Donald Trump's latest work of demagoguery -- a proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. -- doesn't seem to have hurt his standing in the polls. But is the idea completely out of the mainstream?
Four new surveys this week -- from YouGov, NBC News/The Wall Street Journal, CBS and Bloomberg Politics/Purple Strategies -- asked about the ban, but didn't do much to clarify things, showing everything from widespread opposition to a nearly even split.
Some of the dissimilarities may come down to random variation. But how the questions were worded and how the poll was conducted also matter. Americans may be more likely, for instance, to support a ban on Muslims if they think it's temporary -- or if they don't have to admit it to another person.
The four polls presented Trump's proposal differently. The NBC/WSJ poll, which found the least support, was the only one not to mention that the proposed ban would only last a limited amount of time. That survey, along with the Bloomberg/Purple Strategies poll, also attributed the proposal directly to Donald Trump, unlike the YouGov and CBS questions.
YouGov was the only survey to ask respondents to agree or disagree with a statement -- a framework that researchers have found may encourage those on the fence to agree. It also presented an initial set of four options, including the ability to agree or disagree either "somewhat" or "strongly," perhaps giving cover to some respondents who endorse the idea with some apprehension.
Differences in how the surveys were conducted could also partially explain the varying results. The NBC/Wall Street Journal and CBS polls were conducted using live interviewers, while both the YouGov and Bloomberg/Purple Strategies poll were done online.
Like Trump's candidacy, the Muslim ban fared considerably better in online surveys than in telephone ones. That suggests two possibilities: either online and telephone polls end up reaching groups of people with significantly different opinions on Trump and his policies, or some people support both Trump and the ban, but don't feel comfortable admitting that to an interviewer over the phone.
The YouGov survey offers a bit of evidence that a greater willingness to click "agree" than to say it -- along with the option to agree only partially -- could explain the differences between these poll results. Besides asking respondents whether they agreed with Trump, YouGov also asked them how they thought the rest of the country felt.
Those who strongly agreed with Trump were pretty confident that they were in the majority: 83 percent said that more than half of Americans were on the same side. Those who agreed only somewhat with the proposed ban, however, were less sure. Just 47 percent thought that most other Americans would agree with the ban, while 53 percent thought that most Americans would disagree, or said they weren't sure.
None of those differences make it easier to gauge which results are the truest representation of public sentiment. But they do serve as a reminder of just how malleable public opinion can be, whether it's measuring support in the presidential race or for a policy being espoused.
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