Trump makes false claims about his swing state polling
Less than 100 days out from the election, President Donald Trump pushed back against criticism that his handling of the coronavirus pandemic is negatively impacting his bid for a second term. At a briefing in North Carolina on Monday, Trump claimed his poll numbers were “very good,” referring especially to a few battleground states.
“We’re leading in North Carolina. We’re leading in Pennsylvania. We’re leading in Arizona,” Trump said, without referring to specific polls. “We’re leading nicely in Florida. I think our poll numbers are very good. We’re leading substantially in Georgia.”
Trump dismissed polls that have him losing in these states as fake, citing the 2016 election where many polls showed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leading in competitive states she eventually lost.
“Four years ago, I was losing everywhere. I had poll numbers where I wasn’t going to win any state, and I ended up winning every one of them. You know the swing states, I wasn’t going to win any of them and I won all of them,” Trump said.
Facts First: Most polls show Trump trailing in nearly all swing states, in particular the ones he named. It’s also not true that polls predicted he wouldn’t win any swing states in 2016.
While no major polls from 2016 showed Trump leading at any point in Michigan or Wisconsin, he was ahead in the polls for several other battleground states he ultimately won in the 2016 election. A CNN poll from August 2016 showed Trump ahead in Arizona and Quinnipiac polls from July 2016 found Trump leading in Florida and Pennsylvania, though subsequent polls closer to the election had the race tied in those two states.
The latest CNN poll has Trump behind by 5 points in Florida and 4 points in Arizona. Biden also leads in most polls conducted this year for North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In Georgia, Trump is not “leading substantially.” The few polls that have been conducted show a near-even race.
The Trump campaign routinely attempts to discredit public polling, while at the same time acknowledging that those polls show them behind.
In a recent conference call with reporters, new campaign manager Bill Stepien questioned the validity of public polling on a number of fronts, including what he claimed was their under-sampling of Republicans and faulty methodology. He also complained that the polling companies were not transparent enough with their work.
“All these issues make it really hard to take these polls and others out there like them, you know, overly seriously,” Stepien said. “I come from a school of thought. There’s a reason why in grade school we were all asked to show our math, not just the children answers. We want to see how these pollsters arrived at their conclusions.”
Stepien’s claims are without merit. Many of the polls that Stepien is complaining about are quite transparent about their methodology, including ones conducted by CNN. Several, including Quinnipiac University, Marist College, Siena College, ABC News and The Washington Post, are members of the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s Transparency Initiative, pledging to release key details of their methodology for all public polling they conduct.
Before it will even report on a poll, CNN requires it to meet a high threshold of transparency. Last month, The New York Times published an entire article laying out the details of their methodology before they released the numbers.
Although Trump’s campaign contends most pollsters are under-sampling Republicans, all available evidence suggests that Republicans do make up roughly a quarter of the American public, a finding replicated across major polls, including those published by media organizations, academic institutions and neutral research organizations such as Gallup.
At Monday’s briefing, Trump also repeated a few classic false claims that were not about the election.
Trump falsely claimed he “got VA choice.”
Facts First: The Veterans Choice bill, a bipartisan initiative led by senators Bernie Sanders and the late John McCain, was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014. In 2018, Trump signed the VA Mission Act, which expanded and changed the Choice program.
This is among the President’s most repeated false claims. Since CNN started counting on July 8, 2019, Trump has repeated this claim more than 60 times.
Attempting to tout his administration’s accomplishments, Trump claimed the Space Force was the first new branch of the military in 75 years.
“We created a force,” Trump said. “That hasn’t happened in 75 years.”
Facts First: “75 years” is a slight exaggeration. The Air Force was made a separate branch of the armed forces in September 1947 — about 72 years before the Space Force was founded in 2019.
China’s worst year
Trump also compared the US economy to China’s. “China was having, by the way, the worst year they’ve had in 67 years,” Trump said. In comparison, he claimed, “We were having the best year we have ever had.”
Facts First: China’s officially reported 2019 growth rate, 6.1%, was the lowest since 1990, 29 years prior. While China’s official figures are unreliable, there is no basis for the “67 years” claim; Trump has habitually exaggerated how long it had been since China’s growth was as slow as it was in 2019, steadily inflating the figure over time.
The US was also not having its best economic year ever by the metric by which China was having its worst year in over 20 years. US second-quarter growth for 2019 was 2%, lower than in the same quarter of 2018 and 2017.
This story has been updated with information on polling standards and transparency in response to Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien’s criticism of public polling.
CNN’s Ryan Nobles contributed to this report.
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