The time-honored sport of political poll watching has grown a bit stale over the past year, particularly when it comes to the President. Trump’s numbers have consistently zigged and zagged back and forth from alarmingly low (in the mid 30s) to better, but still worrisome (low to mid 40s). Trying to read the tea leaves and determine which headline, early morning tweet or leak from Mueller’s office caused the latest shift has, at least for some of us, simply grown tiresome. But the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll came with a surprise which made it noteworthy.
It’s not so much the shock value of the numbers they produced (Trump is up near 50 all of a sudden), but their introduction to the release. In a rather startling break from tradition, the polling outlet prefaced their numbers by essentially saying that they’re probably not very reliable. (Ipsos)
This week’s Reuters/Ipsos Core Political release presents something of an outlier of our trend. Every series of polls has the occasional outlier and in our opinion this is one. So, while we are reporting the findings in the interest of transparency, we will not be announcing the start of a new trend until we have more data to validate this pattern.
Normally it’s the pundits who look at a set of unexpected poll numbers and use the term outlier to describe it. (And lately, that’s usually anything coming from Rasmussen.) But it’s a rare day when the polling firm calls their own results an outlier.
So what has them so distressed? Well, the President’s approval rating rang up at 48% among all Americans and 49/49 with registered voters. That’s within the margin of error in terms of having his head above water and within two points of the Rasmussen numbers that came out Friday. Approval of his handling of the economy came in at 57% and he even managed 44% on the question of how Trump “treats people like me.” The Democrats’ lead on the generic ballot also slipped to 5%. Those are, without a doubt, the best number’s President Trump has seen out of that polling firm in pretty much forever.
The idea that this data run is a glitch can’t be discounted. Polling remains an inexact science on the best of days and sometimes you’ll dial up a larger percentage of odd ducks than normal. Polling is much better at recording trends over extended periods than taking an accurate snapshot of a given moment in time.
But we have to consider the possibility that those numbers might be “real” as well. Might they be? Anyone who tells you they know the answer to that one is probably trying to sell you something, but it’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility, particularly looking at current events. We’re close to the technical definition of “full employment” regardless of what the actual numbers are, so most people have jobs. The tax cuts are popular with the public and, as usual, they don’t seem to care that we’re still blowing up the deficit and the national debt. The situation with North Korea has gone from panic over false incoming missile alerts to talk of releasing hostages and denuclearization so quickly that people’s heads are spinning. The general public may be warming to Trump just a bit.
The other factor I keep coming back to is the media. With the exception of Fox News, pretty much every television news outlet has been on a repeating loop since at least last summer. Is it possible that the general public is simply reaching the point of outrage fatigue? Day after day, morning, noon and night, the talking heads on the television are screaming about investigations which will surely bring Trump down any day now. There’s always a new tweet from the White House, a comment from a porn star or some skit on SNL offering a reason to set your hair on fire. And yet we all wake up the next day, go about our lives and the world has thus far stubbornly refused to end.
When everything is an outrage, nothing is an outrage. I can’t help but wonder if the media hasn’t simply overplayed their collective hand. I highly doubt you’re going to be seeing President Trump’s approval numbers leaping into the high sixties any time soon, but maybe enough of the country has grown tired of the endless media circus that they’re willing to sit back and just see how this plays out.