Fox News Halftime Report -- Polls, again

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FOX NEWS HALFTIME REPORT
Jan. 17, 2017
By Chris Stirewalt

On the roster:
Polls, again - Putin backs Trump, team Obama 'worse than prostitutes' - Ethics snarl Price Health secretary hearings - More Dems join inauguration boycott - Call it… Ishmael

POLLS, AGAIN
Wouldn't it be refreshing if Donald Trump – or any national politician really – didn't believe the polls?

With a new round of surveys that show Trump increasingly unpopular ahead of his inauguration, the president-elect and his acolytes have returned to familiar territory of denouncing pollsters.

"The same people who did the phony election polls, and were so wrong, are now doing approval rating polls," Trump tweeted, "They are rigged just like before."

Trump was presumably responding to this survey from WaPo/ABC News that shows only 40 percent of American adults hold a favorable view of him.

Or maybe it's this poll from CNN that shows him with an approval rating as president-elect of just 40 percent, less than half that his predecessor had upon taking office.

Or perhaps it was this poll from Monmouth University that shows just 34 percent of Americans taking a favorable view of the soon-to-be president.

Or could it be Gallup that also found Trump with a 40 percent favorability rating…

Anyway, you get the idea.

First, to the question of the accuracy of polling. We have spent some time, but not much, on that question here. But the general thesis is this: national polls proved accurate, some state polls were screwy.

The final average of credible national polls for last year's election showed Hillary Clinton ahead by 3.4 points. She won the national popular vote by 2.1 points. Not bad, considering that the polls proved more predictive than in 2012 and were on par with those in 2008.

But as we know – and as some Democrats are still coming to terms with – the national popular vote isn't what counts. It's the Electoral College. And there, state pollsters had some real lulus.

The Real Clear Politics average of polls in Wisconsin, missed Trump's vote share by more than 7 points, more than 5 points in Michigan, and more than 4 points in Pennsylvania. They were pretty good on Clinton, but failed to capture how many allegedly undecided, or late-breaking voters would rush to Trump.

It would be reasonable for someone to be skeptical of state-level surveys just now. The demise of geographic area codes, errant models based on past elections and other problems must be addressed, and soon.

But there's no indication that national polling is off, or any more off than it has been in recent history.

So, what's a populist like Trump to do?

The national popular vote is of limited usefulness when forecasting an election, as was made abundantly clear in November. But for gauging the mood of the nation on issues and individuals, the popular vote is invaluable. And at a moment where both parties are pledging to be more responsive to the demands of the people, how else would they know, other than surveys?

One of the knocks on modern politicians is that they are spineless jellyfish floating on the currents of public opinion. Rather than taking a stand and bringing the people to their side, leaders often rely on the latest polling data to make up their minds.

This is often seen as craven, especially in a republic where presidents and Senators are expected to consider the greater good and not just be weather vanes for popular opinion. Poll-driven politics tends to be small and favors opposition over ambitious plans.

Simultaneously, people cite popular opinion with the authority of the tablets from Mt. Sinai. A plan is often deemed good or plan based on its popularity. President Obama discovered this as he has tried to drag his health insurance law over eight years of bad road. After endlessly citing public demand for insurance reform, Obama found himself flayed by polls that said voters were unhappy with his version.

Trump lived through this during his hair-raising presidential run, touting polls that showed him ahead to the high heavens, but then damning surveys, sometimes the very same ones, that showed him behind.

His conduct suggests that Trump was, in fact, paying attention to polls. His periodic poll tailspins were consistently met by corrective action and new strategies. And one assumes that he is paying attention now, especially since he is going to the trouble of denouncing them.

And this is the challenge for all populists, but especially Trump: If you turn the presidency into a representative office, you become a prisoner of fickle popular opinion. But if you ignore popular opinion, you're not much of a populist.

Having won despite a popular minority, Trump is understandably more sensitive to these considerations than most. Having won narrowly, Trump could generate intense, implacable resistance if he is seen as jamming through unpopular initiatives.

A prisoner to polling or resisted like a tyrant: two unappealing choices.

Consider Obama's fate. He leaves office riding a wave of popularity, but his agenda is a shambles and he is being replaced by his antithesis. He was a polling prisoner, to be sure.

There is another way, though. The best politicians treat polling like a weather forecast. They may change their preparations or strategies in the same way a commuter might pick another route or pack an umbrella, but the direction remains the same.

And for Trump, discounting polls right now would be like driving into a snowstorm with the top down. If he listen's too closely, he'll end up housebound and afraid to go out into the blizzard.

