Trump's Real Job Approval Could Be as High as 60 Percent

What voters most hate about politicians is their maddening refusal to keep – or even try to keep – their campaign promises. In this regard, Trump is a truly revolutionary force in politics, a veritable saint among demons.  Given that, and the relative peace and prosperity Americans enjoy, how do we explain a presidential approval rating that remains mired in the low to mid-40s?  Since Trump is the center of political gravity and leads the GOP, the question of how voters really view him is a major factor in the upcoming election.

Republicans should discount the polls – the picture heading into the 2018 elections is brighter than it seems.  There are at least eight ways in which poll numbers are likely exaggerated against Trump – and thus Republicans in general:

1. Pollsters are asking the wrong question.  Every polling firm aside from Rasmussen appears to ask this exact question: "Do you approve of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as President?"  Clearly, "handling" is a loaded term in the context of Trump: there are millions of Americans who don't care for his "handling" of things – which largely speaks to demeanor and style – but are at the same time satisfied with his actual job performance and results.  It's not clear exactly what question Rasmussen asks regarding Trump's job approval (an inquiry went unanswered), but Rasmussen reports its results in terms of "job performance."

2. Many firms produce consistently negative results, outside the norm, suggesting bias or a flawed approach.  An analysis of the RCP polling data going back to Trump's inauguration shows that Quinnipiac polls consistently produce lower results than other polls taken around the same time.  The same is true for CBS, IBD-TIPP; Gallup; and to a lesser extent CNN, CNBC, and Pew.  Only Rasmussen consistently produces higher than average results.  The questions that are asked, the ideological sample that is polled, and the order in which the questions are asked can all affect the results.  And with the exceptions of Gallup and Rasmussen, who always poll exactly 1,500 people, polling samples from other firms always vary.  That might facilitate tampering with the data, such as ending the polling after a particularly negative stretch of results. 

3. Corporate media ignore Trump's successes and obsesses over issues that can be used to paint him in a bad light.  A recent analysis of corporate media's labeling of Trump's emotional state shows the regular use of terms such as "angry" and "lashing out."  Analysis has also shown that 93% of corporate media coverage of Trump's first 100 days was negative, and recent coverage has been 91% negative.  Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd, and the corporate media know this, so they try to create the impression that most people are anti-Trump.  The "Bradley/Wilder Effect" is almost certain to be in evidence in November: voters respond to polling based on the current ethos rather than their own self-interest, but their self-interest produces a different result in the voting booth.

In the last two days, I've seen two Trump bumper stickers, a rare sight.  The radical left's violent tendencies have been on vivid display since Trump announced his candidacy, and that violence and vandalism is meant to intimidate Trump supporters.  The resulting fear to make a small public statement of support such as posting a bumper sticker or a yard sign is surely an indication that polling results are also affected.

4. Many polling firms sample the wrong people – registered voters or all adults.  The only valid sample is likely voters.  Those who stay home on election day aren't part of the election results.

5. Trump brought out many voters for the first time in 2016 and brought back into action many voters who haven't voted in years.  These voters will be overlooked by firms using any "likely voter" screen that focuses on a history of voting.  And many 2016 voters were taking a risk with Trump; no one was certain what kind of job he would do as president.  Now they know more, as do their friends and neighbors who are of like mind but sat out 2016.  Some people are so outraged by biased reporting and leftist mania that they will be voting this November for the first time, and leftist radicalism has driven many to walk away from the Democratic Party.

6. The left is concentrated in population centers and a few large states – so much so that Trump won the popular vote outside California in 2016 despite losing the overall popular vote by 3 million votes.  Take lopsided California out of the polling results, and the polling looks different.  Nationwide, the population concentration on the left historically plays against the Democrats; in 2016, Republicans won 49.13% of total congressional votes cast but captured more than 55% of the seats.  In 2014, Republicans won 57% of the seats with 52% of the votes.

7. Voters have yet to become focused on actual voting.  That is true in every election, but in the Trump era things, are different: the diet of anti-Trump news from corporate media is so steady that it's hard to gauge what effect campaign advertising messages about peace and prosperity will have on voter sentiments as voting nears.  How many Americans really know the details of the current economic expansion and its positive impact on jobs and dependency?  Trump's economic policies may have already taken hundreds of thousands of reliable Democrat voters out of the equation.  The number of food stamp recipients has declined by nearly 4 million people.

8. Trump is a singularly energetic campaigner.  His efforts this year will likely move more Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to the polls.  Seeing large arenas overflowing with animated Trump-supporters is probably a drag on Democrats.  His simple message at these rallies is perfect: things are going well, but the Democrats will take it all away and stop any further progress, so we need more Republicans in Congress.

Some of the variables mentioned above are significant, others less so.  Factors such as the Bradley/Wilder Effect and the "job performance" vs. "handling" question might each count for 5% or more by themselves.  If the above factors average just 1% each, the approval picture for Trump changes dramatically, and the GOP's election prospects change dramatically.

