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Trump’s Favorite Pollster Measures the Drapes

donald trump
One can only imagine what it’s like to be a pollster for Trump, who likes to claim at rallies that John McLaughlin tells him he polls better than Lincoln or Washington. Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images
Tara Palmeri
April 25, 2024

The long friendship between Republican strategist John McLaughlin and Donald Trump dates back to 2011, when the then-future president was considering ditching his gig on The Apprentice to run for office. Trump, picking up early signals of the changing political winds, had begun deploying increasingly racially charged attacks on President Barack Obama, questioning everything from his college grades to his citizenship status. Notably, it was around this time that Trump reached out to McLaughlin to see how he might fare as a candidate, himself. In the end, he decided that he didn’t want to give up his show, but McLaughlin has been his private pollster ever since. 

Over the years, of course, McLaughlin has occasionally painted a rosier picture for his client than the numbers actually justified. But there’s no question he was on the money in 2016, when his private polling showed Trump either closing in on or beating Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, just 10 days before the election. McLaughlin also accurately predicted Trump’s national popular vote numbers for 2016 and 2020, and his dismissive view of Trump’s primary challengers this cycle was clearly vindicated, too. One can only imagine what it’s like to be a pollster for Trump, who likes to claim at rallies that McLaughlin tells him he polls better than Lincoln or Washington. (McLaughlin, for the record, says he’s never told Trump any such thing.)