Lies, Damned Lies and Partisanship

The latest Economist-YouGov national tracking poll includes a few great questions on public trust in government statistics. What’s better is they were previously asked in 2014, which allows for a comparison of views under the Obama and Trump administrations.

Key takeaway: while Republican views on government statistics have evolved – they now have considerably more confidence in the numbers than they had in 2014 – Democratic views have not shifted much at all.

Percentage who say half or more of the statistics reported by the government are reliable and accurate:

May 2014 Mar 2017 Change
Republicans 32% 58% +26
Independents 50% 56% +6
Democrats 74% 77% +3
Total 50% 64% +14

SOURCE: Economist-YouGov Polls

You see the same thing when the question gets more specific: is the unemployment rate being accurately reported?

Percentage who say there are “More unemployed people” than shown in the numbers released by the government in the most recent employment report:

May 2014 Mar 2017 Change
Republicans 76% 48% -28
Independents 64% 46% -18
Democrats 41% 39% -2
Total 59% 44% -15

SOURCE: Economist-YouGov Polls

There are similar effects to varying degrees for CBO data on the number of uninsured, US Census data on the population, and NASA/NOAA data on temperature changes.

It’s possible that Democrats’ trust in Trump administration will deteriorate over time. It might even be surprising if that didn’t happen. However, it’s also plausible is that Democrats are, as a starting point, much more likely to be confident in official government information.

In fact, pushing a “both sides do it” frame on this seems forced – and worse, for a blog post, boring. The more interesting theorizing has to do with the question of why Republicans tend to be more epistemologically flexible when it comes to official statistics. My hypothesis is that these people have been forced to choose between political or religious realities and the word of “the BLS” or “the media” or “climate scientists” or “crowd scientists”  in ways most Democrats simply have not (or at least have not had to do so on such a regular basis). As a result, the default position on official and expert data shifts from credulity to something purely conditional. Democrats are surely victim to this in certain ways. But it seems to me that they are not forced to choose between the “official” line and their own moral line nearly as often as Republicans are.

Lies, Damned Lies and Partisanship

The New Quinnipiac Poll: Either Noise… or Pretty Worrying for Trump

Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University has a new poll out, which is mainly interesting for some erosion in support among Trump’s base, as their poll release points out.

Quinnipiac always breaks out the information for whites with and without a college degree (something really all pollsters should do in the Trump era), which allows for a look at the trend lines since January. This shows that their previous polls had been relatively consistent among both groups — non-college whites gave Trump net ratings of around +20 and college whites around -15.

This week, whites with a degree haven’t budged, but his support among non-college whites has fallen significantly to a net +7, from a high in early March of +26. This is the first Quinnipiac Poll to come out since the GOP released its Obamacare replacement bill (on March 6th). Importantly, it’s not alone in showing a softening in Trump’s numbers during March, at least in the toplines.

Using “net” approval, percent approve minus percent disapprove, has its drawbacks – the measure is, basically by definition, noisier than just “approve” or “disapprove”. But it’s useful for comparisons across groups, and the changes are eye-catching however you look at it. Since February, Trump had been consistently in the 56-60% range for approval with non-college whites, and he is now at 50%. File under Number To Watch.

In addition, Trump’s support among Republicans declines from 91% to 81%. Disapproval is up to 14% from 5%. This may seem like a natural decline, or like it’s still quite high, but context is important here. George W. Bush was in the 80s and 90s among Republicans for most of his presidency – amidst numerous crises and big declines among Democrats and independents. He only fell consistently below Trump’s current level after his second midterm election in 2006, with the combined pressures of Katrina, Iraq and eventually economic crisis. And even at Barack Obama’s lowest points, he really slumped into the mid-70s among Democrats. In other words: maybe this is just noise, or else Trump hitting his floor with Republicans – but I don’t think “still strong with the base” is the correct frame if he’s really hovering around 80%.

The New Quinnipiac Poll: Either Noise… or Pretty Worrying for Trump

The Age Gap in the Age of Trump

Ron Brownstein has a new piece in The Atlantic interrogating Donald Trump’s support—or lack thereof—and what it might mean for Democrats. It contains some eye-popping numbers, such as the huge differential swings among white Millennials with and without college degrees. Brownstein also notes Trump’s very low approval ratings among 18 to 29 year olds, which have ranged between the low-20s and the low-30s depending on the pollster.

This raised a secondary question for me about age cohorts in the Age of Trump: namely, is this anything new? In the background of these thoughts is the common misconception that young people have always tended to vote more Democratic than the rest of the population. Actually, while the age gap existed during Hippie Era, it essentially went into hibernation until George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection and then exploded during the Obama years.

If anything, the relative advantage Democrats have held with younger generations is anomalous until proven otherwise, so it is notable (if not necessarily surprising) if it endures into the Age of Trump. To that point, I looked at the age variation in approval ratings across recent presidencies.


As I mentioned, the age gap is a recent development. If you take the average approval ratings from their entire presidencies (as Gallup has done here), there is virtually no difference between levels of support from the youngest and oldest voters. In the Obama years, this changed, and on average his approval rating was 16 points higher among 18-29 year olds than it was among Americans over the age of 65. Based on recent polling of Donald Trump, he may indeed be headed for an even bigger gap: according to the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, he is getting 28% from 18-29 year olds and 52% from over-65s—a yawning gap of 24 points.

However, a bit more context is probably necessary, because averages can be misleading when seeking out trends. The young/old gap in approval actually varied quite a lot during Obama’s presidency, and if you take only his last year in office, the age gap was much larger—24 points, in fact, exactly the same as under Trump (but reversed, with positive ratings higher among young people).


So, in one sense, the age gap in the Age of Trump is picking up from where it left off under Obama. On the other hand, while Trump has gained only 9 points on Obama’s 2016 average among the oldest age cohort, he trails Obama’s average among young people by a massive 39 points, and even trails Bush 43’s average by 18 points. Millennials continue to vote at much lower rates than older voters, so Republicans have generally had the better end of the deal when it comes to the age gap. Whether that continues to be the case as Millennials grow from 30% to 45% of the electorate over the next 8 years… well, we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Age Gap in the Age of Trump