Donald Trump is, by any measure, the most unpopular candidate to get within shouting distance of the nomination of either of the major parties. Poll after poll shows that he is viewed unfavorably by 65-70% of American voters, and favorably by 30% or less.
Some weeks ago, the Mouth of Trump, Ann Coulter, went to Twitter to make a tenuous comparison between Trump’s current polling numbers and Ronald Reagan’s polling numbers in 1980:
Actually it was Reagan. L.A.Times poll 3/25/80 Favorables: Anderson 68%; Kennedy 60%; Carter 51%; Ronald Reagan 30%. https://t.co/zUetnTdUkJ
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) March 22, 2016
Even if true, that doesn’t really make an apples to apples comparison. Even if Reagan had favorables of 30% (which he did not, but more on that in a second), he could still have been much more popular than Trump, because the problem with Trump is not that his favorables are at 30%, it’s that his unfavorables are at or near 70%. It’s actually kind of common for politicians to have favorables in the 30s and win, especially early in a campaign, as long as their unfavorables are not tremendously high.
But setting all that aside, Gallup is now alleging that Coulter may well have made this poll up. Now this, of course, is the easiest thing to do on the Internet – reference a poll that existed or was taken before anything was recorded on the Internet. Makes it extremely difficult to check. Gallup attempted, and came up with bupkis:
A writer with Gateway Pundit recently cited a tweet from prominent political commentator Ann Coulter, which in turn cited an April 15, 1980,Washington Post article written by Bill Peterson, which in turn cited in its final paragraph a March 25, 1980, Los Angeles Times poll showing Reagan’s favorable image at 30%. This final 30% number was used in the first two of these publications to bolster the hypothesis that Trump is merely following in Reagan’s hallowed footsteps.
Peterson’s description of the poll in the 1980 Washington Post article is worth reviewing:
“The other poll was taken by the Los Angeles Times on March 25, the day of the New York primary. It asked Republican and Democratic voters to record favorable and unfavorable impressions of candidates. Anderson finished in the poll with a 68 percent favorable rating. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was second with a 60 percent favorable rating followed by President Carter with 51 percent and Ronald Reagan with 30 percent.” It was this 30% number that Coulter picked up and, eventually, the Gateway Pundit.
We were not able to find a national Los Angeles Times poll conducted on March 25. Several Los Angeles Times national polls archived in the Roper Center from 1980 measured Reagan’s image. But none were conducted in March 1980. And none, something we will come back to shortly, showed Reagan with a 30% favorable rating.
In fact, the more we look at the data described in the 1980 Washington Post article, the more it appears that this author was referring to a Los Angeles Timesexit poll of New York state primary voters. The New York primary was on March 25; there was a Los Angeles Times exit poll conducted then, and the article’s wording refers to Republican and Democratic voters, although the author did not label it as an exit poll per se. We were able to locate the data from the Los Angeles Times New York exit poll from March 25 from the Roper Center archives. This shows Reagan with an overall 35% favorable rating — similar to but not the same as the 30% reported in the Washington Post article. So there remains a mystery as to the origin of the 30% number cited in the Washington Postarticle. But regardless, these data are from New York state voters, who constitute a substantially different group than the national population with which it is being compared — not a useful comparison.
Quite apart from the issue of whether this poll ever existed, the notion that Reagan was ever at any point as unpopular as Trump is very obvious bovine fecal material, as anyone who lived through 1980 knows.
There are, in fact, a number of traditional, national poll results from 1980 which did measure Reagan’s image. In general, these data show that Reagan enjoyed mostly positive net favorable reviews throughout 1980.
Gallup’s 10-point “scalometer” method of measuring favorability found 70% of Americans viewing Reagan positively in May and August of 1980. And while the scalometer rating tends to produce higher favorable scores than binary favorable/unfavorable scales, Reagan earned a 60% favorable rating in a January 1980 Gallup/Newsweek poll using the binary wording.
A multitude of polls by other firms whose surveys are archived in the Roper Center polling database confirms Reagan’s generally positive 1980 image.
The Los Angeles Timesnational polls all show that Reagan’s image was more favorable than unfavorable, including polls in the fall of 1979 and in June, September and October of 1980. There is no Los Angeles Timespoll which can be located from 1980 that shows Reagan with a more unfavorable than favorable image, as is the case with Trump today.
Trump’s supporters are really desperate to compare Trump to Reagan, as a means of allaying voter concern about Trump’s ability to win in November. So desperate, in fact, that they may be either flat out inventing fake polls or knowingly twisting actual polls.
The differences between Trump and Reagan are too numerous to count, as I’ve set forth before here. One of the key differences is that Reagan was very popular nationally in and throughout 1980 (and 1979), and Trump is tremendously unpopular nationally. Fabricating evidence won’t make that go away.