Why the polls are still wrong

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The polls that failed to detect the full strength of President Trump on Election Day continue to underestimate the president’s support for the job he is doing, paying way too much attention to the Twitter wars and ignoring the public support for many of the actions is undertaking.

This can create some serious misjudgments by organizations like the NFL and some Republican senators, who find out later that they buck the president only to their own detriment. And nothing was more devastating to Democrats than believing the election was over when it wasn’t.

Polls show the president’s approval rating all over the lot. An Associated Press poll put it at 32 percent and suggests that only 24 percent see the country as going in the right direction. This strains credulity given what happened in the special elections against the Democrats.

{mosads}The methodology of some of these polls is to poll “all adults” without any qualification as to citizenship or voting intent. A lot of the nonvoters dislike politics and all politicians, and these polls also include them along with undocumented immigrants who are not screened out. Another group of polls has Trump’s approval in the low 40s, and Harvard-Harris Poll, which eliminates all undecideds, has it at 45 percent, similar to Rasmussen.

Generally, the president does best with voters polled online, as opposed to with live operators. He got 46 percent of the electorate in the election and little has changed since then as 90 percent of his voters support him, unchanged over many months.

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.

No question that 68 percent or more say they would like to see Trump stop tweeting, but is measuring that really reflective of his underlying political power compared to what’s happening in the economy? In the end, will voters cast ballots on tweets or jobs?

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.

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.

When it comes to rank-and-file Republican voters, Trump is the undisputed leader of the Republican Party. No poll I’ve seen puts his support from Republicans at below 80 percent and we at Harvard-Harris have it at 84 percent, which is remarkable, given his knock-down-drag-out fight with some mainstream Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has dropped to the least-liked politician on the national scene today. Polls in Tennessee showed retiring Sen. Bob Corker’s reelect with Republican primary votes is at 42, putting him in a weak position with those core voters.

The remarkable thing is that, in response to a president ready to sign their legislation, the Republican leadership is committing hari-kari in failing to pass the very things that won them their elections: opposing Obamacare, enacting tax reform, taking a tougher position on Iran. (Remember when they invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress on the Iran deal?)

They are, puzzlingly, walking away from everything they have pledged to their voters, and the revolution they are about to face from those voters is real, much to the benefit of the Democrats at this point. And if the Democrats do cut some more deals with Trump, those deals will boost the Democrats to a major 2018 victory.

The United States is currently locked in difficult struggles with North Korea and Iran. North Korea is one of the most despotic regimes on the planet, with a ruler who hired assassins to kill his own half brother with nerve agents, uses torture and holds purges of any threats to his rule. He recently tortured a U.S. student and sent him back to die here in America in the arms of his parents.

Iran’s national anthem is “Death to America,” and no one is taking a knee to that one over there. The regime once held our embassy hostage, and 70 percent of America believes it will cheat on the nuclear arms deal. So senators who attack Trump for being too tough on these known despots and killers may get a lot of coverage but are swimming upstream, giving indirect comfort to our fiercest enemies.

For the first time in a decade, a plurality of people see the economy as moving in the right direction and 64 percent see the economy as growing. The voters give Trump significant credit for the economic upswing, and any read on his approval ratings have to take into account that moving the economy forward these days is seen as Job No. 1 for the president.

When it comes to the NFL, 57 percent believe that football players should stand and respect the flag, according to a Reuters poll. While voters are taken aback by the roughness with which Trump took on the issue, there is no question that a solid majority support his position. Moreover, the backpedaling we are seeing by the NFL is reflective of a country that wants its athletes to respect those who went into real battle, without the millions of dollars of pay these athletes receive.

On the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, 80 percent believe it is Congress that should fix the problem, as opposed to the president, and overwhelming majorities want both DACA work permits and increased border security. In our last poll, 70 percent opposed sanctuary city policies that ignore immigration status when someone is arrested for a crime. This issue is highly divisive, but it would be a mistake to read opinion as all in one direction. The public wants compassion and tough borders.

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.

I, frankly, didn’t at the time see his rise in the Republican primary as realistic. I don’t believe he has advanced his coalition from Election Day, and rank-and-file Democratic opposition has hardened. But he hasn’t lost his support either, and taking on “The Swamp” only empowers him further.

It is by watching the underlying public sentiment of what he is doing, and not his methods, that you see how polling better watch out here, as reality versus research will again be tested, and reality always wins.

Mark Penn is co-director of the Harvard-Harris Poll and was a pollster for Bill Clinton during six years of his presidency.

Tags Americans Bill Clinton Bob Corker Donald Trump Election Mitch McConnell Polling President United States White House

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