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These are the controversial polls Trump wants you to believe

February 9th, 2017

Within the space of a few hours yesterday, President Donald Trump pinched out a series of tweets related to two different news articles. One included a screenshot from a recent Morning Consult poll, which found that the White House’s immigration ban is “one of Trump's most popular orders so far.” A second tweet linked to a story from The Hill about a new poll from Emerson College. The headline reads: “Trump administration seen as more truthful than news media: poll.”

Days earlier, Trump said on Twitter that “any negative polls are fake news,” so by that logic, the glowing, Trump-Approved™ polls he tweeted yesterday must be non-fake news, right? Not quite.

As CNN’s Brian Stelter explained in his consistently great newsletter, both of the polls Trump tweeted are controversial for different (and significant) reasons. The Morning Consult poll only surveyed people “selected from an opt-in panel, meaning only those who've signed up to take surveys can participate," CNN polling director Jennifer Agiesta told Stelter. Critics have argued that opt-in sampling is less representative than other sampling techniques, and Stelter writes that the Morning Consult poll would not have met CNN’s standards. (The same poll also found that Trump’s approval rating has dropped to 47 percent, which Trump did not mention.)

Morning Consult disputes Stelter’s critique and defends its methodology. In an email to The Verge, Morning Consult’s director of communications, Jeff Cartwright, described Stelter’s criticism as “inaccurate” and “outdated,” adding that “phone polls are quickly becoming much more flawed than online polls ever were.” He also pointed to a recent Pew study which found that opt-in polling techniques, while highly variable, can produce accurate results under certain conditions. “It's rich for any media pollster to criticize us considering their own track record is far from the gold standard,” added Morning Consult CEO Michael Ramlet, pointing to a breakdown of the company’s polling methodology and track record.

The Emerson College poll, meanwhile, only surveyed people with landline phones — a demographic that, like Trump’s supporters, has been shown to skew older and whiter. According to 2016 data from the CDC, around 70 percent of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 live in households with only wireless phones, compared to 21 percent of people 65 and over. Just 45 percent of white American adults live in wireless-only households — the lowest percentage for any demographic group.

As Stelter writes: “I think everyone agrees that some Americans trust Trump more than the news media right now. I think everyone agrees that newsrooms have a lot of work to do to regain trust. But landline-only polling is not a way to make progress.”

Such nuance will likely be lost on Trump, however, who seems hell-bent on remaking reality in his own gold-plated vision. Cherry-picking positive news coverage and dismissing the critical is a dangerous practice for any president to engage in, and it’s the kind of thing authoritarian leaders in other countries have been doing for years. So for the next four years, at least, double-checking Trump’s reality will become a reality for us all.

Update, February 9th 11:07AM and 2:40PM: Added response from Morning Consult and subsequently clarified headline and copy to read “controversial” instead of “flawed.”