The Monmouth University Poll (link opens in PDF) was released Wednesday and depending on where you get your information, the poll was either good news or bad for the Republicans.
I love polling but this is one of my pet peeves: an established few, from both the left and the right, report on and massage the data of their choosing, often ignoring the bigger picture and dismissing context. Sadly, poll spin works because Americans rarely review the source material for themselves.
Below are some my takeaways from the Monmouth Poll. That may differ from yours; review the poll and decide for yourself. But if you depend on the media and skip the source material, here’s some of what you may not have read.
Right Direction or Wrong Track?
When asked if “things in the country are going in right direction, or have they gotten off on the wrong track,” 37% said right direction. While seemingly low, it is the highest mark since at least July 2013 (when Monmouth began this Poll). Notice the low numbers in the 2nd row – “right direction” polled at 30% or less eight-straight times during Obama’s second term.
But that didn’t stop Politico from reporting that “a majority of those surveyed said they felt the country was on the wrong track.” This ignores the fact that the January 2018 response is the 2nd lowest “wrong track” in the poll’s history (both under Trump). In fact, it’s at least 6 points lower than every single poll taken during Obama’s second term. Context matters.
Tax Law Gains Popularity
I wrote previously that Republicans had done a poor job in getting the message out about the new tax law. In Monmouth’s December poll, 62% strongly disapproved or didn’t have an opinion about the tax cut (35% strongly disapprove, 27% don’t know). In late January, that total is down to 44% (strong disapproval dipping to 31% and don’t know down to just 13%). Meanwhile, approval jumped from 26% to 44%.
The Washington Post’s headline said the “tax-cut gamble” is paying off, as if taxpayers keeping more of their own money is risky policy. Business Insider’s headline says Republicans are “winning the war over the tax law” despite approval still under 50%. BI suggests the GOP’s salesmanship is responsible for the increase in support, dismissing the role that corporate bonuses and pay raises have played.
Generic Congressional Candidates
Registered voters said they’d favor Democrats over Republicans, 47-45%, if congressional elections were held today. In December, the gap was 15 points (51-36).
The New York Times polling expert said this info is “far and away the most important single data point” in the Monmouth Poll. I disagree: with numbers moving so violently, it’s hard to know exactly what’s happening. The tax law, the stock market’s fantastic January, and the shutdown could all be factors in the Republican rise.
Trump, Obama, & Mueller
To me, one of the most overplayed polling questions is “do you approve of disapprove of the job the president is doing?” With 33 months to go until the election, it’s pretty irrelevant. That said, Trump’s approval has hovered around 40% and is currently near it’s highest (42%). His disapproval numbers have averaged over 50%.
Obama’s approval hovered in the low- to mid-40s until his final year in office. In 6 of the 11 polls during that time, his disapproval number topped 50% (and averaged 50.3%). Trump’s has been over 50% in 4 of 7 polls.
In Monmouth’s companion poll (PDF) released Thursday, Americans overwhelmingly say Trump should meet with Mueller and that the interview should be under oath. Thankfully, America demands transparency.