The Trump administration is not poll-driven

The Topline

Say what you will about the Trump administration — and with disapproval in the Gallup daily trackerhitting 60 percent last week, people have a lot to say — but they are not committing that cardinal political “sin” of governing by poll. In fact, they frequently seem fully committed to the opposite: finding the popular route and going the other way.

Gallup daily presidential approval poll, 3-day average.

Ditching the polls has long been a key part of Trump’s brand and appeal to his base of voters, who see him as different than other politicians who talk in measured, focus-grouped soundbites.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump famously scoffed at others for hiring pollsters, although he later brought one in and made another (KellyAnne Conway) his third and final campaign manager. His poll cherry picking became so infamous that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull included it in his impersonation of Trump that leaked this week.

Since he became president, polls have not shown much good news for Trump, and he has mostly had little to say about them. But it’s in the arena of policy where the Trump administration’s apparent disregard for the polls is most apparent. A wide reading of the polls show Trump and his administration consistently taking the less popular path.

Medical marijuana – Recent polls have shown medical marijuana among the very few issues where Americans are nearly unanimous in their support. Polls have found support between 83 and 93 percentover the last few months. While Republicans are more likely than Democrats to oppose medical marijuana, they still want to keep it legal, by a margin of 70 percent to 26 percent in a recent Yahoo / Marist poll. Even on recreational marijuana, which Sessions has also targeted for increased federal enforcement, he is swimming against a growing wave of public sentiment in favor of legalization.

Healthcare – Opinion on the American Health Care Act is perhaps the most poignant example of going against public opinion. Trump pushed the House to pass the bill, and celebrated its passage in the Rose Garden, before telling Senators he thought it was “mean” and hoped the Senate version would be less so. As Senate Republicans work out their own version behind closed doors, support remains very low, averaging 29 percent in recent national polls. The New York Times’ Upshot estimates that opinion is tilted against the AHCA in all 50 states.


Climate change – On climate, polls have shown majorities of Americans believe climate change is real and at least partially man-made, and they oppose Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement.

Budget matters – Voters perennially support cutting “wasteful spending,” but Pew polling finds that, when pressed, most don’t actually want to cut much other than foreign aid. Even so, the Trump administration approach to the budget has been more has been more meat ax than scalpel.

Twitter – A recent Morning Consult/Politico tracking poll shows 69 percent think Trump uses Twitter too much. Even many of his own supporters wish he would cool it.

Not governing by polls is a time-honored claim of politicians, even as they pour over crosstabs behind the scenes. There’s a reason they do: polls help politicians get reelected. They also help leaders understand the views and wishes of their constituents, even if they choose a less popular course. Whether Trump is truly ignorant of what polls say, or if he is aware but choosing to ignore it, his policy strategy seems to be to do the exact opposite of what the public says it wants.


CommonWealth MagazineDissecting Baker’s stance on millionaire’s tax.

“Governor Charlie Baker hasn’t formally said he’s against the so-called ‘Fair Share’ ballot question, but the totality of his public comments and statements from his office certainly suggest more opposition than support. He points to tepid, 1 to 2 percent income growth as evidence the state needs to ‘continue to live within our means.’

Read more on MPG


Meet The Authors

Steve Koczela

President, The MassINC Polling Group

Rich Parr

Senior Research Director, The MassINC Polling Group

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