Recently, Rasmussen reported that Donald Trump’s approval had finally hit 50%, so of course Trump had to tweet about it:
It’s true that his approval numbers have been creeping up a bit over the last few months, and there are a lot of competing theories among pundits as to why it’s happening. But this much is still true: Rasmussen is not a very reliable polling agency, and Trump continues to be very unpopular in a time when almost any other president (under the same conditions) would have a considerably higher approval rating.
You won’t find much looking at the results Rasmussen posts. Unlike a lot of other pollsters, Rasmussen hasn’t released how the poll breaks down, like the total number of participants, ages, political affiliation, and so on and so on. That information is useful when trying to figure out how the results came out as they did.
According to FiveThirtyEight and The Washington Post, Rasmussen does not use live callers to conduct polls (instead relying on an automated system) and does not make any attempt to contact individuals on their cell phones, thereby limiting their pool to only those with landlines, thus favoring older demographics (an insane approach for any pollster trying to get an accurate picture of what voters across all age ranges think). In other words, it’s not a very reliable poll.
To give you an idea of what other professionals think, here’s the breakdown according to Fivethirtyeight, which gives Rasmussen a C+:
To give an even better idea, here’s a Washington Post story about what Rasmussen was reporting back in 2012 before the election:
Mitt Romney’s campaign and its allies, though, are apparently huge fans [of Rasmussen].
Even as other pollsters — Gallup, Fox News, CBS News/New York Times, Washington Post/ABC News — have shown the presidential race tilting toward President Obama in recent days, Romney aides and allied Republicans proudly tout the newest Rasmussen numbers, which show their guy actually holding a very small lead: 47 percent to 45 percent.
Rasmussen, like other pollsters, showed an initial bump for Obama, who at one point led by five points in its daily tracking poll. That bump dissipated quickly, though, and Romney now leads again — as he has in its polling for much of the past couple months.
To show just how long they’ve been producing shoddy polls, Nate Silver wrote about their performance predicting the results from the 2010 midterms back when FiveThirtyEight was still a blog at The New York Times:
The 105 polls released in Senate and gubernatorial races by Rasmussen Reports and its subsidiary, Pulse Opinion Research, missed the final margin between the candidates by 5.8 points, a considerably higher figure than that achieved by most other pollsters. Some 13 of its polls missed by 10 or more points, including one in the Hawaii Senate race that missed the final margin between the candidates by 40 points, the largest error ever recorded in a general election in FiveThirtyEight’s database, which includes all polls conducted since 1998.
Moreover, Rasmussen’s polls were quite biased, overestimating the standing of the Republican candidate by almost 4 points on average. In just 12 cases, Rasmussen’s polls overestimated the margin for the Democrat by 3 or more points. But it did so for the Republican candidate in 55 cases — that is, in more than half of the polls that it issued.
So it’s an incredibly biased and untrustworthy poll that Republicans love because it reaffirms whatever they want to believe. Romney and his crew believed it so much that they actually thought they were going to win despite most other polls indicating they were going to lose (and before any Trumpster brings up the 2016 election, those polls weren’t actually wrong; nationally, Clinton got more millions more votes, so it’s completely reasonable that most polls showed her winning by a couple percentage points). Rasmussen is just another tool in the Republican arsenal to create an alternate reality.