President Donald Trump famously called bad approval rating polls “fake news”—but he might be right, according to a polling analysis from Politico.
Two of the latest approval poll give vastly different results about how the American people believe Trump’s doing: a Rasmussen poll puts him at a healthy 54 percent support, and a recent CBS News poll puts him at a paltry 40 percent.
Politico hypothesizes that mainstream polls that conduct interviews by live phone calls are undercounting Trump’s support—just as they did during the election—because many supporters feel embarrassed to admit to another person that they support the President. Respondents are far more likely to admit support for Trump when polling is more anonymous—if they’re being polled on the internet or automated phone calls, without a live person.
Participants in the CBS poll were asked questions by a live telephone operator, while the Rasmussen poll was conducted by automated phone calls.
“Just like during the campaign season, there’s evidence suggesting that Americans may be less willing to admit they support the president and his actions if they are talking to another person on the phone, compared to polls completed with the anonymity of the internet or an automated phone interface,” wrote Politico’s Steven Shepard in his analysis.
He also cited the fact that Trump ran ahead of the polls in many states—winning him the electoral vote, even though most media outlets gave him virtually no chance of victory.
Shepard’s theory holds water across all polls for the first few weeks of Trump’s presidency.
Polls that are conducted by automated phone calls or via the internet—meaning that respondents aren’t talking to an actual human being, and are thus less likely to feel judged about their choice—Trump’s approval averages at a reasonably strong 48.2%.
But based on polls where respondents do talk to an actual human, the approval rating is much lower: just 40.75%.
So it’s likely that far more people approval of Donald Trump than most polls show—they’re just afraid to admit it to the pollster.