Fox News executives forced to warn pro-Trump network hosts against citing bogus online polls

A leaked memo reveals that a Fox News VP had to remind his hosts that they can't cite unscientific polls on air

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published September 28, 2016 8:07PM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (AP/David Furst/Getty/Stan honda/Photo montage by Salon)
Donald Trump (AP/David Furst/Getty/Stan honda/Photo montage by Salon)

Soon after Monday's first presidential debate was over, Republican nominee Donald Trump declared himself the winner by citing the results of online polls. “I won every single poll other than CNN,” he said, pointing to the unscientific polls.

At least three Fox News hosts, including "America's Newsroom" co-host Martha MacCallum, “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade and "Hannity" host Sean Hannity, also referenced online polls on air to suggest that Trump won the debate.

“I’ll give you the list of polls,” Hannity said just hours after the debate at Hofstra University. “Time Magazine, Drudge report, CNBC, The Hill, CBS.”

And on Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted screenshots of multiple online instant-reaction polls, including the ones cited by Hannity, to claim he won the debate:

On Wednesday morning, Trump specifically thanked Fox News for its reporting on these unscientific polls to bolster his campaign:

In a Fox News online op-ed partially titled, "Don't believe the 'Intellectual Yet Idiot' class," former House speaker Newt Gingrich cited "a list of online polls" to argue that Trump won the debate:

In fact, it is worth looking at a list of online polls to understand the gap between the elites and the vast majority of Americans. This list is long because I want to show you how willfully out of touch and dishonest the Intellectual Yet Idiot class is:

Time: Trump 55 Clinton 45

Fortune: Trump 53, Clinton 47 (New Jersey): Trump 57.5, Clinton 37.78

CNBC: Trump 68, Clinton 32

WCPO Cincinnati: Trump 57, Clinton 37

Variety: Trump 58.12, Clinton 41.88

Slate: Trump 55.18, Clinton 44.82

WKRN Nashville: Trump 64.58, Clinton 35.42

Las Vegas Sun: Trump 82, Clinton 18

Fox5 San Diego: Trump 61.45, Clinton 33.69

San Diego Tribune: Trump 65, Clinton 35

If you go to the Daily Mail, you can see that the list goes on and on.

Clinton won a handful of liberal sites with liberal audiences but she lost virtually everywhere else.

The only scientific survey conducted, however, in the debate's immediate aftermath was the CNN/ORC instant poll, which showed that viewers thought Clinton handily defeated Trump.

“The only one that has Hillary winning is CNN and they’re the Clinton News Network anyway,” Fox News' Hannity said to discredit the poll. “CNN’s poll had 500 respondents. . . . These [online] polls have thousands of respondents and CNN is the Clinton News Network.”

Yet a scientific Morning Consult poll released on Wednesday found 49 percent of viewers thought Clinton won, while 26 percent thought Trump won. In total, four scientific polls of debate viewers have found that most viewers believed Clinton won the debate.

Now a top Fox News executive is warning the network’s politics unit that online polls "do not meet our editorial standards," according to a new report on Wednesday. Dana Blanton, the network's vice president of public opinion research, wrote in a memo obtained by Business Insider that "online 'polls' like the one on Drudge, Time, etc. where people can opt-in or self-select . . . are really just for fun."

"Another problem — we know some campaigns/groups of supporters encourage people to vote in online polls and flood the results," Blanton wrote following the debate. "These quickie click items do not meet our editorial standards."

"As most of the publications themselves clearly state, the sample obviously can’t be representative of the electorate because they only reflect the views of those Internet users who have chosen to participate," Blanton wrote.

According to Business Insider, however, despite executives' best efforts to "unskew" the polls cited by on-air talent, Trump fan Sean Hannity continued to cite the online surveys during his 10 p.m. show on Tuesday.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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Donald Trump Election 2017 Elections 2016 Fox News Online Polls Unskewed Polls