Most of President Trump’s whine-tweets merit no further consideration. But this one is an exception:
The Erik Wemple Blog will not abide the cheap-shotting of Fox News. Here’s a quick-and-dirty explanation as to why the president is upset with the network’s pollsters: They’re professionals.
Fox News’s polling outfit has reached pretty much the same conclusion as other reputed polling outfits about this early stage of the 2020 presidential race. In a network poll released Sunday, Trump trailed Democratic front-runner and former vice president Joe Biden by 10 percentage points. An earlier Quinnipiac poll that included the same matchup had Biden leading by 13 percentage points. On job approval, Fox News’s June poll places Trump’s rating underwater by an 8-point margin (45 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove), which is consistent with findings from other well-known polling operations.
- Fox News uses firms on both sides of the political aisle to conduct its research: Beacon Research (D) and Shaw & Company (R).
- Fox News secures an “A” grade from FiveThirtyEight’s pollster ratings.
- Fox News vice president of public-opinion research Dana Blanton polices the types of research that the cable-news network uses on air — or at least she does her best on that front. In 2016, Blanton issued a memo railing against the cheesy “opt-in” online polls that lend themselves to rigging. “Fox News policy is to focus on non-partisan telephone polls (with both landlines & cellphones) that use live interviewers, and random digit-dial sampling techniques — a methodology that enables everyone an equal chance of being interviewed,” Blanton wrote, supporting a far more costly and effective method of measuring public opinion. Warnings notwithstanding, prime-time host Sean Hannity hyped online polls appearing to indicate that Trump had defeated Hillary Clinton in a critical debate.
- Fox News’s “decision desk” famously fended off complaints from commentator Karl Rove on election night 2012 after it had called the race for President Barack Obama over Republican nominee Mitt Romney. It was right.
“I’ve always had respect for the poll operation at Fox News,” says Frank Newport, senior scientist at Gallup and former president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). “Their methods and approach to polling [are] right in line with other polls,” he notes, adding that Fox News is transparent about its methods and questions. David Dutwin, the chief methodologist at the research firm SSRS and a former AAPOR president, says that in political polling, contemporary standards require an expensive model of probability samples and a great deal of cellphone calling. “Fox does all of those practices,” says Dutwin.
Matt Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, does fault with the drift of some of the Fox News polling. “When you look deeper into [Fox News’s] polling memos, you find questions whose topics, framing, and wording reflect the network’s right-wing slant — from ‘Do you think the Obama administration covered up what happened’ in Benghazi? to ‘Who do you think the White House will put in a muzzle first — Vice President Joe Biden or First Dog Bo?’ This gives the network’s hosts and anchors a menu of options they can use to maintain Fox’s drumbeat around its particular obsessions. When the poll confirms their talking points they can trumpet the results; when it doesn’t, they can denounce the public.”
But that objection, of course, is separate from Trump’s objection about Fox News polling — which presumably relates to the fact that, according to FiveThirtyEight, the network’s polls have a “mean reverted bias” of 0.6 points for Democrats. Or the fact that Fox News’s final poll of the 2016 race gave Clinton a four-point lead against Trump. She ended up winning the popular vote by a more modest two points — an affront so sharp as to launch a series of Trump lies about the millions of people who voted illegally.
Monday’s tweet wasn’t the first time that Trump attacked the polling outfit of the very network that boosted his political career and provides cover with every news cycle. So is such an attack irrational? Not when you consider one of the president’s core traits: to attack professionalism, ethics and integrity — wherever they may be.