U.S. Presidential Approval Ratings–Reliable?


Video Summary

According to the polling of various media sources (i.e., ABC, CNN, ORC, and the Washington Post), Donald Trump will enter his first term with an overall rating of 40-percent approval and 52-percent disapproval. In comparison to Obama’s 2009 inauguration, that is less than half of what he received: 84-percent approval, 14-percent disapproval.

This has convinced many media pundits to claim Trump will enter the Oval Office as the “least popular incoming president” in the last four decades, citing a recent Gallup poll which suggests a majority of Americans are unhappy with his White House transition.

But let’s not forget that all of these surveys, pollsters, and even Gallup’s own predictions were wrong in 2012. They had unabashedly convinced Mitt Romney he would win in a landslide–so much so, in fact, that in anticipation of his victory, he orchestrated $25,000 worth of fireworks to be blasted over the Boston Harbor at the 270-electoral vote threshold. The same thing happened to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Her team ultimately decided not to “light up the sky over NYC” with their pre-planned two-minute pyrotechnic show.

What happened? Why were they so wrong? Well, despite conducting public opinion polls worldwide for over 82 years (since 1935), Gallup argued–in hindsight–that it had skewed the results by either miscalculating or misrepresenting the data it had gathered. Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll, promised, “When the next presidential election rolls around, we think we’ll certainly be in a position to be at the accurate end of the spectrum.”

Other pollsters blamed cellphones and people’s unwillingness to answer surveys. The advent of a federal law, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), prohibits opinion researchers from auto-dialing cellphones, forcing them to call each person manually. To garner enough people to complete a 1,000-person poll, they would need to reach an estimated 10,000 individuals before being able to meet their quota. Simply put, these polls/surveys leave out a significant number of voters who use only cellphones, so they’re not entirely accurate.

There are two ways to forecast elections: (1) polling and (2) long-term forecasting. Long-term forecasting aggregates past elections to predict a candidate’s chances of winning an election. Polling, on the other hand, conducts focus groups based on samples of the population. Although long-term forecasting models suggested a Republican victory in 2016, outlets like ABC, NBC and CNN chose to use polling instead, which showed Clinton leading several points ahead of Trump.

Being wrong in two elections has forced opinion researchers to rethink their approach and Gallup to step away from so-called horse-race journalism. Yet even with the inherent inaccuracies of polling, major networks continue to use them without consideration of a corrective disclaimer. Is their goal to capitalize on perceived public outrage? Advance a political agenda? Stubbornness? Revenge? Who knows.

In response to the misleading “presidential approval rating” stories, Trump posted on Twitter:

However, despite the media and the DNC forcing an unsubstantiated narrative to justify Hillary Clinton’s electoral loss (i.e., “Russian interference”) and Democrats losing both houses of Congress as well as over 1,000 state and federal Democratic posts, including governorships and state legislative seats, we can at least take solace in the fact that there are honorable “experts” in the world still willing to admit when they’re wrong:

Princeton professor and election forecaster Sam Wang, who promised to eat a bug if Trump exceeded 240 electoral votes, said on Wednesday’s “CNN Tonight” that “there was a reasonably large polling error.”

“Probably a significant cause here is undecided voters who made their minds up at the last minute. Maybe they weren’t even aware of what their preference was,” Wang said.

What are your thoughts? Please feel free to share them in comment section below.

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