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The Trump Media Survey Is Phenomenally Biased. It's Also Useful

President Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House on Thursday.
Nicholas Kamm
AFP/Getty Images
President Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House on Thursday.

The GOP put out a survey Thursday night that's enough to make a social scientist cringe.

It's called the "Mainstream Media Accountability Survey," but this "survey" commits a variety of polling sins.

It contains:

-- Leading questions ("Do you believe that the mainstream media does not do their due diligence fact-checking before publishing stories on the Trump administration?"),

-- Incomplete poll results disguised as a question ("Were you aware that a poll was released revealing that a majority of Americans actually supported President Trump's temporary restriction executive order?" — while that's true, some polls show that a majority oppose the travel ban), and

-- Confusingly worded questions that also — surprise — slam the news media ("Do you believe that contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs?").

Not only that, but it was sent out to a self-selecting group (i.e., people on Trump email lists), ensuring a biased response.

The questions are also incomplete — this poll only seems to care about cable TV news outlets, and even then, only three outlets (among those not represented: CNBC, which Trump as a businessman might reasonably have watched a lot in his life, as well as the Christian Broadcasting Network, a news organization represented at Trump media events and to which the president recently granted an interview).

It doesn't ask for demographic information beyond ZIP code, meaning that if analyzed, the "survey" wouldn't be able to be properly weighted.

But that's probably not the point of this.

Team Trump is by no means alone in doing these kinds of flawed political surveys. It's neither the first nor the last we will see. But while the poll is flawed from a scientific perspective, it could still be helpful to Trump's team in a number of ways:

(1) Those biased questions can plant ideas in people's heads. If Jane Doe happens to be a Trump supporter and a Christian, she might not think that she's being particularly hurt by news organizations — until she sees a question like, "Do you believe that people of faith have been unfairly characterized by the media?"

In this way, this survey is a cousin of the " push poll," which is often performed during political campaigns as a way of slinging mud at an opponent under the guise of survey research.

(2) The survey's wording plants ideas in subtler ways. For example, by using the word "movement" repeatedly — "Do you believe that the media has been far too quick to spread false stories about our movement?" — the survey casts the respondents not just as ordinary voters but rather as members of something bigger.

(3) Another possibility: The survey could be testing which ideas resonate with Trump supporters and which don't. If respondents don't think the media have been unfair to people of faith, but they do think (as another question proposes) that "the media uses slurs rather than facts to attack conservative stances on issues like border control, religious liberties, and ObamaCare," that idea might reasonably be more likely to show up in a future ad or a Trump speech.

(4) An additional potential boost from this survey: list-building. True, the survey went out to people who already are (duh) on a Trump email list. But those people could potentially share it with their friends or post it on Facebook or Twitter, giving the Trump team more people to send future email blasts.

And (5) It could give Team Trump more numbers to put out to bolster Trump's case that the news media really are the bogeyman he says they are.

True, it would be citing a bogus poll, but then, that hasn't stopped him before.

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Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.