One of the most popular articles last week involved claims polls showed Republicans had increased their support of President Donald Trump. But a closer analysis of the data reveals any increase in support was within the margin of error. So the polls couldn’t conclude GOP support for President Trump had gone up or down.

Polls are tricky creatures. We either give them near god-like status or discount them entirely, often depending on whether they show us what we want.

I remember the movie “Machete” where an opportunistic Texas politician fakes his own shooting. Within five minutes of that story breaking, the news anchor reported the politician had drastically improved his standing in the polls. Surveys don’t work that way.

Critics claim polls “got it wrong” in 2016. Actually, they were very accurate at picking the popular vote that year, which doesn’t decide the election, because they ran so many surveys of Americans across the country. They rarely surveyed several battleground states like Wisconsin that Democrats traditionally win. They asked the wrong questions.

When news organizations touted “President Donald Trump’s approval rating with Republicans rose in a poll taken after his racist tweets on Sunday attacking four Democratic congresswomen of color,” I decided to investigate. These stories claim Trump’s approval ratings rose “rose 5 percentage points to 72% from a similar poll conducted last week.”

So I looked at the Reuters polls from July 10 and July 17. On July 10, 53% of Republican registered voters strongly approved of Trump, with 28% of these GOP voters “somewhat approving” of Trump, with 2% of GOPers leaning towards approval.

On July 17, 52% of Republican voters strongly approved the president, with 32% of the GOP somewhat approving and 2% of Republicans leaning towards approval.

That means Trump’s doing better with Republicans in the polls than what was reported in these articles. If he were at 72%, going up five points he’d be around Jimmy Carter’s level with the Democrats in 1980, which contributed to the president’s landslide loss.

But that “net approval” was only three points (from 83% to 86%) well within the 5.6% margin of error in the Reuters/Ipsos polls. Go look it up and see for yourself.

Trump’s approval rating fell dramatically with Democrats and Independents. However, those were in the margins of error too. As the 538.org pollsters would say, “It’s a bad use of polling.”

Additionally, Republicans from elected officials to key advisers worked overtime begging Trump to walk back the comments or at least soften the tone. While most were leery of criticizing Trump directly, they did call the words a mistake or regrettable as reported by numerous sites. That’s not what you do if those tweets are being well received by Republicans. Trump’s approval ratings are also well below 50% in both Reuters/Ipsos polls.

At a minimum, we cannot conclude at the writing of this article Republicans are more likely to support Trump after those tweets or are less likely to do so. But what we can conclude is our polling is not what’s incorrect but often our analysis of it.

 

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in Georgia. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is @JohnTures2.