Leaders who succeed know that true success is found at the ballot box and in the history books. Polls can help you get there, but are not the prize themselves.

THE RULEBOOK: PRODIGIOUS
"The establishment of a Constitution, in time of profound peace, by the voluntary consent of a whole people, is a prodigy…" – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 85

TIME OUT: 'TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE'
How much of English did Shakespeare invent and how much preceded him? New Yorker: "Launched on Zooniverse, a research-crowdsourcing platform, in 2015, [Shakespeare's World] is an effort to better understand everyday life and language around the time of William Shakespeare… [T]he same strategy would allow researchers to build a repository of transcriptions that could be searched for quantitative answers to historical questions—how often rosewater was used in plague medicines, say, or when chocolate began appearing regularly in recipes. Similarly, linguists could trace the evolution of English in more detail. The first-known records of many words are in Shakespeare's plays, but it's not always clear which he invented and which were already commonplace. The handwritten material of Shakespeare's contemporaries is 'more or less hidden,' according to Laura Wright, a historical linguist at the University of Cambridge and a Zooniverse volunteer. 'Of course it looks like Shakespeare invented all this stuff, because his stuff is in print,' she said."

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

PUTIN BACKS TRUMP, TEAM OBAMA 'WORSE THAN PROSTITUTES'
Fox News: "In a speech that one-upped even some of the president-elect's colorful Twitter commentary, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called Donald Trump's political enemies 'worse than prostitutes' for disseminating a dubiously-sourced dossier last week alleging a relationship between Trump and the Kremlin. Speaking during a news conference, Putin said last week's leak of the 35-page report…was a last-ditch attempt on the part of President Obama's outgoing administration to "undermine the legitimacy of the president-elect.' 'Prostitution is an ugly social phenomenon . . . but people who order such fakes, which are now used against the elected president of the United States, fabricate information and use it in the political struggle, they are worse than prostitutes,' Putin said, according to a translation by Sputnik News. 'They have no moral limits.'"

SCHOOL CHOICE TO BE FOCUS OF DEVOS HEARING
AP: "Charter schools and school choice are expected to be a major focus of education policy under the new Trump administration. Betsy DeVos, Trump's choice for education secretary, has spent over two decades advocating for school choice programs, which give students and parents an alternative to traditional public school education. Her confirmation hearing was scheduled for Tuesday evening."

Dems want DeVos tax returns - WaPo: "A key Senate Democrat has asked Betsy DeVos, President-elect Donald Trump's pick for education secretary, to turn over three years of tax returns to the committee overseeing her confirmation process. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the committee on Health, Education, Pensions and Labor (HELP), made the request in a letter dated Jan. 13… While the HELP committee has not required education nominees to share tax returns in the past, Murray wrote, several have done so voluntarily, including two George W. Bush nominees, Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings."

ZINKE STANCE ON CONSERVATION, FEDERAL CONTROL TO DOMINATE TODAY'S HEARING
Reuters: "A U.S. Senate committee will grill President-elect Donald Trump's pick to run the Department of the Interior, Congressman Ryan Zinke of Montana, during a confirmation hearing on Tuesday that is likely to focus on how he would balance development and conservation on America's vast public lands. The former Navy SEAL commander, an avid hunter and angler, emerged as a surprise pick to head the department in part because he has embraced federal stewardship of national parks, forests and refuges - rejecting the Republican Party's official position to sell off acreage to states that might prioritize drilling, mining and grazing in some areas. While an advocate for federal control, Zinke has also fought for increased coal mining on federal lands, a position that has worried conservationists but fits neatly with Trump's vows to bolster the U.S. energy sector by scaling back regulation and opening up more publicly-held land to development."

Two of Zinke's former commanding officers critical of his judgment - NYT: "While he has portrayed his accomplishments in the Navy in glowing terms, Mr. Zinke…has acknowledged one 'glitch': that he improperly billed the government for travel to his home in Montana when he was a midlevel SEAL Team 6 officer in the late 1990s. He had to repay $211 for one of two trips, he has said… But two retired admirals under whom Mr. Zinke served say his account understates the damage that it did. Mr. Zinke was in fact punished for abusing his travel expenses, they say, through an evaluation that prevented him from rising to senior levels in the Navy."

