No, Trump Isn’t Above 50%
Let's just say Rasmussen is an extreme outlier.
The popular aggregator Memeorandum pointed me to a story at Red State with the headline “Rasmussen Says Trump Just Hit the ‘Holy Grail’ of Reelection Numbers.” Even with my skepticism of both Red State and Rasmussen, my curiosity was sufficiently piqued to take a look.
After a lead-in packed with lies and absurd claims, author Nick Arama gets to the headline factoid:
. . . . Rasmussen is reporting that Trump just hit the ‘holy grail’ of reelection numbers, according to the Washington Examiner.
The president’s approval rating had been on an upward trend. But now it just jumped three points, from 49% to 52%. Polls have also tightened, but it’s measures like the approval level that have been more accurate over time than random polls. As Gallup has noted in the past, “all incumbents with an approval rating of 50% or higher have won reelection, and presidents with approval ratings much lower than 50% have lost.” That’s why getting over 50 right before the election is considered like reaching the ‘holy grail.’
Rasmussen isn’t the only poll which has him over 50%. As we previously reported, Zogby had him at 51% among likely voters.
So, once upon a time, I was a believer in Rasmussen and Zogby polls. I seem to recall that they were more accurate in 2000 and 2004* than the bigger-name competition. Mostly, because their likely voter screen did a better job of factoring in Republicans’ higher likelihood of actually turning out to vote.
But, in recent years, they’re simply the polls Republicans look at to convince themselves that the world is not what it really is. Outlets like FiveThirtyEight
don’t even include downgrade** them in their aggregation. They explain,
The ratings also allow us to measure pollster performance over a large sample of elections — rather than placing a disproportionate amount of emphasis on one or two high-profile races. For instance, Rasmussen Reports deserves a lot of credit for its final, national poll of the 2016 presidential election, which had Hillary Clinton ahead by 2 percentage points, almost her exact margin of victory in the popular vote. But Rasmussen Reports polls are conducted by a Rasmussen spinoff called Pulse Opinion Research LLC, and state polls conducted by Rasmussen and Pulse Opinion Research over the past year or two have generally been mediocre.
We should expect Rasmussen to look much more like the other polls in the final week, thus allowing them to claim to have gotten it right, while in the meantime raking in the big bucks from conservative outlets for good news polling.
RealClearPolitics, the granddaddy of the poll aggregators and one with a notable but modest Republican tilt, includes Rasmussen’s numbers. Even though I follow them pretty closely, though, I was surprised at Trump’s resurgence, let alone passing the majority approval threshold. Alas—big surprise—Rasmussen is an absurd outlier:
As you see, Rasmussen is indeed included in the RCP index. And, yes, it shows Trump with 52 percent approval. But note that every other poll in the index shows Trump underwater by at least 8 points. Rasmussen is 12 to 20 points more favorable to Trump than every other poll! Indeed, Trump is so far underwater that RCP has him minus 9.4 even including Rasmussen in their average!
Which, of course, is the whole point of looking at indexes rather than individual polls. An aggregate picture is simply more likely to be accurate than a single poll. And here’s the thing: Trump has literally never been at 50 percent in the RCP average since taking office:
His approval rating of 47.4 percent on April 1—yes, April Fool’s Day—of this year was his high water mark—and he was still four points underwater that day.
*Zogby came to fame nationally by out-polling just about everyone in 1996 and did quite well in 2000 and 2004 as well. He eventually became “the worst pollster in the world in Nate Silver’s estimation after shifting from quality telephone polls to cheap internet polling with unscientific opt-in subjects. Rasmussen did poorly in 2000 but quite well in 2004 and 2008.
**Operating from memory, I had FiveThirtyEight excluding Rasmussen altogether. It turns out, they merely assign less weight.