Fox News and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hyped online post-debate polls to claim that Trump won the debate, saying that “every poll” showed that he “did better” than Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. But online polls involve “a self-selecting group of respondents,” and journalists and polling experts generally view them as unreliable -- “garbage” even.
Trump Claims “Every Poll” After The First Debate “Has Shown That” He “Did Better” Than Clinton
Trump: “I Know I Did Better Than Hillary, And Every Poll Has Shown That I Did Better.” Following the first presidential debate, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called in to Fox News’ Fox & Friends and claimed that “every poll” after the debate “has shown that I did better” than Clinton:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): What grade would you give yourself?
DONALD TRUMP: Well, I don't like to grade myself, but I know I did better than Hillary, and every poll has shown that I did better. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/27/16]
The Week: “Trump Told Several Reporters That All The Online Polls Say He Won The Debate.” According to The Week, following the debate, “Trump told several reporters that all the online polls say he won the debate. He did not mention the professional snap poll conducted by CNN that showed Clinton winning the debate.” From The Week’s September 27 article:
In the spin room after his debate with Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump told several reporters that all the online polls say he won the debate. He did not mention the professional snap poll conducted by CNN that showed Clinton winning the debate, 62 percent to 27 percent, and if that poll should be viewed with the caveat that it skewed slightly Democratic, the online polls should be taken with a Trump-sized grain of salt. First, the Trump-friendly headline aggregator Drudge Report — which has its own online poll (spoiler: Trump is winning handily) and doesn't mention CNN's poll — directs its readers to two online polls, where Trump is winning by smaller margins. Trump also has the help of an informal army of online supporters at Reddit who are directing one another to all online polls they can find. [The Week, 9/27/16]
Post-Debate Polls Trump Referenced Are “Garbage” And “Not Representative Of Likely Voters”
Time Magazine: “Disclaimer: Online Reader Polls Like This One Are Not Statistically Representative Of Likely Voters, And Are Not Predictive Of The Debate Outcome.” According to a disclaimer on Time magazine’s online poll that asked which candidate “won” the first presidential debate, “Online reader polls like this one are not statistically representative of likely voters.” It noted that “imprecise” online polls measure “which candidates have the most energized online supporters, or most social media savvy fan base”:
A disclaimer: Online reader polls like this one are not statistically representative of likely voters, and are not predictive of the debate outcome will affect the election. They are a measure, however imprecise, of which candidates have the most energized online supporters, or most social media savvy fan base. After all, what they are counting is the number of Internet-devices controlled by people who want to vote. [Time magazine, 9/27/16]
Wash. Post’s Philip Bump: “Online Polls Are, Again, Garbage, No More Representative Of The Population As A Whole Than Is The Crowd At A Trump Rally.” The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote that post-debate online polls like the ones Trump referenced are “garbage” and “no more representative of the population as a whole than is the crowd at a Trump rally,” adding that such polls are “Open to anyone, meaning that anybody with an Internet connection can go and cast a vote. Anyone in Russia, for example, or in Canada. Anyone who is 12 years old or who is not a citizen.” From the Post’s September 27 article:
There was one poll conducted in the wake of the debate that holds some statistical validity. Accurate polling depends on getting a sample of respondents that is representative of the population whose opinion you'd like to gauge. CNN and its polling partner ORC conducted a poll after the debate that found that Hillary Clinton won easily, by a more than 2-to-1 margin. The sample leaned slightly Democratic, which CNN noted, but it was generally a good snapshot of the views of the American public. FiveThirtyEight notes that CNN's survey has historically correlated to shifts in the polls.
There were also a lot of garbage polls conducted after the debate. There was the poll at the Drudge Report, a survey that you can take right now, if you wish. According to that one, Trump was viewed as the victor by 82 percent of those who replied, with about 570,000-plus having weighed in. A who-do-you-think-won poll at Time gives it to Trump with 54 percent of the vote; the same sort of thing at CNBC mirrors the CNN poll in reverse, 2-to-1 for Trump.
