Over the past few weeks we’ve heard the claim over and over again: Donald Trump’s approval rating is on the rise. We’ve heard it from all three major cable news channels. We’ve heard it from online media outlets on the left and right. This is a startling claim, considering that nothing has recently happened in politics that would prompt anyone to shift their support toward Trump. So is the media lying to us? What do the numbers actually say? We take a look in our fact check.
Ask any polling expert and they’ll tell you that the best and only way to interpret the various polls is to average them together. RealClearPolitics uses a straight average. FiveThirtyEight uses a complex weighted average formula. But everyone with a serious understanding of statistics agrees that it’s invalid to quote one poll while omitting the others.
Unfortunately the mainstream media – cable news in particular – is often guilty of creating the appearances of movement in the polls when there is none. They’ll quote Trump’s lowest poll number one week, in order to get ratings out of the “Trump is in trouble” narrative. Then the next week they’ll quote Trump’s highest poll number, in order to get ratings out of the “Trump is on the rebound” narrative. Most of the time there has been no movement in the polls at all, and the media is merely trying to find ways to keep you tuned in. The real truth about Trump’s approval rating comes down to the actual numbers. So let’s take a quick look.
IBD/TIPP currently has Donald Trump’s approval rating at 35%. At the start of the year, that same poll had Trump at that same 35%. Six weeks ago, Gallup had at Trump at 40%, and Gallup still has Trump at 40%. Over those same past six weeks, Reuters/IPSOS has had Trump going from 41% to 39% to 37% to 41% and now 40%, as the numbers have slightly fluctuated within the margin of error. In other words, there’s been no meaningful movement one way or the other during the period of time in which the media has begun claiming Trump’s approval rating is on the rise.
Monmouth claims Donald Trump has gone from 33% in December to 44% now, but that’s an obvious outlier within the context of the other poll numbers, and should therefore be discarded, not highlighted. Again, the media has a bad ratings-chasing habit of alternating between reporting Trump’s highest and lowest poll numbers, or highlighting the occasional poll that shows an impossible amount of sudden movement, in order to create the appearance of a shift in the public’s view of Trump when there is none.
If you oppose Donald Trump, perhaps you should be concerned that his approval rating hasn’t dropped any further since the year started; the general public appears to be in a holding pattern until the Russia probe plays out. If you support Trump, you should be concerned that his approval rating is historically low for this point in a presidency. But either way, his approval rating is not on the rise. The numbers make that fairly clear.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report