HUFFPOLLSTER: What's Going On With Trump's Approval Ratings?

A closer look at polling methods helps explain.

New analysis sheds some light on the variance in President Trump’s numbers. Reactions to the president’s latest press conference are divided along familiar political lines. And the term “fake news” may be stretching beyond the point of usefulness. This is HuffPollster for Tuesday, February 21, 2017.

WHY ARE TRUMP’S APPROVAL NUMBERS ALL OVER THE PLACE? LOOK AT THE POLLING METHODS USED - Natalie Jackson: “The variation in Trump’s job approval ratings has been driven by a few factors: how and when the poll was conducted, who was polled and whether it was conducted by a specific pollster. To look at what’s affecting these numbers, I took all of the polls on the new president’s approval rating collected in the HuffPost Pollster database….A model that includes the poll’s mode, population, sample size, length of time in the field (number of days), undecided proportion, week of the Trump presidency (numbered 1-4), and with variables for Rasmussen’s and Gallup’s daily trackers explains 86 percent of the variance in the approval ratings across polls….The most important factors are population, mode, the timing of the poll ― week of the presidency and how many days the poll was collecting data ― and whether it was conducted by Rasmussen. The only factor that is even remotely attributable to Trump’s actual job performance is the week of the presidency. The rest are about the surveys’ methods…. There’s no way of knowing which set of numbers most accurately measures what Americans think of the job Trump is doing in office. Unlike election polls, which can be compared to election results, there won’t be a national vote on approving or disapproving of Trump for comparison.” [HuffPost]

ICYMI: A DIFFERENT WAY OF BREAKING DOWN TRUMP’S APPROVAL RATINGS - Anthony Salvanto, Jen de Pinto, Fred Backus, Sarah Dutton, Kabir Khanna, last week: “It turns out that while there are hard-and-fast views on either side of the nation’s divide, the range of President Trump’s potential support - both to the high and low side - is actually bigger than you might think. In this study, people separated themselves into four groups: the strongest of Trump backers (who we’ll call the Believers); those backing him but waiting for him to deliver (the Conditionals); those opposing him for now but waiting to see some results (the Curious) and those who seem immovably, firmly opposed (The Resistors.)...[Believers (22%)] are the president’s strongest backers, who like what he’s doing and how he’s doing it; defend him against his critics, and see him as defending the country against threats….[Conditionals (22%)] will remove their support if he doesn’t ‘fix the economy’ for them. They’re also concerned about safety, but aren’t as all-in with everything Mr. Trump does, especially in terms of style. A quarter don’t like the tweets…[Curious (21%)]  oppose Mr. Trump at the moment but ‘would reconsider’ supporting him if he does a good job. They’re looking for more than just results, though – they want Mr. Trump to reach out to them, and they want respect….[Resistors (35%)]  want the Democrats to oppose Mr. Trump on many more things, rather than try to work with him; demographically, they are much more likely to be either African-American or Hispanic.” [CBS, additional analysis from Amy Walter]

More on Trump’s approval ratings - Nate Cohn puts Donald Trump’s ratings into historical context [NYT]; Nate Silver expands on some of the factors driving variation in Trump’s job approval. [538]

HERE’S WHAT PEOPLE REALLY THOUGHT OF THAT TRUMP PRESS CONFERENCE - HuffPollster: “President Donald Trump’s often-combative press conference last Thursday raised quite a few questions ― among them, what sort of reaction, if any, it would garner from people who don’t have to watch 77-minute midday press conferences for a living. A new HuffPost/YouGov survey offers some answers. Most people who tuned in with pre-existing opinions of the president, for instance, found their opinions confirmed. And most people who lacked those preconceived notions weren’t watching in first place. But overall, the event, while by no means cataclysmically damaging, probably did Trump no favors. Just 11 percent of Americans report watching the whole press conference, according to the survey. Another 33 percent say they watched parts, or saw clips and highlights later, and another 18 percent that they read or watched news stories about it….Those who paid any attention to the press conference tended to be politically aware, opinionated, and not overly fond of the president….By a 13-point margin, 34 percent to 21 percent, those who paid attention to the press conference say it worsened, rather than improved, their views of his actions as president, with 40 percent saying it didn’t change their opinion….those predisposed to like or to dislike Trump largely left with those opinions intact….Just three in 10 of all the Americans polled say Trump is spending enough time on the issues they care about most, while 46 percent say the president is spending too much time on other issues.” [HuffPost]

THE TERM ‘FAKE NEWS’ REACHES A SATURATION POINT - HuffPollster: “Voters who supported President Donald Trump in last year’s election think most mainstream media reporting counts as fake news, according to a new poll. Voters who backed Hillary Clinton say the term applies to most Trump administration statements. And a majority of Americans believe both Trump and the media dish out fake news on more than rare occasions….Seventy-three percent of Americans say they’ve heard of fake news, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds, and 43 percent have personally described something as fake news….Trump supporters, initially seen as the primary targets of fake news, are now the most likely to brandish the term against others. Sixty-four percent of Trump supporters say they’ve described something as fake news, compared with 43 percent of Clinton supporters and 32 percent of those who didn’t vote in last year’s election….By a 51-point margin ― 56 percent to 5 percent ― Clinton voters say that conservatives are more likely than liberals to believe fake news. By a 62-point margin ― 65 percent to 3 percent ― Trump voters say that liberals are more likely to do so.” [HuffPost]

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TUESDAYS ‘OUTLIERS’ - Links to the best of news at the intersection of polling, politics and political data:

-Two new polls find Americans favor an investigation into Michael Flynn’s resignation. [HuffPost, SurveyMonkey]

-Ryan Rainey finds new Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to be relatively popular among wealthier Americans. [Morning Consult]

-Harmeet Kamboj and Robert Jones look at Americans’ favorite past presidents. [PRRI]

-Kendall Taggart reports that Cambridge Analytica’s work for the Trump campaign may have been exaggerated.  [Buzzfeed]

-Tobias Konitzer, Sam Corbett-Davies and David Rothschild ask what Americans mean when they talk about “the system.” [Buzzfeed]