The last time President Trump emailed a “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey” to supporters, it was August, he was a candidate, Hillary Clinton was leading the polls and an analysis by the New York Times gave him a 12 percent chance of winning the White House.
“We are running against the very dishonest and totally biased media!” the email read, USA Today reported. “It’s time to hold the media accountable for trying to rig this election against us.”
The email said the Trump campaign would use the survey results to combat polls put out by “liberal organizations.”
“Well, Friend, with your help today, the next time I’m being interviewed, I will have my own poll that shows that the American people disagree with the dishonest media!” the email said.
Thirty questions (about Hillary Clinton’s “lies,” “political correctness” and unfair coverage) led to a donation prompt.
“Thank you for standing up to the media’s lies and attacks,” it said. “Now take the next step and make a contribution to fight back.”
Fast forward six months — past the Nov. 8 election Trump won, his Jan. 20 inauguration and the first month of his presidency — to Thursday and the grievance-filled news conference at the White House that took aim, once again, at the news media. He attacked newspapers and TV journalists for reporting “stories of chaos” when, Trump said, his administration is “running like a fine-tuned machine.”
Trump’s remarks, he said, were intended to bypass the “dishonest media,” The Washington Post reported, and speak directly to the American public about his administration’s “incredible progress.”
Just moments after he stopped speaking, the Trump Make America Great Again Committee blasted out an email to its supporters, with an attached survey by a familiar name: “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey.”
It wasn’t exactly the sort of survey used by professional pollsters for news organizations.
Not all that different in tone or structure than his survey from August, this one led off with, “Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement?”
In 25 questions, the survey asks specifically if the respondent trusts MSNBC, CNN and Fox News to “report fairly on Trump’s presidency,” if the “mainstream media” is pitting Republicans against each other by creating “false feuds” and if it is a lobbying arm to elect Democrats.
“Do you believe that our Party should spend more time and resources holding the mainstream media accountable?” asked the final question.
The submission button prompts a donation portal, regardless of the respondents’ answers, asking for money.
“Thank you for standing up to the media’s lies and attacks,” the portal says. “Unlike the Democrats, we don’t have a 24/7 media machine helping us win a presidential election. That’s why we need your sustained support.”
Perhaps because of the timing of the news conference and email blast, the existence of the committee’s survey drew coverage from news organizations nationwide with a tone that can be pretty well summed up in this Boston Globe headline: “Trump campaign sends survey on media bias that is, well, pretty biased.”
There isn’t anything all that unusual about the survey tactic, UCLA political science professor Jeffrey Lewis told The Washington Post. The committee that emailed it out is a joint fundraising venture made up of the Republican National Committee and Trump’s presidential campaign PAC, and, Lewis said, it isn’t at all uncommon for these groups to use events in the news, like Trump’s harsh comments about the news media, to mobilize and inspire its base.
“Relative to some of the other things we’ve seen, this doesn’t strike me as particularly odd behavior,” Lewis told The Post. “This is a political group doing outreach to its base.”
Pretty remarkable email blast from Trump team: "You – the American people – are our last line of defense against the media’s hit jobs" pic.twitter.com/ZhCv6Ldv5S
— Vera Bergengruen (@VeraMBergen) February 16, 2017
To call it a survey, though, might not be entirely accurate, Lewis said, because most of the questions aren’t phrased in a neutral way or crafted to generate any informative data.
“It’s a way to fundraise,” Lewis said, calling it a “survey in name only.”
When professional pollsters craft questions, they carefully test the way certain words might affect the respondent and remain cognizant of how phrasing and framing can shape the distribution of responses, but, Lewis said, “I don’t think this is that.”
What the survey does do, Lewis told The Post, is ask people who likely already support Trump, since they are on his mailing list, to agree or disagree with the talking points of his campaign, including, for example, a question about the president’s executive order that temporarily banned travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, caused chaos in airports across the country, prompted nationwide protests and was eventually halted by the courts.
Several national polls show that a slight majority of Americans disagree with Trump’s travel order, where other recent polls have found that a slight majority of Americans support it. Public opinion is split.
Yet, the survey asks about it in a way that Lewis said is meant to elicit skepticism from the respondent.
“Were you aware,” the survey says, “that a poll was released revealing that a majority of Americans actually supported President Trump’s temporary restriction executive order?”
The question does not include any other information about the poll to which it is referring.
“The point there is just to say, ‘Hey, you didn’t hear that on the news,’” Lewis said. “‘We’re reminding you that the news guys don’t report on polls that are favorable to us.’ ”
It’s unclear when or if the results of the committee’s “survey” will be made available to the public or perhaps, whether its “own poll” will be cited by Trump as a serious poll to counter real polls. A representative from the committee could not be immediately reached for comment.
“I would be amazed if anybody ever knows or even cares to tally the results of this quote unquote survey,” Lewis said.