Polls that consistently show President Donald Trump with low approval ratings underestimate the actual support for the controversial commander-in-chief's agenda by the American people, Bill Clinton's former pollster claims. "In the end, will voters cast ballots on tweets or jobs?," Mark Penn asked rhetorically, in what perhaps would seem be a warning for both anti-Trump Republicans and Democrats.
Among other things, Penn points out in his Op-Ed in The Hill titled "Why the polls are still wrong" published yesterday that many polls fail to screen out nonvoters and noncitizens. He also seems to suggest that actual voters can hold at least two thoughts simultaneously, i.e., disliking Trump's inflammatory tweets or comments (or by extension, unnecessary feuds with his political foes), but still back his policies.
Penn, who worked for Democrat Bill Clinton for most of his presidency, also noted that the GOP keeps winning special House elections even with Trump's low approval ratings.
But approval ratings per se don't tell the whole story, he insisted.
"When we break down his approval ratings by specific areas, we get a more complex picture of his image. The president gets 65 percent approval for hurricane response and 53 percent approval for the economy and fighting terrorism. He gets his lowest marks for the way he is administering the government. And he is a divider when people want a uniter."
Penn continued in his essay that the facts on the ground give a different picture than portrayed by coverage in the mainstream news media and the virtual high-fiving from Trump foes on social media.
"We see the same dynamic being played out over and over again: The president grabs the spotlight with strong statements (typically on Twitter) of his policies, for which he is savaged as over the top on social and mainstream media. Then, over time, he often wins the underlying policy argument. You can see how this played out on the economy and taxes, the national anthem, attacks on bad trade deals and calls for more border controls.The co-director of the Harvard-Harris poll, Penn also suggested that Republicans in Congress are seemingly committing political ritual suicide by failing to use their majority status to enact Trump's ambitious agenda.
"Remember, Americans liked President Obama for his way with words and his calm leadership style. They just opposed many of his policies, so Obama's numbers gave a false sense of approval. Trump is the mirror opposite. People are put on edge by his words while favoring a lot of the positions he is taking on issues."
Recall that in the run-up to Election Day 2016, the political and media establishment relied on polling data to conclude that Hillary Clinton would easily win the presidency, as many YouTube videos have chronicled. History has shown that the experts' insistence that Trump had a limited ceiling of voters was way off the mark.
During the election season, some alternative media outlets maintained that the poll results released to the public (as opposed to private polls to which only the campaigns had access) were engineered to favor Trump's rival and thereby exert an effect on public opinion.
Observing that polls failed to detect Trump's Election Day strength, Mark Penn seemed to suggest that a comparable scenario is being played out now, but for different reasons.
"The failure to understand the 2016 election was in large measure not a failure of the final polls, many of which showed a close race, but a failure to understand the powerful storyline of Trump's appeal with his respect for cops and the military, taking a more aggressive position against our enemies, and pushing for tax and health-care reform. His style is not what won him the presidency. It was, remarkably, his substance."In August, private polls and swing-state focus groups apparently conducted mostly by Democrat political operatives themselves indicated that Democrats may be disappointed in the results of the 2018 midterm elections. Banking on President Trump's low approval ratings is unlikely to deliver control of Congress to the Democrats, Politico detailed in a story that described the president as "Teflon Don." As alluded to above, while many voters find him a polarizing figure given one controversy after another, the data suggested that they like Trump's outsider status, business background, and efforts to improve the economy. Congress as an entity, moreover, consistently receives lower approval ratings than the president.
According to the Washington Examiner, polling firms may still be using a flawed methodology to gauge the president's actual job approval by oversampling Democrats.
Back in July, an executive with Rasmussen claimed that most polling organizations "overloaded for Democrats, underloaded for Republicans and conservatives," the Daily Caller reported at the time. As of today, Rasmussen shows that President Trump has a 43 percent approval rating. Parenthetically, consumer sentiment is at a 13-year high, according to a University of Michigan survey, Bloomberg reported, and the surging U.S. stock market has reached record levels, CNBC detailed.
Similarly, the pollster for Investor's Business Daily told the Daily Caller in July that "I don't even worry about the approval rating as much as many others do because it's unfair with the incessant negative coverage that no other president has ever faced."
A former Democrat and independent, first-time candidate Donald Trump ran for president on the GOP ticket in 2016.
Do you agree or disagree that President Trump's approval ratings, in isolation, may be misleading?
[Featured Image by Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Images]