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Polls Are Bad For Donald Trump Again. Here's Why That Matters.

Yes, election polls had problems. But the president-elect shouldn’t dismiss what they show now.

18/01/2017 12:33 PM AEDT | Updated 18/01/2017 12:33 PM AEDT

A spate of polls released over the last few days show that the American public doesn’t have a high opinion of Donald Trump’s transition or high hopes for his presidency. Of course, Trump didn’t pass up the opportunity to call something “phony” and “rigged.”

Trump almost has a point: There were substantial issues with pre-election polls. But those issues were mostly with state polls, and the new polls Trump is referring to are national polls. In the election, national polls generally correctly indicated that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote by a few points.

These new national polls ― while they certainly still have margins of error  ― are likely even more accurate than pre-election polls were since they aren’t trying to identify likely voters. National polls of registered voters or all Americans can be tested against and weighted to known benchmarks, such as census data. Since Trump will soon be president of all Americans, it’s appropriate to poll all voters or all Americans.

Trump almost certainly wouldn’t make derogatory statements about polls that showed positive results for him. After all, he quite frequently cited pre-election polls that looked good for him. So here’s what Trump is upset about now.  

According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, Trump will take office as the least popular incoming president in at least four decades. And not by a little. Ronald Reagan previously held the least-popular title, and Trump trails Reagan’s favorability levels by nearly 20 points. The same poll shows that approval of Trump’s transition is only 40 percent, half of what Barack Obama’s was in 2009.  

Other polls confirm those findings with very similar numbers. A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that 44 percent of Americans approve of how Trump is handling the transition. Gallup shows a split of 44 percent approving and 51 percent disapproving. A CNN/ORC poll reports that 40 percent approve and 52 percent disapprove of the transition.

Polls also consistently show Trump’s favorability underwater. A new national poll from Monmouth University indicates that only 34 percent of Americans view Trump favorably. That’s similar to the 37 percent favorable in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. CNN/ORC has slightly higher numbers ― 44 percent favorable ― but still with a 53-percent majority of Americans viewing the president-elect unfavorably.

All of these numbers are pretty abysmal for Trump. Even if these new polls were just as error-prone as the state-level pre-election polls were in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania ― the most consequential states where polls missed the mark ― Trump’s new numbers would still be bad. A 6-point boost in his favorability ratings and transition approval ratings would still leave him underwater, with more viewing him unfavorably than favorably and more disapproving than approving.

Polls certainly have issues and errors. But they weren’t systematically rigged against Trump during the election and aren’t now. Pollsters want to be right above all. So Trump would do well to listen to some of the criticisms that Americans are reporting in polls. He’d be more likely to accomplish his goals with a little more public favor. 

Grace Sparks contributed reporting. 

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