Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Lies, damned lies and statistics. This was the adage made popular by 19 century writer Mark Twain. He correctly attributed it to British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli but he was the one that made it popular. It is how I tend to describe polls and how they attempt to influence public opinion.

In my opinion polls are not worth very much, especially early in a President’s first term. Early in his first term Ronald Reagan ran well below 50% in approval ratings and yet he was a consensus winner in both his first election and for reelection four years later. He became the icon in the Republican Party and future Presidential candidates would try to favorably compare themselves to Reagan.

Today the Washington Post published a poll on Trump that has some surprising numbers. According to their headline President Trump is the least popular President at the 100-day mark of his Presidency. They give him an approval rating of 42%. Now I have some thoughts on their poll.

First, I don’t think this 100-day barometer means much of anything. Trump was not allowed to have his entire team in place and still does not have them. The Democrats have delayed the confirmation of just about all of his nominees. This makes it difficult for him to get many of the things done he campaigned on doing. I also believe that’s Trump did not expect to win (nor did any of the pundits and certainly not the Clinton campaign) so he was caught a bit by surprise and did not have a clear picture of whom he would bring into the government with him.

Second, while I think there are many problems that Trump has brought on himself that would influence this poll I also think the media had been very one-sided in their attacks on him. Compare this to the adulation and fawning they did when Barrack Obama was first elected. When there is a constant barrage of attacks from the media it becomes difficult to make yourself popular in the country.

Third, I think they skewed their poll a bit. In the demographics of the poll they said that 31% said they were Democrats, 24% were Republicans and 36% said they were independents. A Gallup poll this year in January 28% said they were Republican and 25% said they were Democrats with 44% saying they were independent. I think the party numbers are pretty much correct but I suspect people are not being honest when they say they are independent.   But even it they were correct the Post poll over polled Democrats and you can be sure in this environment they all gave negative views of President Trump.

An interesting figure in their poll was that among Trump supporters 94% said they still supported him. That is a drop of only 2% and that does not seem to support the poll overall. Of those polled who voted for Trump 96% said they would vote for him again while only 85% of the Clinton voters said they would vote for her again.

Now the demographics of the poll don’t tell you where the voters polled are from and that is a very important demographic. If you give the large states like California and New York their proper weight they will give Trump very negative numbers and he did not come close to winning in either state. In fact, if you eliminate the 4.3M voter edge Clinton had in California Trump would have won the popular vote in the remaining 49 states.

Polls just don’t really tell you that much and I have long suspected that people are not totally honest when talking to pollsters. Bill Clinton had a 37% approval rating at the 100-day mark and yet he went down as a very popular President.   We all remember how accurate the polls were in the final days of the election last year. Hillary Clinton was going to sweep to victory and possibly bring a Democrat Senate with her into power. In the end neither occurred. Only a few pollsters got the Presidential election correct and one of them said he had to change the question and methodology of the poll to get what he thought would be correct answers.   He felt that many people were uncomfortable admitting they were voting for Trump and hesitated in their answer. What he did determine was that if they asked a different question – Whom did they think their neighbors were going to vote for? – the numbers changed dramatically. They had no reticence in saying their neighbors would vote for.

So when you read polls saying that Trump is failing take them all with a grain of salt. It is early in his administration the media wants him to fail. The mid-terms will be better barometer and in four years a true test of his popularity will be available.

One thought on “Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

  1. John, Do you think a President will ever consistently pole in the mid 50’s again? In our polarized society I think we need to adjust our expectations. Anything above 50% will be the exception not the norm going forward regardless of whether they are a Democrat or a Republican.

    The exception to this would be if a tragedy (9-11) brought the country together around a leader.

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