ETHICS SNARL PRICE HEALTH SECRETARY HEARINGS
Georgia Rep. Tom Price is under fire for his investments a day ahead of the start of his confirmation hearings to serve as secretary of Health and Human Services. CNN reports that Price invested in a medical device company less than a week before he introduced legislation that helped Zimmer Biomet by delaying new regulations that would've hurt the company. After Price offered the bill, the company's political action committee also donated to his re-election campaign last year. The revelation comes just a month after the WSJ found that Price had traded about $300,000 worth of stock in health companies subject to legislation he was pursing. A legislation official said that the purchase of the shares was directed by Price's stockbroker and that the former Georgia physician was unaware of the potential benefit until after he put forward the legislation. Trump transition spokesman Phil Blando said in a press release that "Any effort to connect the introduction of bipartisan legislation by Dr. Price to any campaign contribution is demonstrably false." Blando denounced the revelation as "junk reporting" from "liberal media allies" of Senate Democrats looking to block Price from his new post.

MORE DEMS JOIN INAUGURATION BOYCOTT
USA Today: "Congressional Democrats may have accepted the outcome of the election by now, but that doesn't mean they have to like it. Since December, several House members said they would not attend Donald Trump's presidential inauguration Friday. The number of Democratic representatives multiplied after Trump's insulted John C. Lewis, the veteran House member and civil rights leader, on Twitter. Some simply said they cannot participate in a ceremony that celebrates a president whose platforms contradict their constituents. Others said they will save their energies for the Woman's March on Washington, an anti-Trump demonstration scheduled the next day in the capital."

AUDIBLE: STAY TUNED
"Barely, yes." – A laughing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on "The First Hundred Days with Martha MacCallum" answering whether he is still considering voting for Rex Tillerson's confirmation as secretary of state.

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Trump meets with Boeing CEO again today - Fox News

Russian officials invite Trump staff to Syria talks next week - Fox News

For Trump, Three Decades of Chasing Deals in Russia - NYT

Rubio is still mulling his decision on Tillerson - Tampa Bay Times

Border war: Trump shuns House Republican plan for border tax, favors straight tariffs - WSJ

And Medicare reform could be the first war between Trump, Ryan - Politico

List of Dems not attending Trump's inauguration includes potential DNC chairman - USA Today

Moderate Democrats dump $20 million in bid to connect with Rust Belt voters - Politico

OpEd: Barrasso touts Trump plan for EPA - Fox News

From Obama's move out to Trump's move in, White House flipped in just 5 hours - USA Today

FROM THE BLEACHERS
"I'm wondering if the polls showing Trump's declining favorability ratings are the same ones that showed Hillary winning the election? Not much credibility there." – Frances Smith, Fairhope, Ala.

[Ed. note: As you can see above, polling is a tricky business. But as we discussed, the real issue might be in how much people rely on opinion research and the conclusions they draw more than the research itself.]

"No one seems to remember that it was Medicare that began the process of messing up the marketplace for medical care. Saying they would only pay for cost the government set in motion a multi decade kabuki theater for medical care, especially hospital, pricing. The only answer is to get the government completely out of the equation. Vouchers if we must but nothing more than that." – Martin Smith, Largo, Fla.

[Ed. note: There are many who no doubt agree with you, Mr. Smith, but none of them are in the leadership of either political party. After decades of pushing for the kinds of reforms you suggest, Republicans have seemingly thrown in the towel. One of the advantages that advocates of single-payer health systems have is that bureaucratic failings and inefficiencies provide arguments for centralizing purchasing power and streamlining administration. Even though many liberal Democrats did not like the particulars of ObamaCare they appreciated first that it established universal health insurance as a duty of the government. And second, it disrupted the existing system so much that further enhancement of the federal role would eventually be necessary. Given the new approach of the GOP, one supposes the liberals were right.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

CALL IT… ISHMAEL
Court House News: "A business in Vancouver, B.C. has sued its building council for blocking the lease of its restaurant property to Moby Dick's fish-and-chips franchise, because the council says the word 'Dick' is offensive. Plaintiff Mengfa International bought a unit in a commercial building in 2010 and in 2014 leased it to an Asian-fusion restaurant, 'The Change,' for five years. The Change fell on hard times, though, and in May 2015, Moby Dick Restaurant, a fish-and-chip franchise, agreed to a lease and purchase arrangement. The building council wouldn't allow it. It insisted 'that the word 'Dick' in Moby Dick was an offensive term,' Mengfa says in its Jan. 9 lawsuit…Mengfa seeks declaratory judgment and damages for interference with business relations. Its attorney Glen Forrester did not respond to a request for comment. The Strata council's manager did not return a voicemail message."

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Sally Persons contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

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