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Are Trump’s low approval ratings ‘fake news’?

by Patrick Egan,
from The Washington Post,

To tell it from opinion surveys, President Trump is failing to make a good impression on the American people in his first month in office. His approval ratings (he’s underwater with 45 percent approval and 49 percent disapproval, according to the latest RealClearPolitics average) are jaw-droppingly lower than those for any other president since polling began. But can we take polls at face value in the Trump era? After all, election polls in most states failed dismally in November, substantially underestimating how well Trump performed on Election Day. What if this means that current surveys are similarly miscalculating support for Trump and his policies? That’s the suggestion made by none other than the president himself Monday, when he cast aspersion on recent negative poll findings by evoking the failure of polling in the general election.

Why might opinion surveys be selling the president’s popularity short? Trump has faced unprecedented levels of scorn from society’s tastemakers — whether they be newspaper editorial boards, celebrities or his fellow Republican elected officials. The hypothesis is that “shy Trump voters” react to this stigmatization by keeping their support for the president to themselves when being interviewed for an opinion survey.

This in turn would cause polls to be plagued by what’s called “social desirability bias,” depressing the levels of approval they record for Trump and his policies. In experiments in which respondents are randomly assigned to different survey modes, survey researchers have found social desirability bias affecting surveys on sensitive topics such as respondents’ number of sexual partners, their sexual orientation and even their bad grades in college. Respondents are more likely to disclose potentially stigmatizing information when surveys are not conducted by human interviewers.

[After doing a lot of analysis on social desirability impacts, the research] suggests that the record low level of approval for the president we’re seeing in current polls is very likely real. That’s problematic for Trump’s attempts to claim popularity for himself and his policies.

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Are Trump’s low approval ratings ‘fake news’? I looked at the evidence.

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