At least three Fox News hosts cited unscientific online polls in the hours following Monday’s presidential debate to suggest Donald Trump emerged as the winner of the political showdown.
Trump did, in fact, come out ahead in a slew of online polls on various websites. But those polls were all unscientific, meaning the sample of participants did not accurately reflect the sample of viewers who watched the debate. The Drudge Report, a popular conservative news source, also linked to each online poll, heavily skewing the results. Such polls are almost always discounted by professional pollsters and analysts.
The only scientific survey conducted in the immediate aftermath was the CNN/ORC instant poll, which showed viewers thought Hillary Clinton handily defeated Trump.
But that important distinction did not stop a handful of Fox News hosts from promoting the results of the online polls.
Sean Hannity led the charge in the hours after the debate, repeatedly citing online polls as supposed proof Trump won the debate.
“I have it in front of me. Time magazine, Drudge Report, CNBC, The Hill, CBS — the only one that has Hillary winning is CNN, and they are the ‘Clinton News Network,'” host Sean Hannity told millions of viewers.
Not only did CBS not conduct a poll, but Hannity strongly implied that the unscientific online polls were more accurate than the CNN/ORC poll, a patently false claim.
“They surveyed — these other ones have hundreds of thousands if not millions” of participants, Hannity said of the polls.
Most pollsters will say that it’s not the size of the sample that is most important, but whether the sample is reflective of the population the poll purports to represent.
Nevertheless, Fox hosts continued to cite the online polls on broadcasts Tuesday morning.
“Fox & Friends” co-host Steve Doocy said he found it “interesting” Trump won such polls, though he did note that they were unscientific.
“For the most part, Donald Trump is winning in those if you go online, like Drudge and stuff like that,” Doocy said. “It’s interesting.”
“I think a majority of the online polls show, according to the stuff we saw this morning, they show that he’s leading,” the host later added. “It’s not scientific.”
Martha MacCallum, co-host of “America’s Newsroom,” also cited the online polls, making no mention that they were conducted online and that all were unscientific.
“A lot of polls show him winning last night,” she said. “Fascinating, right? It’s fascinating.”
A spokesperson for Fox News did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Trump frequently touted online polls in the aftermath of the GOP debates to argue that he won. On Tuesday morning, he continued the pattern, tweeting a screen grab of various online polls designating him as the winner. His campaign also blasted out a list of 13 such online surveys.
Such a great honour. Final debate polls are in – and the MOVEMENT wins!#AmericaFirst #MAGA #ImWithYouhttps://t.co/3KWOl2ibaW pic.twitter.com/sfCEE3I5pF
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2016
Yet not only were those polls contrary to the only scientific survey conducted, but focus groups also overwhelmingly selected Clinton as the debate winner.
Republican pollster Frank Luntz reported that 16 people in his focus group thought Clinton came out as the winner. Only six people thought the winner was Trump. A CNN focus group of undecided Florida voters arrived at the same conclusion. Eighteen of the 20 participants chose Clinton as the winner.
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