These online polls are, again, garbage, no more representative of the population as a whole than is the crowd at a Trump rally. That comparison is very apt, in fact. The crowd at a Trump rally 1) is open to all comers, 2) is geographically isolated, meaning that while anyone can attend, it doesn't include a huge swath of people who vote, and 3) it rewards enthusiasm in a way that tends to obscure actual interest. In other words, if 20,000 people in a state press into a Trump rally to cheer lustily for his stump speech, that's still only a tiny fraction of the population of even our smallest states.
The online polls are the same way. Open to anyone, meaning that anybody with an Internet connection can go and cast a vote. Anyone in Russia, for example, or in Canada. Anyone who is 12 years old or who is not a citizen. Literally anyone can weigh in at any time. And can do so more than once: Vote once from your phone and once at your desktop. No reason not to. [The Washington Post, 9/27/16]
Slate’s Josh Voorhees: Online Poll “Results Rely On A Self-Selecting Group Of Respondents With No Regard To Political Affiliation, Age, [Or] Country.” Slate’s Josh Voorhees explained that “instant polls are informal and unscientific,” and that “online surveys provide an interesting snapshot of the mood of a particular slice of the Internet.” Voorhees warned that “No one should mistake them for the scientific surveys done by professional pollsters.” From Slate’s October 14, 2015, article:
Let me start with the polls. As I explained after the first GOP debate when there was a similar difference in opinion between the chattering class and online respondents, instant online polls are informal and unscientific. The results rely on a self-selecting group of respondents with no regard to political affiliation, age, country, or even whether the person doing the responding actually watched the debate. Respondents, meanwhile, don’t have even the slightest motivation to be objective; it’s hard to imagine a Hillary supporter casting an online vote for Bernie or vice versa, regardless of what he or she saw onstage. Like tracking new Twitter followers or Google searches, the online surveys provide an interesting snapshot of the mood of a particular slice of the Internet, but they’re mostly for entertainment (for the reader) and traffic (for the outlet). No one should mistake them for the scientific surveys done by professional pollsters.
They also tend to favor those candidates with active and impassioned fans—something that Bernie’s fundraising numbers and campaign crowds suggest he clearly has in spades. When Slate and a number of other established media outlets declared Hillary the winner, we gave that same fan base—which has long felt, not unjustifiably, that their man’s not getting a fair shake in the media—one more reason to reload the page and vote again. In online polls, like elections, it’s all about turnout. In online polls, unlike elections, you can vote as many times as you want. [Slate, 10/14/15]
But Fox News Tried To Bolster Trump By Hyping Online Polls Anyway
Fox’s Steve Doocy: “A Majority Of The Online Polls Show … That [Trump] Is Leading.” Fox host Steve Doocy acknowledged that the online polls were “non-scientific” but nevertheless shared the results of an online ABC News poll showing that “Trump was number one, Hillary was actually number four behind Jill Stein and Gary Johnson.” He also reported that “a majority of the online polls show” Trump won the debate. From the September 27 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
STEVE DOOCY (CO-HOST): It's interesting, Donald Trump was quoting some of the -- he was quoting the polls, but in the overnight, non-scientific polls that have been released, for the most part, Donald Trump is winning in those, if you go online like Drudge and stuff like that. But it's interesting, ABC News had one up last night for a little while. Trump was number one, Hillary was actually number four behind Jill Stein and Gary Johnson.
AINSLEY EARHARDT: What? Seriously?
DOOCY: How crazy was that?
I think a majority of the online polls show, according to the stuff we saw this morning, shows that he's leading. But it's not scientific. It's just whoever has control of a smart phone. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/27/16]
Sean Hannity: “Every Single Online Poll, But The Clinton News Network, Has Trump Winning This Debate.” Fox host Sean Hannity said that “every single online poll … has Trump winning this debate.” Hannity’s guest, Fox analyst Monica Crowley, suggested that “the elites seemed to think that Mrs. Clinton won,” but “Normal, average Americans who are responding to these instant online polls, they're giving it to Donald Trump.” From the September 27 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:
SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Let's look at the online polls. CBS, The Hill is now 55-39, Trump won the debate. Time was 58-42, and I just checked. Drudge Report -- as a matter of fact, every single online poll, but the Clinton news network, has Trump winning this debate.
