwell, Jr., defends him (standing in front of the framed cover of that 1990 Playboy magazine, no less) those of us with eyes that can see, ears that can hear, and hearts that can discern – know what President Trump is, no matter how “popular” he seems to be. Popularity is not always a good thing and in this particular case, it most certainly is not.

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 05/07/2019 - 01:28 pm.

    I’d stay with 538.
    While polls do have their limits, they are the best predictors that we have, and aggregates do better than individual polls in the long run.
    And the aggregates show Trump’s numbers staying within the margin of error of the polls — no consistent trend. He’s staying at least ten points under water — he’ll never blast his way out of the sand trap no matter what his caddies do.

  6. Submitted by Tim Smith on 05/07/2019 - 01:42 pm.

    Polls and markets tend to fluctuate… you have to look at trends over time. What doesn’t fluctuate and thus very predictable is the dem media rushing out to pollute any positive poll or economic news in fear people might feel good about it.

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/08/2019 - 08:36 am.

    Someone deserves credit for tricking me into clicking on another Black Ink about Trump’s polling numbers. That was a good one.

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