On Sunday night, as the political world was wondering whether he might offer a more fulsome celebration of the life of John McCain, President Donald Trump instead tweeted this:
“Over 90% approval rating for your all time favorite (I hope) President within the Republican Party and 52% overall. This despite all of the made up stories by the Fake News Media trying endlessly to make me look as bad and evil as possible. Look at the real villains please!”
Which, given what we know about Trump (he is uniquely self-focused) and how much he cares about positive polling (a whole hell of a lot), isn’t terribly surprising.
The only problem? This poll doesn’t exist.
Or, to be totally and completely accurate, neither I – nor anyone else I checked with – was able to identify the origins of the 52% job approval number cited by Trump. (The 90% approval among Republicans is relatively commonplace; Trump is one of the most popular Republican presidents among Republican voters.)
I checked all the normal places first. Rasmussen Reports, a more Republican-friendly pollster which conducts a daily presidential approval tracking, showed Trump at 46% approval through Sunday. The Washington Times, a conservative-leaning outfit, wrote about the new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll on Sunday but that showed Trump’s approval at 44%.
Then I looked more broadly, checking out the amazing Real Clear Politics polling database. None of the 10 most recent public polls had Trump’s approval at 52% (or above 50%). Nor the 10 before that. Or the 10 before that. Or the 100 before that. (Not kidding; you can see the full list here.)
There are just no recent polls – not a ONE – that shows Trump’s job approval rating at 52%.
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So then I wondered whether Trump had said “approval” but really meant “personal favorables.” After all, most people like presidents (and politicians) more personally than think they are doing a good job. It’s the whole like-the-guy-but-hate-his-policies thing.
But that well was dry, too. In the NBC-WSJ poll, just 40% said they have a favorable opinion of Trump personally. A Fox News survey had Trump’s approval at 41%. The best Trump did in a recent poll on personal approval was 46% in an Economist/YouGov poll conducted earlier this month.
Where of where did Trump get that 52% approval number, then? I have two theories:
1) He made it up totally.
2) He accidentally tweeted his disapproval in the NBC-WSJ poll – 52% – as his approval – and refuses to change it.
If I was a betting man– I’m not because I am terrible at gambling – I would choose option two, because if you are going totally make up poll numbers wouldn’t you say your approval was like 70%? I also think Trump may have quickly glanced at the TV and seen 52% and just tweeted it because, well, it’s too good to check.
(CNN has asked the White House where Trump got that number from, and has not received a response.)
What’s remarkable about all of this that Trump’s supporters could care less whether he made up a poll number that is more positive for him than any of the other poll numbers currently out there. Facts have become fungible things for some. The response to the reality that there is no poll that currently exists that shows Trump at 52% approval would likely be something along these lines: “Well he’d be way higher than 52% if the Fake news media ever gave him a fair shake!”
Trump himself seems to ascribe to that theory, as explained by Daniel Dale, the Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star:
“For people confused about Donald Trump’s claim to have a 52% approval rating: Trump says that whenever you see his approval rating, you have to add 7 points, 8 points, 9 points, or 12 points to it to get the true approval rating.”
Which is – in case you are keeping score at home – an opinion, not a fact. And one based on a whole lot of assumptions that may or may not be accurate.
This is, of course, not an isolated incident. Donald Trump’s willingness to not tell the truth is one of the hallmarks of his 19 months in office, and one of the most corrosive. That Trump can make up poll numbers from whole cloth without his supporters – or even people less favorably inclined to him – batting an eye speaks to how much he has already moved the goalposts on acceptable behavior.