MONICA CROWLEY: Yeah, it's interesting. I was following social media during the debate and then after the debate.
HANNITY: How'd it look on social media?
CROWLEY: All of the elites seemed to think that Mrs. Clinton won, which is nol big surprise. She is the status quo, incumbent candidate running in a change election.
HANNITY: Let me guess, Wall Street Journal, NRO guys? That class?
CROWLEY: Yeah, a lot of the elites said, “Yeah, she had command over her facts and she was very self-possessed,” and so on. Normal, average Americans who are responding to these instant online polls, they're giving it to Donald Trump because he was speaking their language. [Fox News, Hannity, 9/27/16]
Fox’s Martha MacCallum: “It’s Fascinating To See These Numbers. … They Are Leaning Towards Donald Trump, And By A Pretty Large Margin.” Fox host Martha MacCallum said it was “fascinating to see” online polls “leaning towards Donald Trump, and by pretty large margins,” and she dismissed a scientific poll from CNN, calling it an “outlier.” From the September 27 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:
TONY SAYEGH: I saw this on the front line of these primary debates. The political class, the pundit class always declare the wrong winner. But then when you really look at how people respond to the both of them -- you named it, The Hill poll, Time, CNBC, CBS poll, all voter reaction points to Donald Trump having the stronger performance because he's actually reaching them in the opportunities he takes to talk about jobs, the economy, security, and other things that they care about, not the classic debates.
MARTHA MACCALLUM (HOST): I mean, it's fascinating to see these numbers as they continue to come in this morning. They are leaning towards Donald Trump, and by pretty large margins, in most of these viewer polls that were done. Brad, what do you make of it?
BRAD WOODHOUSE: I think it's just not true. You look at the CNN poll. The CNN poll declared her the winner --
MACCALLUM: That's the outlier, though, it's now appearing.
WOODHOUSE: Declared her the winner by 35 points. Public Policy Polling had a poll that said that she won the debate. [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 9/27/16]
FoxNews.com: “Online Surveys Had Donald Trump As The Yuge Winner.” FoxNews.com cited “online surveys” and claimed Trump was “the yuge winner.” Fox noted that “online surveys are not scientific and, in many cases, supporters of either candidate can cast multiple ballots.” From FoxNews.com’s September 27 article:
If polls only included media pundits, Hillary Clinton would have won Monday’s debate by a landslide, but online surveys had Donald Trump as the yuge winner.
The Drudge Report online vote had 80 percent of respondents giving the victory to Trump, and a Time.com survey had the Republican nominee leading Clinton by 4 percentage points – 52 percent to 48 percent – after more than 1,300,000 votes were cast. CNBC and Breitbart votes also had Trump winning the event, at New York’s Hofstra University.
A Fox News online vote had Trump winning with 50 percent of respondents, Clinton at 35 percent and the other 15 percent declaring no one won.
The online surveys are not scientific and, in many cases, supporters of either candidate can cast multiple ballots. Still, the disconnect in judging Trump’s performance was reminiscent of the Republican Party primary, when pundits often said his competitors bested him while online polls put him on top. [FoxNews.com, 9/27/16]
Fox News Contributor Laura Ingraham: “Most Of The Online Polls Show That [Trump] Won Handily.” Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham cited “online polls” to claim that Trump “won handily” in the debate. From the September 27 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group’s The Laura Ingraham Show:
LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): Nothing would make, I think, the left happier for them to believe that most people thought that Trump just didn't come across as presidential. I don't think that happened, though. I really don't. I think most of the online polls show that he won handily. Doesn't mean I think that everyone thought he came with an “A” game. But that compared to Hillary's robotic and rehearsed answers, he seemed real and authentic. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show, 9/27/16]