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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump Tweets Faulty Black Approval Claim

President Donald Trump’s approval ratings among African Americans have declined, not “doubled,” as the president claimed in a recent tweet.

The source of Trump’s boast appears to be a misreading of data from the online polling firm SurveyMonkey. Weekly surveys conducted by that organization show that his approval rating among black Americans has declined from 23 percent between Jan. 26 and Jan. 30, 2017, to 17 percent between Dec. 28, 2017, and Jan. 3, 2018. Polling by the Pew Research Center and Gallup show declines over a similar period, too.

Trump made the claim about improved approval ratings in a Jan. 16 tweet that came just days after Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said Trump referred to African nations as “shitholes” during a Jan. 11 White House meeting on immigration.

Trump is correct that the unemployment rate for blacks is the lowest it has been going back to 1972, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. When Trump took office in January, the rate was 7.8 percent – the lowest in nearly 10 years. It was 6.8 percent in December, the lowest on record.

That 1 percentage point decrease continues a trend for the past several years. There was a similar drop in 2016, and there were even larger decreases in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

The White House did not respond to our request for evidence that Trump’s approval among blacks has “doubled.” And we didn’t find support for it, either.

As other news organizations have pointed out, Trump’s tweet may have been based on a segment on “Fox & Friends,” a morning TV program the president watches regularly. After all, he included the Fox News Twitter handle at the end of his tweet.

On the Jan. 16 edition of the show, co-host Brian Kilmeade made this claim during a segment about negative news coverage of Trump: “Believe it or not, through all this negative coverage, they did a survey of 600,000 people about how black America views this president. His numbers have actually doubled in approval.”

Kilmeade didn’t offer a source for his statement, but it sounded similar to something reported two days earlier by the conservative Breitbart website.

That article — “Donald Trump’s Support Among Blacks Has Doubled Since 2016, Amid Racism Claims” — included this explanation:

Breitbart, Jan. 14: Among black men, Trump’s “2017 average approval rating significantly exceeds his 2016 vote share,” admitted a January 11 article in the Atlantic by author Ronald Brownstein. “23 percent of black men approved of Trump’s performance versus 11 percent of black women,” said the article.

That score averages out to 17 percent, or twice the 8 percent score he was given in the 2016 exit polls.

But Kilmeade and Breitbart both misrepresented SurveyMonkey’s findings.

The polling organization conducted over 600,000 interviews with Americans of all races in 2017, not just black Americans, as Kilmeade suggested. And, as we mentioned, its publicly available data show that Trump’s approval rating among blacks dropped from 23 percent very early in his presidency to around 17 percent as of the seven days ending Jan. 3, 2018.

It’s true that the Atlantic reported that 23 percent of black men and 11 percent of black women approved of Trump’s job performance in 2017, based on figures SurveyMoney provided to the magazine. But it’s not correct to just add those two figures together to produce an average, as Breitbart did. In fact, the New York Times reported that SurveyMonkey didn’t even interview the same number of men and women.

It’s also wrong to compare those approval ratings to exit poll data from the 2016 general election to claim that Trump’s “support among blacks has doubled.” The figures don’t make for a useful comparison because they measure two different things.

The exit poll data show the percentage of black voters who preferred Trump to his presidential rivals, and the 2017 survey data show the percentage of black Americans — some voters and some not — who approve of Trump’s performance as president.

Even if the latter percentage is twice as much as the former, that does not mean that Trump’s approval rating has doubled.

Data from Gallup show that his approval among blacks declined from 15 percent between Jan. 20 and Jan. 29, 2017, to 6 percent between Dec. 25 and Dec. 31, 2017. And data from the Pew Research Center show that Trump’s approval in that demographic dropped 7 percentage points in 2017 — from 14 percent in February to 7 percent in December.

That’s in addition to the SurveyMonkey data that also show a decline.

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“Trump approval ratings with Black Americans has doubled.”

Tuesday, January 16, 2018