RCP's polling average for the direction of the country is at a five-year high and has been steadily rising for the last year.  The peak under Obama was in June of 2009, with 45.8% of those polled saying the country was moving in the right direction.  Two years later, Obama bottomed at 17%.  On election day 2016, it was 31%.  Today it stands at 41%.  Because of Trump's unprecedented commitment to keeping his campaign promises, for the first time in a generation, Republicans have a chance to vote with great enthusiasm.  They should ignore the polls and do so.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

What voters most hate about politicians is their maddening refusal to keep – or even try to keep – their campaign promises. In this regard, Trump is a truly revolutionary force in politics, a veritable saint among demons.  Given that, and the relative peace and prosperity Americans enjoy, how do we explain a presidential approval rating that remains mired in the low to mid-40s?  Since Trump is the center of political gravity and leads the GOP, the question of how voters really view him is a major factor in the upcoming election.

Republicans should discount the polls – the picture heading into the 2018 elections is brighter than it seems.  There are at least eight ways in which poll numbers are likely exaggerated against Trump – and thus Republicans in general:

1. Pollsters are asking the wrong question.  Every polling firm aside from Rasmussen appears to ask this exact question: "Do you approve of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as President?"  Clearly, "handling" is a loaded term in the context of Trump: there are millions of Americans who don't care for his "handling" of things – which largely speaks to demeanor and style – but are at the same time satisfied with his actual job performance and results.  It's not clear exactly what question Rasmussen asks regarding Trump's job approval (an inquiry went unanswered), but Rasmussen reports its results in terms of "job performance."

2. Many firms produce consistently negative results, outside the norm, suggesting bias or a flawed approach.  An analysis of the RCP polling data going back to Trump's inauguration shows that Quinnipiac polls consistently produce lower results than other polls taken around the same time.  The same is true for CBS, IBD-TIPP; Gallup; and to a lesser extent CNN, CNBC, and Pew.  Only Rasmussen consistently produces higher than average results.  The questions that are asked, the ideological sample that is polled, and the order in which the questions are asked can all affect the results.  And with the exceptions of Gallup and Rasmussen, who always poll exactly 1,500 people, polling samples from other firms always vary.  That might facilitate tampering with the data, such as ending the polling after a particularly negative stretch of results. 

3. Corporate media ignore Trump's successes and obsesses over issues that can be used to paint him in a bad light.  A recent analysis of corporate media's labeling of Trump's emotional state shows the regular use of terms such as "angry" and "lashing out."  Analysis has also shown that 93% of corporate media coverage of Trump's first 100 days was negative, and recent coverage has been 91% negative.  Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd, and the corporate media know this, so they try to create the impression that most people are anti-Trump.  The "Bradley/Wilder Effect" is almost certain to be in evidence in November: voters respond to polling based on the current ethos rather than their own self-interest, but their self-interest produces a different result in the voting booth.

In the last two days, I've seen two Trump bumper stickers, a rare sight.  The radical left's violent tendencies have been on vivid display since Trump announced his candidacy, and that violence and vandalism is meant to intimidate Trump supporters.  The resulting fear to make a small public statement of support such as posting a bumper sticker or a yard sign is surely an indication that polling results are also affected.

4. Many polling firms sample the wrong people – registered voters or all adults.  The only valid sample is likely voters.  Those who stay home on election day aren't part of the election results.

5. Trump brought out many voters for the first time in 2016 and brought back into action many voters who haven't voted in years.  These voters will be overlooked by firms using any "likely voter" screen that focuses on a history of voting.  And many 2016 voters were taking a risk with Trump; no one was certain what kind of job he would do as president.  Now they know more, as do their friends and neighbors who are of like mind but sat out 2016.  Some people are so outraged by biased reporting and leftist mania that they will be voting this November for the first time, and leftist radicalism has driven many to walk away from the Democratic Party.

6. The left is concentrated in population centers and a few large states – so much so that Trump won the popular vote outside California in 2016 despite losing the overall popular vote by 3 million votes.  Take lopsided California out of the polling results, and the polling looks different.  Nationwide, the population concentration on the left historically plays against the Democrats; in 2016, Republicans won 49.13% of total congressional votes cast but captured more than 55% of the seats.  In 2014, Republicans won 57% of the seats with 52% of the votes.

7. Voters have yet to become focused on actual voting.  That is true in every election, but in the Trump era things, are different: the diet of anti-Trump news from corporate media is so steady that it's hard to gauge what effect campaign advertising messages about peace and prosperity will have on voter sentiments as voting nears.  How many Americans really know the details of the current economic expansion and its positive impact on jobs and dependency?  Trump's economic policies may have already taken hundreds of thousands of reliable Democrat voters out of the equation.  The number of food stamp recipients has declined by nearly 4 million people.

8. Trump is a singularly energetic campaigner.  His efforts this year will likely move more Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to the polls.  Seeing large arenas overflowing with animated Trump-supporters is probably a drag on Democrats.  His simple message at these rallies is perfect: things are going well, but the Democrats will take it all away and stop any further progress, so we need more Republicans in Congress.

Some of the variables mentioned above are significant, others less so.  Factors such as the Bradley/Wilder Effect and the "job performance" vs. "handling" question might each count for 5% or more by themselves.  If the above factors average just 1% each, the approval picture for Trump changes dramatically, and the GOP's election prospects change dramatically.

RCP's polling average for the direction of the country is at a five-year high and has been steadily rising for the last year.  The peak under Obama was in June of 2009, with 45.8% of those polled saying the country was moving in the right direction.  Two years later, Obama bottomed at 17%.  On election day 2016, it was 31%.  Today it stands at 41%.  Because of Trump's unprecedented commitment to keeping his campaign promises, for the first time in a generation, Republicans have a chance to vote with great enthusiasm.  They should ignore the polls and do so.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.