In a letter to CNN President Jeff Zucker, representatives of the Trump campaign questioned the methodology and timing of the poll, noting that it was largely conducted before better-than-expected unemployment numbers were released Friday.
“Media polls such as these are designed to manufacture an anti-Trump narrative and misinform and mislead actual voters,” the letter, dated Tuesday, said. “It’s a stunt and a phony poll to cause voter suppression, stifle momentum and enthusiasm for the President, and present a false view generally of the actual support across America for the President.”
While Trump has complained about polling dating back to the 2016 election, this is the first known time that he or his campaign have threatened legal action to suppress results.
On Thursday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany sought to discredit another poll, one by Gallup that showed Trump’s job approval dropping to 39 percent.
“We believe that Gallup poll is by no means an accurate portrayal of where the president is,” McEnany said during an interview on Fox News.
The Trump campaign asked CNN to retract its poll “by publishing a full, fair, and conspicuous retraction, apology, and clarification to correct its misleading conclusions.” The letter also puts CNN “on notice” that it should preserve documents related to the production of the poll, which was conducted for the network by SSRS and released Monday.
CNN executive vice president and general counsel David Vigilante responded Wednesday afternoon with a letter to the Trump campaign. Vigilante said the Trump campaign’s letter marked what he believed to be the first time that the network has been threatened over polling results in its 40-year history.
“To the extent we have received legal threats from political leaders in the past, they have typically come from countries like Venezuela or other regimes where there is little or no respect for a free and independent media,” he said, calling the Trump campaign’s letter “factually and legally baseless.”
Other recent polls have showed Biden leading Trump by significant margins, though none quite as large as the CNN survey, which was conducted somewhat later.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in late May, for example, showed Biden leading Trump by 10 points. Other polls that included early June survey dates have showed Biden leading by between seven and 11 points.
After the CNN poll was released Monday, Trump tweeted that he had hired Republican pollster McLaughlin & Associates “to analyze todays CNN Poll (and others), which I felt were FAKE based on the incredible enthusiasm we are receiving.”
The letter to Zucker, signed by Michael Glassner, the Trump campaign’s chief operating officer, and Jenna Ellis, a senior legal adviser, references claims by McLaughlin & Associates that not enough Republicans were polled and that CNN should have surveyed likely voters rather than registered voters.
Many pollsters report results among the voting-age population or registered voters during much of the campaign but switch to focusing on likely voters in the fall before an election, when turnout patterns are expected to become clearer.
“Likely voters” is not a fixed population but represents a pollster’s best estimation of who will turn out in a specific election based on respondents’ intention to vote, interest in the campaign and whether they have voted in previous elections.
CNN routinely publishes details about how its surveys are conducted, with the latest poll conducted among 1,259 total respondents, with 811 reached on cellphones and 448 on landlines. CNN reported that “the entire sample was weighted to reflect national Census figures for gender, race, age, education, region of country, and telephone usage.”
In its letter Wednesday, CNN responded that the polling firm’s head, John McLaughlin, was “free to publish his own critique of CNN’s analysis and share his criticisms across the U.S. media landscape.”
“That’s how free speech works,” Vigilante said. “It’s the American way.”
The network also took a shot at McLaughlin’s record, noting that the pollster had in 2014 conducted a survey showing then-Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) ahead of his primary opponent by double digits. Cantor ultimately lost his primary by 11 percentage points.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.