WASHINGTON ― If President Donald Trump still thinks the unemployment rate is a sham, he’s got lots of company: Most Americans either say they’re unsure about the government’s jobs numbers or actively lack confidence in them.
For years, Trump said the monthly jobs reports put out by the Labor Department were “phony” and misleading, and that the “real” unemployment rate was as high as 42 percent. But on Friday, after the department announced a national unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump considers the number “very real now.”
Americans’ skepticism hasn’t dissipated so easily, a new HuffPost/YouGov survey finds.
Just 29 percent of Americans polled say they’re confident that the currently reported 4.7 percent unemployment rate is correct. Forty percent say they’re not confident, and another 31 percent say they’re unsure ― a finding that tracks with the public’s widespread distrust of most major institutions. Among those who lack confidence, 82 percent believe that the real unemployment rate is actually higher.
Democrats are somewhat less likely than Republicans to say they trust the latest numbers, although the difference pales in comparison to the partisan splits seen on other issues. Democrats say by a 9-point margin, 39 percent to 30 percent, that they’re not confident in the numbers; Republicans are evenly split, with 37 percent saying they’re confident and an equal 37 percent saying they’re not. Independents are the least trusting, saying by a 19-point margin that they don’t believe the numbers.
That’s a shift from a previous survey taken during the Obama administration. While few Americans then were inclined to believe the official numbers either, a Politico-Harvard poll taken in September showed that Democrats were the most likely to express faith in the government’s data.
Sixty-eight percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents, compared to just 46 percent of Democrats, said they weren’t confident that the federal government correctly reports the unemployment rate, the Politico-Harvard survey found.
On Monday, Spicer elaborated on the president’s view of his own government’s jobs data ― and seemed to suggest that Trump still may not actually believe the numbers are real.
“To look at a number and say we have 4.7 or 4.8 or 5.9 percent unemployment is not necessarily an accurate reflection of how many people are actually working, seeking work or want to work,” Spicer told reporters. “How you look at the percentage of people working can sometimes be a manipulated number.”
It’s true that many economists believe the headline-grabbing unemployment rate number offers an incomplete picture of the economy. But only conspiracy theorists believe the number is manipulated by political operatives. The government calculates the unemployment rate by surveying 60,000 households every month ― a much larger sample size than is used in most surveys. Compiling the jobs data is a massive undertaking that would necessitate hundreds of conspirators to result in a “manipulated number.”
Trump has complained that the calculation of the jobless rate excludes 94 million people who are “not in the labor force,” but he doesn’t note that almost all of those people are either retired, disabled, in school or taking care of family members. For more than a year the official jobless rate has been hovering near 5 percent, which economists consider a healthy low number. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump liked to claim the jobless rate was much higher as part of his broader effort to paint America as being in a tailspin that only he could reverse.
The latest unemployment numbers have met with little enthusiasm. The majority of Americans, 54 percent, describe the current unemployment rate as “not so good” or “poor,” with just 32 percent calling it “excellent” or “good.”
But either way, few see the number as much of a reflection on Trump’s brief time in office. Sixty-five percent of those who say the unemployment rate is “not so good” or “poor” say that Trump deserves little or none of the blame, while 61 percent who say the rate is “good” or “excellent” say Trump deserves little or none of the credit.
Generally speaking, Republicans’ perceptions of the economy have sharply improved since Trump was elected, while Democrats’ perceptions have abruptly slumped. But the Democrats polled still have a rosier view of the current numbers ― 40 percent say the unemployment rate is good or excellent, compared to 33 percent of Republicans who say the same.
Opinions are far more sharply split along the lines of the 2016 election, with 52 percent of voters who supported Hillary Clinton, but just 27 percent of those who backed Trump, saying the current numbers are good.
Use the widget below to further explore the results of HuffPost/YouGov’s survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups:
There’s also a divide along more personal lines. Among people who say that they or someone in their immediate family is currently unemployed and looking for work, fewer than 25 percent think the unemployment rate is “excellent” or “good,” with 62 percent calling it “not so good” or “poor.” Among Americans who say no one in their immediate family is currently unemployed, those numbers are 38 percent and 50 percent, respectively.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted March 11-13 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.
The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.
Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.