Sometimes a president will sit down for an interview that reaches a relatively small audience because he wants to speak directly to that particular audience. Sometimes, it seems, a president sits down for an interview reaching a small audience because the person conducting the interview is one of the hosts of his favorite morning cable-news program and that president knows that he can make obviously false claims without the host offering any pushback.
So it was that on Wednesday morning, President Trump called in to “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade’s radio program, where Kilmeade offered Trump the opportunity to do a spoken-word version of his various tweets. On subject after subject, Trump reiterated obviously untrue arguments and Kilmeade waited patiently to move on to the next subject.
One subject was polling.
“In three separate polls,” Kilmeade said at one point, former vice president Joe Biden “is beating you by about 10 points. How do you explain that?”
“I have other polls where I’m winning, and you’ve seen them, too, I guess,” Trump replied. “But I have polls — just like last time, I was losing to Hillary [Clinton] in every state, and I won every state. Okay? I won Michigan. I won Wisconsin. I won places that they didn’t even think were pollable. They didn’t even want to go.”
As an aside, he disparaged CNN for not repeatedly hyping a swing-state poll that it released in the middle of last month.
“Take a look at who they’re polling,” Trump continued. “If they poll anybody — because I don’t even think they go out and poll. I think they sit at a desk and say, ‘Give this number, give that number.’ That’s what happened last time. The polling was ridiculous other than two or three polls, which I do use, which I’m doing very, very well with.”
As has been noted over and over, the polling in 2016 when Trump edged out Clinton in the electoral college was broadly accurate. National polling had Clinton winning by a few points — which she did in the national popular vote. In some states, Clinton was expected to win but didn’t, not because the states weren’t “pollable” but, instead, because of the methodology used in the polls.
Trump likes to imply that the polls are wrong or simply invented for an obvious reason: They again show him losing. And, this time, by a much wider margin.
In early June 2016, Clinton led Trump in the RealClearPolitics polling average by about 1.5 points. Her lead had ebbed and flowed for months and would soon expand once again. Now, Biden leads Trump by eight points — up slightly from the six-point lead that Biden has held since early March.
As Kilmeade pointed out, recent polls, including one from The Washington Post and our partners at ABC News, show Biden with a double-digit lead. On Wednesday, another national poll had the same result: Monmouth University found Biden leading Trump by 11 points.
What has happened since late March in those two polls is that Republicans have coalesced around Trump, but Democrats and independents have both grown more supportive of Biden. These polls are snapshots, and weekly polling from the Economist conducted by YouGov shows a different picture over time, centered more on a recent decline in support from Republicans. But the Monmouth and Post-ABC polls are both consistent and tell a story of how the race has changed, which is not the story Trump wants to hear.
The Monmouth poll released Wednesday shows Trump faring badly with independents in particular.
Nearly half have a very unfavorable view of Trump, up 12 points from early April. Forty-three percent of independents say that Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has made them less likely to vote for him. That’s up 14 points from early April in Monmouth’s polling. Four in 10 independents say they have no confidence at all in Trump to handle the recovery from the pandemic, compared to 28 percent who say the same of Biden. Half of independents say they have no confidence in Trump to handle race relations in light of the recent protests — twice the percentage who say that for Biden.
There are warning signs for Trump even beyond those particular numbers from one poll. His overall approval rating hasn’t budged much, and recent incumbent presidents with approval ratings near Trump’s did not win their reelection bids. We’re at a particularly low moment politically, economically and in terms of public health, all of which will hopefully improve by November. But this moment significantly undercuts Trump’s case that he has handled his job adeptly, as the figures above suggest.
But, of course, Trump says this is all made up, that pollsters simply pick numbers randomly that happen to all correlate with one another. He claims that pollsters unfairly poll more Democrats, which only makes sense in a world where there are more Democrats than Republicans. As is the case in the United States.
His most telling comment, though, was in his acceptance of some polls as valid, those “two or three polls, which I do use, which I’m doing very, very well with.” That’s what it takes for Trump to trust a poll (or, at least, to publicly endorse a poll): It has to say what he wants it to say. That’s the actual example of someone sitting at a desk picking which numbers they want to use. That is Trump, sitting at the Resolute Desk in the White House, cherry-picking the polls that make him the happiest.
What did Kilmeade say in response to this assertion from Trump? He let him talk a bit longer, thanked him for taking the time to speak — and changed the subject.
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