On the grand scale of Things President Trump Says That Are Inaccurate or Misleading, a tweet Monday morning about a poll from CNN rates fairly low. It’s hardly at the level of Trump’s false assertion that millions of votes were cast illegally, for example, or his untrue claim that his predecessor tapped the phones at Trump Tower. But it is notably Trumpian for a few simple reasons.
1. It was disparaging a poll that he once cited as accurate.
2. It was apparently a response to something he saw on TV.
3. It was about TV ratings.
4. It was wrong.
So here’s the tweet.
Just heard Fake News CNN is doing polls again despite the fact that their election polls were a WAY OFF disaster. Much higher ratings at Fox
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 20, 2017
This appears to have come in response to discussion on CNN’s “New Day” program about 10 minutes before Trump’s commentary. Anchor Poppy Harlow mentioned a daily tracking poll of Trump’s approval, which on Saturday hit a new low of 37 percent. She pointed out, accurately, that Trump still has strong support from his base, and the conversation quickly moved on.
That tracking poll, though, isn’t from CNN. It was from Gallup. CNN was simply reporting on it, as Harlow noted after Trump’s tweet.
What’s more, CNN’s polls (conducted with pollster ORC) were generally in line with the polling average compiled by RealClearPolitics over the tail end of 2016. Its surveys often had fewer undecided or third-party voters than the average, but only once did CNN-ORC show a candidate with a lead that wasn’t then reflected in the overall polling average.
On average, RCP showed a three-point race on days that CNN completed polling showing a five-point race. In other words, although CNN-ORC’s final poll (conducted in late October) showed Hillary Clinton with a six-point lead, it was at a point where the average had Clinton up by 5.5 points — before the race tightened substantially.
That RealClearPolitics polling average, by the way, was broadly accurate. By the time Election Day rolled around, the average of national polls showed Clinton with a 3.2-point lead. She ended up winning the national popular vote by 2.1 points.
While CNN’s polling was generally in step with the national average, the one time that it wasn’t was significant. That was in early September, when CNN showed Trump with a slight lead nationally, in part because of the pollster switching to a likely-voter pool.
You know who liked that poll? Donald Trump.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2016
The last part of Trump’s tweet on Monday, though, isn’t about polls, it’s about Nielsen ratings. The hierarchy of numbers Trump cares about runs something like this, from most to least important: his personal net worth, appendage length, Nielsen ratings, poll numbers, the net worth of others. He repeatedly points to the week that his show “The Apprentice” won the Nielsens, which happened once, as evidence of how great the show was. For Trump, this is a potent dis to CNN after it pointed out his unpopularity: noting that their ratings are below those of Fox News. Which is true.
It’s a very social-media thing to do, to misinterpret something someone says and then try to insult them as deeply as you can. Perhaps it’s not terribly presidential — but it is very Trump.